Imagine OPRF Q&A

Below are questions we received following our Imagine OPRF community meeting on Feb. 27, 2018. (Some questions have been edited for clarity and space.) Click on a question or scroll down to see the answer. 

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Q:Why, when our student population is much lower than its peak, are so many of the concerns based on space? Please explain the statement that overcrowding exists in extra-curricular activities.

It’s true that today’s enrollment of approximately 3,400 students is lower than the peak of 4,400 students in 1971. In order to accommodate that many students, however, the school had to run a split schedule. In addition, a couple of significant, positive changes have resulted in an increased demand on the available space. First, the landmark 1972 Title IX legislation resulted, over time, in a dramatic increase in the number of young women participating in many aspects of education and athletics, including physical education and intramural and interscholastic activities. Significant increases in the number of extracurricular activities of all types (currently 75 clubs/activities and 30 sports teams) and the number of students participating in them have placed demands on the facilities that the planners of the late 1960s could not have anticipated. Second, Special Education curriculum and programming have grown significantly. Forty years ago the number of Special Education faculty and staff was five; today the school has more than 120 teachers and teaching assistants serving more than 600 students. This has placed significant demands on the facilities for classrooms, conference rooms, offices, physical education, and specialized learning spaces for students with specific needs.

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Q:I understand the need to upgrade the kitchen and line areas. But how can two very large cafeterias and three lunch periods be inadequate? Thirty years ago, when there were 600 more students, this was never seen as an issue. There should be plenty of capacity to handle the current population.

Unlike the past, freshmen and sophomores may no longer leave campus for lunch, resulting in more students in the cafeterias. (Juniors and seniors may go off campus with parental permission.) Students report that the cafeterias are loud, chaotic, and unwelcoming; one even called the environment “toxic.” Our team met with more than 100 students who reported spending their lunch periods in classrooms, teachers’ offices, or other spaces to avoid the  lunchrooms each day. Other schools we visited have made cafeteria spaces more welcoming and functional by breaking large spaces into smaller ones and giving students access to a variety of adjacent spaces where they can eat, study, collaborate, and access other resources such as counselors and tutoring.

As you noted, the kitchen area needs improvement as well. OPRF Food Service is its own financially self-sustaining business unit and prepares about 5,000 total meals a day for elementary school districts 90 and 97 and the high school’s students, staff, and day care center. Food Service also serves after-school snacks, owns and fills 15 vending machines, and provides concessions for football and basketball season. The current facilities are insufficient for this volume of food preparation and service.
 

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Q:We received several questions about the Imagine group’s findings that not all areas of the building are accessible to persons with disabilities.

In general, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that went into effect in 1990, lays out specific accessibility requirements for any new construction or substantial renovation project. Many aspects of existing buildings, however, are grandfathered in and do not have to meet the same requirements unless they are undergoing significant renovations. A school--including OPRF--can be compliant with the ADA without being fully accessible in all areas. Since passage of the ADA, OPRF has made many changes to make the building more accessible. But to make facilities more fully accessible to all users, particularly those with mobility challenges, the school needs to go even further. In addition to ensuring that any new construction or significantly renovated areas meet the requirements of the ADA, the master plan should improve elevator access and remove accessibility barriers to bathrooms, learning spaces, and all points of egress and access. We also received a few questions about what specific facilities are not accessible. Several areas require users to navigate stairs, for instance, some classrooms on the fourth floor, music practice rooms on the second floor, the wrestling room, and areas of the childcare facilities.  Insufficient elevator capacity and bathrooms with accessibility barriers lead students to miss instructional time in order to navigate the building between classes. In other cases, doorways are not wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.

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Q:What does future learning look like? Is it student-centered plus technology driven? If we get our spaces "up to par" does that prepare us for the future enough--or should we be looking to the future and prepare our learning spaces for what is to come?

Current and future learning is and will be student-centered and technology enhanced. It’s estimated that 65% of students currently in grade school will go into jobs that do not exist today. That is just one of the reasons that today’s students need to develop creative and critical thinking skills, collaborative problem-solving skills, and other social skills, all of which student-centered learning enhances. One of the best things we can do from a facilities standpoint is create the most flexible and adaptable classrooms that we can, rather than try to outguess what the future will bring.

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Q:What specific classes would benefit from more whiteboard space?

Math classrooms would benefit most from additional whiteboard space, but all disciplines cited a need for this material.

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Q:Why does it matter that sizes of individual classrooms are not uniform? The Imagine group identified that the layout of classrooms limits teacher collaboration. What classes/courses suffer from a lack of teacher collaboration?

We’ve learned that both the size and shape of classroom space is important in accommodating flexible furniture arrangements. The problem with wildly disparate sizes of classrooms is that some are too small to handle the typical class size, while others are so big that space is wasted. Due to the layout and arrangement of classrooms, all disciplines have difficulty achieving the degree of faculty collaboration they would like to see, both within and across departments.

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Q:A lot of the work that needs to be done is basically deferred maintenance and projects that have been holdovers for decades. How could boards over the past 40 years allow this to happen?

Because the Feb. 27, 2018, Community Conversation focused on solely on facilities needs, some people may have come away thinking that facilities are in worse shape than they are. Overall, the Imagine Team has found that the facilities have been well maintained and that there have been significant investments to deal with a variety of deferred maintenance issues (roofing, tuckpointing, plumbing, wiring, boilers, etc.). There are some some notable exceptions where the school chose to defer investment, anticipating that major changes to those areas would be recommended.

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Q:Under "Music Spaces," it's stated that band and orchestra rooms are not compliant with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or ADA. Is this true for all rooms? What specifically needs to be addressed?

The band and orchestra classrooms have insufficient air volume to adequately protect hearing. The band room’s tiered floor requires students to navigate steps. The eight individual practice rooms (203 A-G) on the second floor require users to navigate a half flight of stairs.

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Q:The Arts team states that practice rooms are not ADA accessible. Is this true for all practice rooms? If not, how many? What specifically needs to be addressed?

The eight individual practice rooms (203 A-G) on the second floor require users to navigate a half flight of stairs.

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Q:What is the "lack of recording technology needed for state-mandated student assessment"?

In the last two years, the Illinois Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) has changed the criteria for assessing students in music courses. PERA mandates that part of music teachers’ evaluation of their students must include individual assessment of student growth twice a year.  To do that teachers must listen to each student singing or playing individually in a formal assessment. The most efficient way to accomplish this is to record individual students in small practice rooms, then listen to the recording for assessment outside of class time. The other alternative, which is being used currently, is for each faculty member to use class time to undertake individual evaluations for each assessment cycle. For the chorus teacher it takes 1.5 weeks of class meeting time to do individual evaluations of students in her largest ensemble.  For the band teachers, it takes two weeks’ of class time to evaluate students in one band.

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Q:Despite the setbacks with space, capacity and conditions, etc., our fine arts program continues to draw out the best in our kids. Imagine what they could do if we rethought the space, redesigned and reworked with an eye on the future? How can we create a fine arts wing that is designed around the talent in our community and the contributions these kids will make in society?

Imagine shares the goal of having arts spaces and programs that “draw out the best in our kids.”  Any expanded or redesigned arts spaces included in the master plan would build upon the extensive collaborative and space-sharing environment of the existing programs.  We welcome your suggestion that we should think about how that could extend to the community beyond OPRF.

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Q:Has the committee considered different ways of funding the expenses of extra-curricular activities?

We are examining, and are open to considering, all potential ways to fund all of this facilities work, not just the expenses associated with extracurricular activities.

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Q:How can we make the building energy efficient, sustainable, and more eco-friendly and healthy?

Actually, infrastructure improvements have made the building so energy efficient that it was awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star rating in 2013. In general, as our architects help develop solutions to identified issues, they’ll be following best practices to do so in ways that are environmentally sustainable. 

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Q:How would we provide natural light to the interior sections of the building? If we take out a chunk of the building we would lose space that would be needed for other activities and classes.

At this point in the process, Imagine has identified only facilities needs, not solutions. But given the research showing that natural light enhances student learning, our architects will be looking at creative, efficient options for providing natural light in as many places as possible.

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Q:At the Feb. 27, 2018, community meeting, one of the posters presented by the Whole Building team included a list called “Scope of Work”; the presenter stated that only the items marked with asterisks (administrative offices, Buildings & Grounds department, locker rooms, etc.) were reviewed. Yet one of the team’s other posters had a separate section called "Scope of this Team's Work" that included ADA compliance, bicycle parking, hallways, parking, and Welcome Center--none of which had asterisks on the first list. Which is correct?

We apologize for any confusion from our wording. As we attempted to note on the poster boards, the items with asterisks were specifically discussed in the 18 listening sessions with faculty, staff, and student stakeholders directly involved with those areas. However, all the items listed were within the realm of all their research.

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Q:Why was Evanston Township High School not included in the tours of peer institutions?

While the demographics of Evanston’s student population are similar to those of OPRF, our goal was to visit high schools with similar facilities issues (for example, being landlocked) that had undergone relatively recent and significant renovations. If you have some knowledge specifically about the facilities at Evanston High School that would be helpful to us, please pass it along.

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Q:Under the Restrooms/Locker Rooms summary, it's stated that changing spaces/showers lack privacy (e.g. curtains). Why haven't curtains been installed? It seems like a simple fix.

As Imagine’s work moves into the solutions phase, we will be incorporating cost-effective solutions at every stage.  In some cases, that may entail curtains.

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Q:The team presentation noted an equity issue in that girls have to walk through the field house in towels after an aquatics class. Is this scenario only true for girls who choose to take the elective Adventure Education, the class in which one kayaks in the West Pool?

A variety of students, male, female, and gender expansive, have to walk through the field house in bathing suits and towels to get to from their aquatics locker rooms to one of the pools and back.  This is true for students in multiple physical education courses and for extracurricular aquatics. It it not limited to students enrolled in Adventure Education PE classes

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Q:You forgot about golf. Shouldn't they be allowed to have an on-campus practice space they can utilize?

The Board of Education has a goal of keeping sports that currently are on campus on campus and bringing back any that can be accommodated on campus. Unfortunately, given the landlocked nature of OPRF’s site, golf cannot be accommodated on campus.

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Q:What is a regulation-size outdoor track?

The running distance for a regulation size outdoor track is 400 meters. For a standard eight-lane track, the surface required is approximately 92 meters by 158 meters.

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Q:Regarding the Lake Street Field, was the track ever intended to be regulation size?

No, unfortunately, the site of the Lake Street Field cannot accommodate a 400-meter regulation track. While it is a popular and well-used community asset, the track as currently configured cannot safely meet the training or competition needs of the 300-student track teams due to the squared-off corners.

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Q:With all students now having Chromebooks supplied by OPRF and the availability of online resources, the traditional need for the school's library has evolved. What is the true demand for OPRF's library today and in the future?

It is true that the function of all libraries has changed dramatically. The OPRF library now occupies roughly a third of the space it did six years ago. But today’s libraries still serve as research centers and, in the high school setting, important study areas.

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Q:Under the section "Research Completed" on one of the extra-curricular team posters, what online reports/studies were referenced regarding future trends in athletics?

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Q:How would I get involved?

Participate in upcoming community engagement meetings on April 16 and May 19 and 21. We also welcome feedback and questions via email to ImagineOPRF@oprfhs.org.

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Q:What do the other 20% of the students [who don’t participate in extra-curricular activities] do?

Many of them participate in church or other non-school activities, work at part-time jobs, or have family commitments.

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Q:Is there a way to prioritize the identified needs?

We will be prioritizing the solutions in several ways, including but not limited to:

  • Which current problems are the most acute? In other words, which current-state issues are furthest from the desired state ?
  • Which solutions will solve the most problems?
  • Which solutions will positively impact the most students?
  • Which investments will make the biggest overall positive impact?

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Q:I’d like more information on the quality of the parking garage structure and the future of the garage. Is it adequate to meet the needs of the high school as it stands now?

The Village of Oak Park, which owns the garage (the high school owns the land), has recently completed $400,000 worth of deferred maintenance repairs to the structure. When built 15 years ago, the life span of the garage was planned to be 25 years. The garage accommodates parking for 300 cars. That capacity, plus 100 spaces leased from Pilgrim Congregational Church and 75 assigned street parking spaces on Linden Avenue and Erie Streets, is sufficient to meet the current parking needs of the faculty and staff.

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Q:I’d like to know more about the need for additional after-school space for clubs and activities. Why can’t more classrooms be opened to them?

Opening even more classrooms makes it difficult to secure remote areas of the school when classes are not in session. Many classrooms are not appropriate to accommodate the needs of certain clubs or activities (for instance, floors and mirrors for dancers in Orchesis or Show Choir), access to technology, or appropriate furniture.

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Q:What are the trends in class size at each academic level and for each academic concentration at OPRF? What is the trend in the peer schools? What has the Imagine Teams learned is a good target for class size and upon what research is it based? At the next presentation, can you present the target number of class rooms for each target class size?

Decisions about how OPRF determines the size of its classes do not fall within the purview of Imagine OPRF.  As we begin developing solutions and options, we anticipate engaging with teachers and administrators to understand how rooms should be configured for specific teaching needs.

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Q:The [February 27] presentation failed to shows findings and research-supported targets about specific academic areas and special needs associated with those focuses—for example science labs, computer labs, foreign language labs. Are there target numbers for maximum students in labs? Is placement of labs constrained by air-handling design?

As Imagine teams have conducted our research about the current facilities, we have been compiling questions about things like the future need for computer labs and language labs and the ventilation requirements for science labs and other learning spaces. As we move into the next phases of the master planning project, we will be working closely with the architects, and relying on their professional expertise as K-12 specialists, to ensure that OPRF’s facilities meet contemporary best practices.

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Q:What is the projected demand for these spaces in the foreseeable future?

All of the programs investigated by the Imagine Fine and Applied Arts Team have had steady or growing enrollment in the last 10 years. Family and Consumer Sciences has increased credit hours by more than 35% with its recent addition of popular baking and pastry classes. The Music and Speech Arts programs have experienced double-digit growth in credit hours, thanks partly to the addition of two curricular choral ensembles and partly to the growing sound production classes that have had to turn students away for the last two years due to lack of capacity. Visual Arts has experienced similar issues as growth of the popular graphic design courses also has been limited by inadequate facilities. Based on our analysis of recent trends and middle school enrollments, we project continued demand in all three programs. 

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Q:Just wondering, in terms of numbers in proportion to other groups' needs, what percentage of resources are being expended here?

Imagine focused on facilities and their adequacy for current and future needs.  We did not examine how the school budgets its resources for existing programs. In terms of budget for the arts in the master plan, we are still a long way away from making those kinds of decisions.

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Q:Did the Imagine Team consider vocational classes? If so what were the conclusions? If not, why?

Imagine’s research did include facilities where Career and Technical Education (CTE, the term that has replaced vocational education) courses are offered at OPRF.  In particular, the Fine & Applied Arts Team looked at facilities for several courses/sequences that prepare students for careers, including Child Development/Childcare, Housing and Interior Design, Clothing, Food Services/Food Management, Sound Production, Theatre Technology and Design, and Graphic Design. The Academics and Student Achievement Team looked at facilities for the Technology Education program, which includes Auto Technology classes.  While Imagine is not charged with making decisions about curriculum, we will continue working with the appropriate divisions to ensure that facilities in the master plan meet the future needs of OPRF’s curriculum.

 

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