After Reno, West Pool finally open for us

Varsity swimmer Emmett Harmon takes a lot of pride in swimming in Oak Park and River Forest High School’s West Pool. ¨I think that it’s something special,” he said. “It’s a place with a lot of history. We’ve had all of our aquatic stars swimming there, so you’re swimming in the same pool as they did.”

The West Pool has now reopened after it was closed last February for repairs. OPRF currently has two functioning pools, the East Pool and the West Pool, but both are slated to be replaced under Project 2, a major overhaul of the school’s athletic wing (see story, page 1).

While school leaders work out the details and funding for Project 2, the historic 1928 pools are in use for students.

The West Pool is used for a variety of aquatic activities, with everything from synchronized swimming to swim lessons to water polo taking place there. It even serves as a vital part of the physical education program, as freshmen and sophomores are required to go through a swim unit.

Athletic Director Nicole Ebsen said, “though (swimming is) considered a leisure activity, it’s really a life saving skill. So, to be able to provide that in the school environment is something that we often take for granted.”

The West Pool represents more than just physical education though, Harmon said, “It’s a very important part of varsity culture, that varsity swim is there and we’ve made it sort of our pool.”

This made it all the more painful when, last February, the West Pool closed for maintenance and renovation. McCluskey Engineering, a consulting firm hired by the school, rated the West Pool deck a “5” on the firm’s 1 to 5 scale of repair urgency. The pool wall was relying on the deck for structural stability, so if the west deck failed it could cause huge damage to the pool.

These urgent repairs made the pool unusable, and the school spent the whole summer working to repair these issues.

There also was water damage done to the basement floor below the pool, with mold and rust covering the under-structure of the pool.

There wasn’t really one cause for the pool’s breakdown, but, rather, “natural wear and tear of a really old building that just needed to be updated,” said gym teacher Jen Kanwischer.

According to Harmon, ¨We had a net on the ceiling and there were tiles that would occasionally fall down but not through the net. We had parts of the deck popping up. There was some mold growing on the deck, but we were never bothered by that. I mean, we had our five lanes. We had a pool, so we couldn’t really complain.”

Immediate repairs needed to be done. But the school would find many challenges along the way. Since the pool is so old, it’s hard to find the correct parts and pipes for the pool. The school also had issues with bringing this old system up to today’s safety code. Repairing the pool was like repairing a historic home, with lots of parameters that leave very little room for modernization. All this made for a long tedious process to fix the pool.

Specifically, the deck was completely repaired to keep the deck tile from peeling away at the floor and stop water damage. Since the deck supports the inner pool wall, this also fixes some of the structural damage caused by the water. The improvements also “put a liner in to just help contain the water so that we didn’t have so much leakage from the base of the pool,” said Ebsen.

The West Pool has survived. Finally, the renovations are done and the pool is back open for OPRF swim. This eases pressure on the swim PE unit and allows the varsity swim teams to reclaim their pool. While these fixes won’t be permanent, “We’ve gotten it to a place where we can safely use it and it’ll last us a bit longer,” said Ebsen.