Project 2 debates rage on

Now that Oak Park and River Forest High School has unveiled a plan to renovate its athletic wing, the school board and community are debating whether it is the best option for students and the community.

Project 2 aims to reconstruct the pools in the southeast corner of the school building to create a single new pool in addition to all-gender bathrooms, a multipurpose dance studio and more. It is the second phase of renovations under the school’s Imagine OPRF plan to upgrade school facilities.

The budget of Project 2 is $104,442,674, including “alternate work” for projects such as solar panels and a roof plaza, according to a presentation given at the school board’s Community Finance Committee meeting on Jan. 17.

One of the biggest questions brought up was how the school is going to pay for all of this. The OPRF Board and Imagine Work Group provided five different payment scenarios, with some options possibly taking up to 20 years to pay off.

The payment scenarios are not finalized at this point, but at this stage it seems likely some of the money will come from higher taxes paid by Oak Park and River Forest residents. Those funds could be raised through bonds or debt certificates, according to a document shared at the meeting.

Investors buy bonds that are paid back with interest in the hopes of making money. Debt certificates, though similar, come in the form of a document where the borrower promises to pay back the sum of money with interest.

Referendum is a word that has been plastered all over board meeting public comments. The term, which means to decide the outcome of a topic through voting, has been used differently by both sides of the Project 2 argument.

While many people against Project 2 believe the voters need to decide on it through a referendum, many people who are pro Project 2 believe the board just needs to vote for it so construction can start.

Currently the board has yet to approve Project 2. There is no definite answer as to whether the board is going to vote for it or not. All voters can do right now is wait and vote in the next board election (see News Analysis, on the left).

OPRF parent and resident of River Forest Laura Hsieh argued in favor of Project 2 at the Jan. 26 school board meeting. “All Oak Park and River Forest children deserve the best education that we can provide. That includes physical education,” she said.

The renovation will place another elevator in the school, essentially assisting with the accessibility for disabled students who struggle to or cannot use the stairs.

Other residents oppose Project 2. At the CFC meeting on Jan.17, Monica Sheehan, who has long expressed her disdain for Project 2 at public meetings and in letters to the local newspaper, stated, “Taxpayers had a right to decide if they want to fund the project, which would raise their taxes for decades.”

Anabel Govea, a senior at OPRF, said, “It doesn’t completely affect me” because she is graduating at the end of the school year. However, the school should use its funds “for other things rather than reconstructing places,” she said.

Kaya Piper, a junior at OPRF who participates in water polo and the swimming and diving program, said she believes, though the pool is in dire need of renovations, with all the previous setbacks it doesn’t seem realistic the pool will actually be finished in time for swim season when the students return to school after summer.