Frequently Asked Questions

How does the new pool dovetail with other long-term facility needs?
You can see the most recent options for a long term facility plan, which includes replacing the pools, here. We'll be holding community meetings for residents to learn more about the plans and ask questions on July 19, 2016, in the OPRF Little Theatre and on July 20 at the Dominican University Priory Campus Aula Auditorium. Both meetings run 7-9 p.m.

Some background: A long-term facilities planning process has been underway since August 2015. A committee of board members, administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents, and community members worked with the district’s architects to gather input, identify stakeholders’ needs and priorities, and create potential facilities plans based on this information. The results of the parallel conversations about the pool and the overall facilities were merged into a single long-term facilities planning report presented to the Board at a special meeting on May 17, 2016. Addressing the south end of the building, including the pools, was identified as the top priority during the long-term planning process. Fortunately, the Field House was found to be structurally sound, allowing all pool options to be integrated into the long-term facilities plans. The potential facilities plans presented in the May 17 report include the two pool options that were identified as most favored by the community. Since then another option was brought forward by a board member and approved by the board for further consideration. 

Can you combine the pool, tennis, and/or parking on multiple floors to save space?
Several combinations of these elements were explored, and none were acceptable. Placing a parking garage over a 40- or 50-meter pool is very difficult because the expanse of water does not allow for the columns necessary to support the weight of the building and the vehicles. This option was presumed to be cost prohibitive and was not priced. The price for underground parking is about $75,000 more per space than above-ground spaces. The district did have designs for putting a parking garage under the pool in Option 1; that would have provided just 118 spots at an additional cost of $11.8 million.

Placing tennis courts on the roof of a pool structure was also considered. Only six (of the current eight) would fit, which would be inadequate for both the PE curriculum and competition. There would be no spectator space, and elevating courts 30 feet would create a wind tunnel with no cover. In addition, the cost estimate for this inadequate solution was approximately $5 million.

Can you build on the tennis courts?
Technically, yes. However, a significant number of negative repercussions eliminated this site from final consideration. Avoiding the loss of outdoor activity space was a priority. Further, the tennis program would have to be moved off campus, and tennis would be eliminated from PE curriculum. A pool facility on the tennis courts would be far from other athletics facilities and would require extra faculty to supervise transitions. If not connected to the main building, a pool facility would require students to walk outside in the elements and extra security staff to monitor. Connecting to the building would require a second-floor catwalk and installation of two elevators (one at each end), meaning loss of the Tutoring Center and other space in the main building. There was concern about disruption to the neighborhood, in terms of traffic and effect on sight lines. Line-of-site village ordinance would require a greater set-back from the courts’ current location, causing additional loss of green space and possibly softball or baseball fields.

What is the timeline? How will parking, physical education, and extracurricular activities be affected during construction?
The current goal is to have a board-approved pool plan, funding structure, and referendum question by late August 2016, in time to put a referendum question on the November 8, 2016, ballot. If the community approves the referendum, the earliest construction could start would be spring 2018. Completing the project will take roughly two to two and a half years. The effects on parking, PE, and extracurricular activities depend on which pool option is approved and thus are unknown at the moment. However, the district will seek to minimize the disruption that the construction process causes to the educational program and students, staff, and neighbors. 

What is the lifespan of/condition of/cost to repair the existing garage? Can another level be added to the garage?
A May 2016 engineering report found that the garage needs an estimated $271,000 in repairs. If these are done and then annual inspections and maintenance are performed, the garage can be expected to last another 25 years. 

The existing parking garage was designed to accommodate one more level of parking.  The additional level would be the same as it is now:  half of the parking would be on a sloped ramp and the other half on a flat platform.

How will my taxes be affected? How will this be financed?
This information will be available in mid- to late summer. First the board must determine what pool and facilities plans to pursue. After this, the board will be able to determine the project cost and a funding structure. Once this has occurred, the district will publish a dollar figure for community members to use as guidance for determining the impact on their own property taxes.

Will the taxpayers get to vote? Will there be a referendum?
Once it has approved a pool and facilities option, the board anticipates seeking community approval via a referendum question on the November 8, 2016, ballot. The board first has to approve a referendum question; the deadline for submitting an approved question to the Board of Elections for the November ballot is August 22, 2016.

How are capital funds and education funds different? What about the existing (high) reserves?
The Capital Projects Fund is a restricted-use fund, meaning the law restricts its use to specific purposes. This fund includes proceeds resulting from bonds or other long-term finance agreements or construction or maintenance grants specifically for financing facility refurbishment and construction projects, capital lease, or lease purchase agreements. The Education Fund is one of the operating funds, which cover the day-to-day costs of the running the district. The Education Fund is the largest fund and accounts for most of the instructional, co-curricular, special education, pupil support, and administrative aspects of the district’s operations. Funds from the Education Fund may, however, be used for capital projects as well.

During the past several years, the district has been phasing down its fund balance. The phase-down is based on the recommendations of the 2013 Finance Advisory Committee (FAC), which was formed when the fund balance was 196% of operating expenses, one of the largest in the state. The first step of the phase down was to provide tax cuts and abatements that totaled over $28 million during the last three years; foregoing annual tax increases during that time avoids an additional $44 million in taxes over the next seven  years. The phase down also earmarked $20 million for capital projects, which we currently expect to use for the pool. Through these actions, the district is on target to bring the fund balance to between 25% and 40% of expenses and hold an operating referendum in 2021 or 2023, as recommended by the FAC. In addition, paying for the pool project at least partly with bonds would spread the cost to future generations that will benefit from it.

How are the village, park district, and high school working together to ensure efficiency and to meet all taxpayer needs cost effectively?
All six governing bodies in Oak Park have a history of working together to offer excellent services and to collaborate to manage costs where possible. IGOV, the intergovernmental committee consisting of all six bodies, developed a report detailing these efforts, which can be seen by clicking here.

With respect to the pool project, the high school and Village of Oak Park worked closely together to develop the parking plan included with Option 1. In addition, representatives from all six Oak Park governing bodies have been collaborating as members of the Park District of Oak Park task force for a community center feasibility study, formed in December 2015. This study, which has now been completed, involved an extensive community engagement process to determine residents’ interest in and preferences for a new community center. The feedback did show that including a pool is a priority, but that the requirements of a community pool and an instruction/competition pool are in conflict. For instance, a community pool needs a water temperature too warm for athletics and would likely include a zero-depth component that wouldn’t accommodate PE classes, practices, or meets. In addition, the high school needs on campus pools for PE, and the peak demand time for competitive use by the high school and recreational swim by school age children are the same.

What are the academic and competitive advantages of each option? The advantages of having a pool that is longer than 25 yards? What are other schools doing?
The primary benefit of having a larger pool is to increase capacity. In physical education, this allows more students to be in the pool at the same time and for teachers to differentiate instruction by more easily creating multiple learning activities within the same class period. For competitive aquatics, it enables simultaneous practice for multiple teams, such as swimming, diving, and water polo. For our student athletes, this will reduce the amount of early morning or evening practices, providing better schedules for academic work. Simultaneous practices also, therefore, provide the possibility of more use for community groups and individual residents.

Can the Ridgeland Common pool be covered?
Even if it were covered, the Ridgeland Common pool is not a viable solution to meet the high school’s needs. Each day, roughly 400 students are in the pools for PE instruction from 8:00 a.m. to 3:04 p.m. Class periods are 48 minutes long; crossing Lake Street, walking two blocks to and from Ridgeland, and providing sufficient time for students to change clothes and shower would not leave enough instructional time. In addition, students would be walking to Ridgeland in all kinds of weather with no coats and wet hair, and extra staff would be required to ensure student safety.

What is enrollment? Projected increases?
Enrollment for 2015-2016 was 3,262 students. The current five-year projections, presented to the Board in February 2016, predict an enrollment of 350+ students by 2020-2021.

How many students swim? Participate in extracurricular water activities? Cannot swim when they start high school?
Freshmen and sophomores--or roughly 1,600 students per year--take a required nine-week swimming unit during PE. This equates to roughly 400 students using the pool during instructional time each school day. About 200 students per year participate in extracurricular/athletic aquatics. Non-water athletic teams (track and cross country) also use the pool. Approximately 10% of students begin high school without the skills to safely enter and exit deep water.

Why does OPRFHS have a swimming requirement? Why can’t it be reduced? Why can’t students opt out?
Physical education in today’s classroom focuses on lifelong fitness. Students experience a variety of activities from team sports to individual activities so that they will incorporate these activities into their everyday routines as they get older. Swimming at OPRFHS is about a life skill and a fitness activity.

What are the requirements (including parking) to host swim meets and other competitions? How many are there (per sport) each year? How many spectators are there?
For all events, the school is required to provide appropriate parking relative to the size of the event. Swimming events such as invitationals, conference meets, and sectional meets require appropriate locker room space, seating for teams on deck and in bleachers, and space for spectators. 

A conference meet, for instance, would involve seven schools and seven buses, parent/spectator parking, 40 swimmers a team (or 280 total), three coaches per team (21 total) plus parents/spectators. The high school would host two or three of these events each year for both boys and girls swimming and diving. Water polo would host similar events with regard to invitationals, conference tournaments, and sectional tournaments.  Again, the high school would likely host two to three events for both boys and girls.

What other high schools have pools (size and lanes)? 50-meter pools? Require swimming?
Of the 14 other schools in the West Suburban Conference, nine have pools:
6 lane x 25 yards - Hinsdale Central, Morton (two pools), Leyden (two pools--these are being replaced in the next two years), Proviso West
7 lane x 25 yards - Hinsdale South
6 lane x 25 yards and 6 lane x 50 yards - Lyons Township
6 lane x 52 yards - York
8 lane x 25 yards - Downers Grove South, Downers Grove North
5 lane x 25 yards and 6 lane x 25 yards - OPRF

Stevenson High School, which is not in the same conference, is believed to be Illinois’ only eight-lane, 50-meter high school pool.

The majority of schools with pools require students to swim at some point during their high school experience.

Why do other school/community pools appear to cost less?
The design of the OPRF pool is unique in that it has been designed to meet the specific needs of the OPRF community and its very challenging site.  It is difficult to make comparisons to other pool facilities that may have very different programmatic needs and constraints.

All of the estimates presented to the Board have been prepared by professionals who specialize in identifying the costs associated with construction. The first cost estimate for Option 1 was prepared by Henry Brothers for budgeting purposes before the building was designed. The second, more up-to-date cost estimate was prepared by Construction Cost Systems (CCS) after the building design was underway in the schematic design phase.

Keep in mind that the $37.5 million cost presented to the Board is the total project cost, which includes everything: purchase and demolition of the garage; the cost of constructing the building, including temporary construction and staging; restoration of the site and landscaping; all equipment and furniture; professional fees; and 20% for design and construction contingencies, which allow for currently unforeseen costs.  Many of the headlines and newspaper stories identify only the cost of construction ("hard" costs) and exclude all of the other costs ("soft" costs) related to construction.  Without reviewing a detailed breakdown of the costs for these other projects, making accurate comparisons is very difficult.

How are school needs and community needs balanced?
The high school is an important asset to the community, and the district is committed to providing residents with as much access to a new pool as the schedule allows. Community use has two separate components: (1) organized youth programs through the YMCA and other organizations, and (2) lap swim and recreational use by residents. How much time can be allotted to each use will depend greatly on the final pool design. For instance, a single pool, even one with a moveable divider that allows multiple uses, would limit the community from using the pool when students are there, whether during the school day or during athletics practices, while a two-pool solution might provide more flexibility. On the other hand, the number of lanes and amount of water will determine what teams can use the pools simultaneously, and the larger the total pools size, the more availability there might be. The chart presented with the pool options provided estimates under the different designs of how much community use will be available.

Will alternative energy sources, repurposing materials, and other environmentally responsible tactics be considered?
Current best practices call for being as green as possible, and these certainly will be considered in the next phase of design.

Why weren’t off-campus swimming options including Fenwick, Triton, Concordia, Oak Park Hospital and the 19th Century Club considered?
As with the idea of covering Ridgeland discussed above, none of these off-site locations would meet the needs of the PE program and were not considered.

Why weren’t alternate garage locations including south of Lake Street, Pilgrim Church, and purchasing vacant land considered?
They were. Two options on Lake Street were considered: A two-story parking garage on the Lake Street Athletic Field (including the acquisition of the block of Scoville Avenue from Lake Street to the tracks) and a one-story parking garage on the Lake Street field with athletic fields on the roof. The first option would require the village to close the block of Scoville and make it available to the district. The cost of the 266 parking spots would be $10.3 million. In addition to concerns about this additional cost, the lost green space would have forced the need to reconfigure the hockey/lacrosse/soccer fields, possibly making them too small for competition. The jogging track, a valued community asset, would also be lost. The second option was estimated to cost $17-19 million, which was deemed too expensive. Building a lot on the Pilgrim Church property was not explored, but would require the church’s willingness to sell the land, would displace the 100 parking spots the school currently rents on the surface lot at Pilgrim, and would require the relocation of the Farmers Market. No other vacant land has been identified for purchase within a reasonable distance of the high school.

Why was the zoned street-parking plan eliminated?
It wasn’t. The plan was presented to the village Transportation Commission on Nov. 23, 2015. However, the village board of trustees would have to approve the plan for it to take effect and it is currently on hold while we explore other options.

Have alternative funding sources including seeking donations, selling naming rights, auctioning the old tiles, and crowdfunding been considered?
The immediacy of the need to replace the pools has led the district to believe that funding from fund balance and long term bonds was the most sensible approach. The idea of seeking alternative funding sources has, however, been mentioned several times during board conversations and may be considered in the future.

What happened to the Stantec plans? They seemed to have lower costs and provide good options.
The reasons for eliminating various options explored in the Stantec Report can be found here, in our document entitled “Pool Sites Considered 2012-2015.” The Stantec Report was published very early in this process, based on research that began in 2012. Any costs mentioned in the report were very rough and are now more than four years old. In addition, no designs or program verification were done for the report.

Are there any plans to generate revenue to offset costs from the pool(s)/and or garage?
This has not been discussed to date, though viable opportunities certainly would merit consideration. In general, hosting more and larger events would generate more revenue as would expanded community use of the facility.

Could the pool and garage be flipped in option 4 so that the exit is on Scoville Avenue instead of Lake Street?
Unfortunately flipping the pool and garage in option 4 would not work. That option has locker rooms, offices for coaches, and pool storage and mechanicals all occupying space that is in the existing structure, particularly in the current east pool and weight room spaces. There is not enough room on the west side of the building to accommodate all of those needs, so it is not possible to put the pool on the west side.

Can the pools in Options 3 and 4 be made longer/wider/50 meters?
The pools in those two designs can be widened to 75 feet, which will allow for competition length lanes swimming cross-wise. This will likely cause the building to extend beyond the existing structure on either the Mall or Scoville side, but will still fit on the lot. The pools cannot be made longer, however, because there is not enough room between the existing school building and Lake Street.

What do coaches and students think/want?
Different individuals favor different options, but overall, the coaches likely to be most affected by the different options that were explored during the past several years--swim, tennis, baseball, and softball--are in agreement that they prefer no sport be moved off campus nor eliminated from the PE curriculum. Students generally have voiced a similar opinion. While some coaches and students have expressed a preference for a 50-meter pool, they would also support a smaller pool or two smaller pools that can meet curricular and competition needs while creating less expense to taxpayers.

Can all operating and maintenance costs, not just utilities, be provided?
The district is continuing to analyze this question.

Why weren’t reconfiguration costs and a parking plan included with Option 1?
At the time Option 1 was finalized, in fall 2015, long-term facilities needs and priorities had not yet been identified. It was unknown whether or how the vacated pool spaces would be repurposed or whether they would become permanently closed, unused spaces. Thus, the information the district published about Option 1 at that time included separate estimates for (1) the costs of purchasing and demolishing the garage and building a new pool on the site, estimated to be $37.5 million, and (2) repurposing the spaces, estimated to cost an additional $11 million. On the pool options comparison chart published in April 2016, we included a footnote with the cost of the potential repurposing. We felt this struck a balance between being transparent about reconfiguration costs and not confusing the public with a figure that differed from the $37.5 million cost so widely publicized in the fall. (Note that the cost of safely shuttering the vacated spaces is estimated to be $50,000 – $75,000 per pool.)

Regarding a parking plan for Option 1, the district did work with Village of Oak Park representatives to create a plan that would distribute parking among various zoned areas on streets surrounding the high school. This plan was included in preliminary form in the material the Board considered when it approved Option 1 in April of 2015 and a fuller plan was presented to the village Transportation Commission on Nov. 23, 2015. The village board of trustees would have to approve the plan for it to take effect. The plan is currently on hold while we explore other options.