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A plan for investing in OPRF's future

Opinion: Columns

September 11th, 2018 7:00 PM

By Mike Poirier & Lynn Kamenitsa

One View

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.