A plan for investing in OPRF's future

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By Mike Poirier & Lynn Kamenitsa

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On Sept. 11, the Imagine OPRF work group presented a draft of a five-sequence, long-term master facilities plan for OPRF High School to the District 200 Board of Education. The presentation included cost estimates for construction of the first three sequences over the next 4-5 years. The plan's scope and costs are substantial because Imagine is recommending major and long-overdue investment in the physical facilities of OPRF.

Imagine OPRF is a community-led, volunteer group of 30 community members and 10 faculty and staff. Since August 2017 we have been researching OPRF's facilities needs, gathering input from students, faculty, staff and community members and developing a plan to address the identified needs.

The group spent six months researching facilities needs, with an emphasis on students, student learning, and equity. Our detailed and rigorous process is documented at ImagineOPRF.org. The resulting list of facilities problems is long — not surprising for a nearly million-square-foot building constructed from 50 to 110 years ago. 

We spent the next six months prioritizing identified problems and planning to address them within constraints of landlocked space, other district priorities, and community financial concerns. The process forced us to pare down our list and set aside some of what we imagined. The resulting plan does not address all of the needs we identified. Instead, it addresses the most physically urgent problems, prioritizes student learning and safety, touches spaces used by the most students, emphasizes flexibility and multiple uses, and makes the building welcoming and accessible to all students.

The master plan draft is segmented into five sequences. Their order has been determined by a number of factors, including physical urgency of facilities, Imagine prioritization, construction impact on students, benefits of completed spaces to students, and constructability.

Major components of Sequence 1 include a new Student Resource Center (library & tutoring center) in the core of the building; renovated and expanded Special Education facilities, including those serving students with the most profound needs; and 76 renovated or new classrooms, including expanded visual arts spaces. The cost estimate is $28.5 million.

Sequence 2 replaces the southeast corner of the building with a new, four-story physical education facility to house locker rooms for all students, a competition gymnasium, a multi-purpose dance room, a swimming pool, a weight room, faculty and staff offices, and new dressing and props rooms for performing arts. The cost estimate for this new construction and its green roof is $66.7 million.

Sequence 3 replaces the southwest corner of the building with a new four-story performing arts and physical education structure containing music facilities, a black box theatre, a stage craft facility, a multi-purpose wrestling room, a multi-purpose gymnastics space, an adaptive gymnasium/cardio room, and a green roof. This sequence will create a new main entrance, Student Commons, elevators, and bathrooms. The cost estimate is $49.6 million.

Sequence 4 renovates 33 classrooms and science labs, relocates student services and administrative offices to the new Student Commons, and renovates faculty offices.

Sequence 5 renovates the remaining classrooms, faculty offices, and Student Commons area, replaces the existing field house with a relocated competition gym and a two-story, five-court field house with a 200-meter track, and makes improvements to the west fields and the stadium. Imagine is not providing a construction plan for sequences 4 and 5, which are likely to be undertaken more than six years from now, so there are no cost estimates.

The plan costs are substantial, but so is the work to be done and benefits gained. Our community last made major investments in our high school building 50 years ago. The Imagine plan is an investment in the future that addresses the accumulated needs of past decades. Decisions about how to finance the five sequences rest with the D200 board, but Imagine is working with them to determine how the work could be organized to enable D200 to finance early work by leveraging resources on hand.

Oak Park and River Forest are unique and historic communities, known as wonderful places to raise families in great public schools. OPRF is the iconic centerpiece of our educational communities. The school requires investment if it is to continue to serve all students — current and future — in their pursuit of excellence and equity. We need to find a way to make this investment happen.

We invite you to learn more at the Imagine Community Conversation on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. in OPRF's South Cafeteria, 201 S. Scoville Ave.

Mike Poirier and Lynn Kamenitsa are co-chairs of the Imagine OPRF Team.

Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 16th, 2018 11:21 PM

Brian, what I wanted to add in closing was that in a sense just the opposite will happen. Any resultant property tax increase levied on the citizens of Oak Park and River Forest due to their decisions, will not be borne by them. How ironic.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 16th, 2018 11:16 PM

Brian: Their pensions are picked up by the State. States - under the US Constitution - can not declare bankruptcy; nor do bankruptcy statutes (as far as I am aware) - as written - consider States anyway. And the Illinois Supreme Court has decreed that in accordance with the Illinois State Constitution, those pension obligations are non negotiable and guaranteed. Obviously, no law can prevent default, however.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 16th, 2018 10:04 PM

@ BK & MN: Since faculty and staff are on this board, shouldn't all employees and faculty be notified by the community such as yourselves, that in case of bankruptcy their pensions maybe null and void.

George Smith  

Posted: September 16th, 2018 8:27 PM

Anyone who thinks the taxpayers will get a say before the "project" is tens (maybe hundreds) of millions of dollars in the hole is fooling themselves.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 16th, 2018 1:57 PM

@Stec. By IMAGINE's ludicrous reasoning regarding how "Mercedes Benz" facilities yields "Mercedes Benz" academic performance, one would think that the University of Alabama and the University of Oregon are #1 and 2 in the nation in regard to academics. And Mike, there won't be a referendum, let alone one in 2020. The pool lobby and their minions on IMAGINE have figured out a way to finance this monstrosity with out one. So yeah. Spend $250 million and bypass the voters. IMAGINE knows if they went to the voters with this ludicrous outrageous plan it would be rejected in a heart beat. So why go to the voters?

Michael Nevins  

Posted: September 16th, 2018 12:54 PM

One additional comment about "until the community votes to do so" (below): IF there is to be a referendum/vote - it MUST be in a 2020 election when most people actually vote. There's a reason why school boards have referendums during off-year elections. Something as important as this MUST, if at all, take place in 2020.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: September 16th, 2018 10:32 AM

I keenly recall one of the main selling points of the D97 referendum for the two new middle schools. What? That these new facilities would provide the environment to shrink "the gap." Did that occur? Did it occur during the ten years that a retiring board member has been on the board? Why not? Perhaps "guilt, best of intentions and more money" isn't the solution? As Stec M Stec wrote below, maybe "new athletic facilities, new community space and green roofs" are the panacea......but please show the community that this conclusion is based more on facts than emotions. And don't even get me going on that "400 seat aquatic arena" part. We all know who wants that. Not one more dollar should be spent on this until the community votes to do so. No back-door referendums or spending millions of the reserve (which will only make ANOTHER referendum take place sooner). There is a reason why so many people are putting their homes up for sale - the goose laying those golden eggs is dying!!!

Stec M Stec  

Posted: September 16th, 2018 12:16 AM

Please point me to research which shows that outcomes and test scores improve dramatically, particularity socially economically disadvantaged segments of a student body, upon large capitol expenditures, such as new athletic facilities (60+%), new community space (20+%) and green roofs (5%+). If you can guarantee better outcomes for all, than we are all in. Did the teachers really state that with improved facilities, particularly a new 400 seat aquatic arena, new indoor track and new community space, that student outcomes will be measurably improved? If so, point to their research. Otherwise it is just a guess and hope, albeit a $250 million hope (dream). And, yes, you get get a gold star for effort.

Tom MacMillan  

Posted: September 16th, 2018 12:01 AM

At our community-response vote regarding spending money on a new pool, the community voted NO to spending $40 plus million. So when the school and the pool parents "work hard" and are "devising" away their plans, they need to remember that their first step in their little Imagine process was to entirely blow off the results of that election we all had. The lack of respect shown by Imagine for the community and the vote has been stunning.

Tim Brandhorst  

Posted: September 15th, 2018 10:34 PM

Stec, I don't need a gold star, nor do the other Imagine members. But you SHOULD care about the faculty who were on the team, and their hard work, for a couple reasons. First, their hard work is representative of the attitude we found in faculty members thoughout the school. We encountered world-class teachers, who far too often have to spend far too much time devising workarounds to overcome subpar classrooms and facilities. What if we gave them just standard, typical, 21st century classroom spaces to work in--what amazing things would they accomplish with the community's kids? Second, the faculty on the team have been instrumental in helping us reach their colleagues. At our first community engagement session nearly a year ago, a number of residents emphasized the importance of faculty buy-in to any facilities changes we ultimately recommended. Administrators at the peer high schools we visited offered similar counsel. So we took that advice. We've met with faculty one-on-one and in small groups; we've conducted surveys; we've previewed various concepts and plans to the faculty before showing them to the public; we've incorporated their feedback at every stage. I wouldn't presume to speak for every teacher (or any teacher, actually). But I hope this inclusive process has helped teachers understand what is being proposed, and feel heard. In every way, including faculty on the Imagine team enhanced the quality of the work.

Stec M Stec  

Posted: September 15th, 2018 9:53 PM

I, and almost everone else, does not care that the staff or the Imagine group spent countless hours on this project... what we care about is that the $250 million is wisely spent to ensure our children are best prepared for their future. Not immature teenage feelings or what a coaching staff wants. How does a 400 seat swimming arena help with reducing the gap. How does $250 million help the future of all students? Thank you for all the effort you put in, but realize the cost, in effort, of $250 million that everone taxpayer is going to put in. Step back. Let us all spend the money, but more wisely and effectively. Perhaps on acedemics and not sports.

Dori Bernstein  

Posted: September 15th, 2018 9:26 PM

Tim I am not making things up.There is a lot of frustration with lack of transparency and canned responses from the Imagine Committee. Can you tell me why the only option has a 25 yard, 17 lane swimming pool? What are you hiding by not costing Sequences 4 and 5? Why were swimming parents assigned to pick out their dream pool at the community's expense? I bet if you answer you will just point out your link to canned responses. Everyone on the Imagine Committee should be ashamed.

Tim Brandhorst  

Posted: September 15th, 2018 8:50 PM

I'm an Imagine team member, and Lynn's absolutely right: the faculty and staff who devoted countless hours outside their workdays to the Imagine project were invaluable. The folks commenting about "voting rights" and being a "voting member" of the group either misunderstand how we operated (reaching consensus through open-ended discussion) or are intentionally making stuff up.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 14th, 2018 9:08 PM

The original intent - as I recall - was that faculty and staff would act as consultants or sources of references when needed - not as full blown members with voting rights (if it came to a vote). As Mike points out there is an enormous conflict of interest irrespective of their integrity or hard work. This should be obvious. And we are so lucky regarding this monstrous (in my estimation) $250 million proposal. Yeah, great.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: September 14th, 2018 6:28 PM

I am also grateful for their assistance and efforts, but there are reasons why current faculty members don't run for the school board - or solely negotiate for their salaries and benefits. They are great assets but should not be part of a voting team regarding such an expensive project.

Lynn Kamenitsa  

Posted: September 14th, 2018 6:16 PM

The Imagine Team members who are OPRF faculty and staff have made invaluable contributions to the master planning process. Their hard work and insights were key to helping the entire team understand how the facilities function, and the ways the professionals at OPRF spend valuable time working around facilities shortcomings -- time that could be better spent on student learning. The perspectives of those who clean the classrooms, advise students, help students who use mobility devices to access learning spaces, keep the boilers functioning, teach students, coach students, rehearse ensembles, and help students solve problems every day, those are perspectives that are needed for any comprehensive school facilities assessment. Our community is darned lucky to have faculty and staff willing to volunteer do this work on top of their regular jobs.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: September 13th, 2018 7:39 PM

Dori, thank you for highlighting the issue of the appointment of school employees to the Imagine group. Staff was to be a resource for the "community outreach committee", not voting members. According to a FOIA response, of the eight members of Imagine's subgroup tasked with making recommendations for the pool and interior PE/athletics, three are aquatic team parents and four are school employees appointed by the superintendent, representing 40% of all of the employees appointed to the Imagine group. This is the subgroup responsible for proposing the demolition of a third of the structurally sound school building and the proposed $100+ million expenditure for PE and athletics. Funding of this sort is common for university football facilities/shrines in the SEC not for public high schools.

Dori Bernstein  

Posted: September 13th, 2018 5:52 PM

High school staff should not have been on the Imagine Workgroup. The initial plan was to have the school staff available for consultation. The final makeup of the Workgoup consisted of 10 OPRFHS staff. We don't know if these staff members are residents of Oak Park or River Forest. They won't have have to pay the bill for any of their decision if they are not residents. So far it looks like 60% of the project has a bill of $145,000,000. This project needs to be walked back.

Inga Briedis Simitz  

Posted: September 13th, 2018 9:07 AM

This group / committee was created by the Oak Park AND River Forest community by seeking out people publicly and chosen purposefully to get a range of skills for the project. All meetings are well publicized inviting whomever to join and to give input. At a meeting about 1 year ago, someone suggested getting STUDENT input. What a good idea -- and they did! This group has taken input and incorporated it into their recommendations. Thank you to those involved for their time. At the very least, the High School has an analysis of where the facilities need improvement.

Tom MacMillan  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 8:55 AM

The group is a farce that does not represent anything but the opinions of a small handful of people.

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