Project 2 funding approved

After seven years of deliberation, community input and debates, funding for the new pool has been approved. At its April 27 meeting, the District 200 School Board approved the $102 million funding for Project 2, a renovation of the athletic facilities.

The physical education-focused renovations will replace the two existing 1928 pools with a modern 25-by-40-yard pool. Other plans call for upgrading two major fields, all main locker rooms (including a new gender neutral locker room), various gym classrooms, green rooms and dressing rooms for the theater department and a green roof.

Construction will begin in summer 2024 and is slated to conclude in summer 2026.

“Every student deserves safe, modern PE classrooms that meet the needs of 21st century learners, and I’m thrilled that this project is moving forward,” Board President Tom Cofsky stated in an April 27 press release.

Village voters were divided on whether the funding strategy and approval of the renovations should be posed to the voters or the board to decide, ie: a referendum or no referendum. The board voted on a funding strategy that did not require a referendum, since the strategy uses “a combination of cash reserves, philanthropic donations, and debt certificates,” according to the school’s press release.

Despite the board’s unanimous decision, the renovations are not without controversy. Former board candidate Brian Souders was vehemently pro-referendum, stating at a Feb. 16 candidate forum that, “There’s been no discussion, zero discussion both with the finance committee and at the board table about our capacity to ever do phases three, four and five in our lifetimes,” he said, referring to plans for future renovations of the building.

Souders ran on many of the same policies and values as the three winning candidates, such as equity, prioritizing mental health and strong fiscal planning, but Souders stuck out as the only candidate who was pro-referendum, arguing that valuing opinions of the taxpayers is crucial to building trust between the school and the greater Oak Park and River Forest community.

Community resident Monica Sheehan argued in favor of a referendum at the April 27 board meeting’s public comment session. Sheehan has spoken at several board meetings and published several articles that levy criticism at the funding strategy for Imagine OPRF, “It’s an anti-democratic and fiscally irresponsible plan…all of Project 2’s borrowing should go on the ballot, option one, and the portion only levied for needs to operate the school,” she said. “This court [board] needs to be accountable to taxpayers on spending.”

Students and staff also had differing opinions on the upcoming construction. Senior Matthew Zochowski is one of three 2022-23 Marching Band drum majors. He expressed support for the overall renovations, but also had concerns about conflicting practice schedules on the remaining fields next year.

“I think [the construction] is going to be very expensive to do, but the facilities are kind of overrun and not very good anymore. But, for the next year, it’s going to be quite difficult to find time to have rehearsals every day. I’ve heard inklings of evening rehearsals which might come in conflict with other students who aren’t in the band. so it’s gonna be a difficult season, but I hope the best for them,” he said.

Sophomore Swim and Dive member Rachel Sang was in favor of a new pool, but had qualms with the timing of it. “I think it’s definitely necessary, but I wish it had been done sooner, because I won’t be able to practice in any pool. So it kind of does suck, but still, I’m glad,” she said.

Senior swimmer and water polo player Brad Huseby was excited for the new pool, not only for the sake of future aquatic sports seasons but for the future of the PE program as a whole.

“I believe an upgrade in the athletic facilities (pool included) is an absolute necessity, and it is extremely overdue. Compared to our [water polo] rivals, we are the only team with a shallow end and deep end pool, and this limits our ability to practice and host games, as the IHSA standard consists of a double deep end pool. But that pales in comparison to how important this new pool will be for the gym classes and community activities,” he said.

When asked about players’ concerns about where they will practice in the meantime, Huseby said this: “I expect practice times will be altered and hopefully the school can try to use local pools such as Triton for practice time. I feel for those athletes, but they understand their sacrifice will greatly help later generations.”