At the Oct. 3, 2018, community engagement session, we received some overlapping questions focused on the swimming pool that is included in the draft facilities master plan. Here is a summary of Imagine’s thinking about a new swimming pool at OPRF as of October 2018, followed by more detailed information.
The OPRF swim curriculum, while beyond the mandate of Imagine OPRF, is comparable to that of other area high schools.
While the condition of the current pools requires action, the decision to reconstruct the south end of the building in several discrete projects was driven by the need to solve multiple problems at OPRF, only one of which is the pool.
At 25 yards x 40 yards, the pool in Imagine’s plan is sized to meet OPRF’s needs efficiently, is comparable to other pools built in the region in the last two decades, and is NOT an Olympic sized pool.
The pool is not the cost driver for the South East Facility in which it would be housed. Reducing the size of the pool would not significantly reduce the overall cost of that facility.
OPRF curriculum is beyond the mandate of Imagine. As with many areas, Imagine has asked the administration whether they anticipate any changes to the Physical Education curriculum that would impact facilities. The clear answer was that the curricular swimming requirement is important to the PE program and will remain in place.
Some background on the swimming and water safety PE curriculum: OPRF requires every student to spend approximately 12 weeks in the pool over a two-year period (one nine-week quarter freshman year includes six weeks in the pool with additional weeks for CPR and automatic external defibrillator [(AED]); the same is required sophomore year). A survey of 30 peer schools (26 districts) in the area found that 18 schools (15 districts) have a similar two- year requirement, while two2 required more than two years. The peer schools generally required a total 9-12 weeks in the pool, as OPRF does.
The OPRFHS administration provided Imagine with the following statement about the school’s curricular water safety and swim requirement:
“The philosophy of our Physical Education curriculum is to expose students to as many different physical activities as possible during their four years here, so that they have a wide range of options for lifetime fitness. As one of few non-weight bearing physical activities, swimming is an essential part of the curriculum. It not only can provide great fitness benefits even in one’s later years, but it also is an excellent physical-rehabilitation activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the benefits of swimming include boosting mood, reducing anxiety and depression, alleviating arthritis pain, and building bone health. Moreover, people report enjoying water-based exercise more than exercising on land, and they can exercise longer in water than on land without increased effort or joint or muscle pain.
“Approximately 20-30% of OPRF students are either non-swimmers or struggling swimmers when they enter our classes. Through instruction and practice in PE classes, the majority of these students advance to being able to swim and demonstrate lifesaving swim skills by the end of the unit. While some community members have suggested allowing students to test out of swimming, this misses the point that the objectives of a course in physical education swimming include much more than simply 'teaching kids how to swim.' Additionally, few of even our most adept swimmers would be able to pass the proficiency test used by our aquatics certification safety firm, Ellis and Associates, which includes swimming 500 yards (10 complete laps) without stopping, treading water for two minutes with hands above the water, and recovering a brick from the deep end of the pool.”
Pool Role in the Master Planning Process
Before convening the Imagine OPRF Work Group, the District 200 administration and Board had determined that the two current pools, both built in 1928, had far exceeded their lifespan, are at risk of systemic failure, and could no longer be repaired in place. Rebuilding the pools in place was not a cost-effective solution and would result in significantly less space for meeting the school’s curricular and extracurricular programs.
The Imagine Team, with the help of Perkins & Will, the consulting architects, explored a variety of options for locating a single new pool in the existing building and in new construction within the existing footprint. Simultaneously, Imagine uncovered a number of other problems in the current physical education facilities and in the location of the current performing arts facilities.
The end result is a recommendation to build a new, four-story South East Facility to replace the current three-story structure east of the fieldhouse. The new structure solves several of the problems uncovered in the south end of the building. For example, the wholly inadequate boys locker rooms are replaced, the privacy needs of all students are met (with the creation of new all-gender locker rooms for gender non-conforming students and other privacy measures), an elevator is installed to meet accessibility needs, a new multi-purpose/dance gym replaces the the current facility that puts students at risk of injury, small limited use gyms are replaced with larger spaces designed for flexible multi-use, the treatment room for athletic trainers is expanded, performing arts green room is improved, and office, conference, and classroom spaces are improved. The new structure also creates space for performing arts facilities west of the fieldhouse by meeting more physical education needs east of the fieldhouse. The South East Facility is not designed to meet pool needs alone.
Finally, while the pool is a physically large component of the South East facility, its size has not been a key driver in the master planning process. Whether a pool is a few yards longer or shorter would not have a significant impact on the location of the aquatics facility, the total size of the aquatics facility, the cost of the aquatics facility, nor the layout and size of the South East Facility.
The pool size in the Imagine master plan is the size required to replace the current two swimming pools in-kind, plus sufficient pool area to move diving back on-campus. It is the size necessary to accommodate all of the aquatics uses at the school, including physical education instruction for more than 2,000 students each year.
Imagine’s research about curricular and extracurricular pool use indicates that a right-sized pool for OPRF would be 25 yards wide and 40 yards long. This would allow for an 8 lane x 25 yard swimming competition area, with an attached diving well and movable bulkhead separating the two. For Physical Education courses, a moveable bulkhead would allow for students to swim across the width of the pool, and maximize wall space for students who are learning to swim or learning to enter and exit the water safely (something many OPRF students do not know how to do before their PE swim instruction). During aquatics practices, swimming across the width of the pool would allow for 10 training lanes when the diving well is in use, and up to 16 lanes when the diving well was not in use. The bulkhead provides flexibility for different simultaneous uses, e.g., Adventure Ed class and a curricular swim class, a water polo practice during a synchronized swimming rehearsal, etc. During aquatics practice and competitions, the bulkhead would allow for simultaneous swimming and diving uses.
This size of pool, commonly called a stretch pool, is typical of pools built in Chicago-area high schools in the last 20 years. We have identified 19 high school pools constructed in the region since 1995. Of those, 17 were stretch pools, one school built a new 8-lane x 25-yard pool and renovated an existing 25-yard pool at the same time (Glenbrook North in 2002), and one school built a new 8-lane x 25-yard pool to serve a student body of fewer than 2,000 students (Elk Grove High School in 2004). Of the 17 stretch pools, four were 50+ yards, six were 40-49 yards, and seven were 29-39 yards in length.
There is no such thing as a “standard size” high school swimming pool. Competition areas for high school swimming in Illinois is typically 8 lanes x 25 yards, but that is not the typical size pool that area schools have built in recent decades. That size would be insufficient to support the Physical Education curricula at OPRF (at least two simultaneous classes, seven to eight periods per day). It would not be sufficient for extra-curricular uses (diving, swimming, water polo, cross-training for other teams, and synchronized swimming). Nor would it support the current use of the pools as a community asset for the Oak Park Park District, West Suburban Special Recreation Association, OPRF Summer Swim Camps, or local swim clubs.
The pool in this plan is not an Olympic-sized pool. An Olympic-sized pool (50 meters x 25 meters) would be more than 49% larger than the 25 yard x 40 yard pool that meets OPRF’s needs.
The facilities plan includes a new South East Facility in sequence 2, located east of the existing field house. This four-story building with five levels of programmable space addresses multiple facilities problems that Imagine identified, most of which are unrelated to the pool.
The proposed swimming pool and ancillary support spaces are currently programmed at 27,000 square feet of the 145,000 square foot South East Facility. The pool components (pool deck, pool tank, lockers, balcony, mechanical and storage rooms) make up approximately 20% of a building that houses new locker rooms, a multi-purpose room, a PE/dance gym, PE/competition/practice gymnasiums, a weight room, a commons space, concessions, an elevator to serve the south end of the building, and PE and athletic offices.
At this early conceptual phase, when estimated costs are based on historical data and square footages, there are no scalable drawings or engineering data to accurately measure and assign a cost to the pool in isolation, especially when the pool shares common mechanical and electrical loads, exterior walls, roof, foundation, and structure.
Pool Size as Cost Driver
Building a smaller pool (one that would not meet OPRF’s needs) would not result in meaningful cost savings, nor would it result in a smaller facility. A smaller pool would not be able to accommodate as many physical education students at one time, so there would need to be an additional space constructed for those students to take physical education classes. The reassignment of space from pool use to gymnasium use would reduce the estimated cost of the South East Facility by less than $1 million.
The size of the spectator seating is a function of the size of the pool, deck space, and other facilities. High school pools typically have spectator seating along the length of the pool. That is the case here, where the space allotted for spectator seating is the most efficient use of space above the locker rooms. The goal is to use the available space as efficiently as possible while ensuring accessibility, safety, and comfort of spectators.