Pool plan drowns in referendum

Sarah Lipo, Managing Editor

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As chilly breezes blew through colorful trees on Nov. 8, the fateful day had come to vote on the pool saga, an issue in and out of the news the past year.

OPRF girls swim coach Clyde Lundgren sat at the edge of his seat, watching the local election and referendum votes come in. As the decision alternated between passing and not passing, Lundgren knew it would be close.

As the record numbers flooded the polls to voice opinions in the presidential election and decisions a little closer to home, the results proved to be legendary. The referendum asked voters to vote “yes,” allowing OPRF to issue bonds to fund a new pool and other proposed changes around the school, or vote “no,” which would send the issue back to the drawing board. In the pool saga, the “no” votes outmatched the “yes” votes by a mere 0.34 percent, amassing a total of 118 votes.

Lundgren says he was “…bummed out that it didn’t go through. However, looking at the numbers, over 17,000 people voted Yes! It was a split result. If only 60 people swung from the No to the Yes it would have passed.”

School Board member Sara Spivy was also disappointed by the referendum’s failure. “There was just an overwhelming number of voters to talk to and we were all pretty distracted by national politics. There were a lot of really tough factors working against the referendum,” she said.

Although the result of the referendum means the plan is set to be revamped, many are satisfied with this outcome. Jack Davidson has lived in the Oak Park area for 10 years. He was drawn to Oak Park by “the diversity, the cool old homes, and the small-town feel of a rather large suburb.” When he “somehow” landed on a small email list composed of citizens discussing pool updates, the goal of the drive began to emerge. “The mission…was to explain why we were so passionately motivated to bring attention to these core project components that were being neglected..” He said, “ I would say our mission was a success.” Davidson speaks of the “Vote No” drive, compromised of many community members.

over 17,000 people voted Yes! It was a split result. If only 60 people swung from the No to the Yes it would have passed.”

— Clyde Lundgren

Still, many looked forward to the proposed changes promised in the theoretical Long Term Facilities Plan. The plan included a new swimming pool on the site of the parking garage, a smaller parking garage, renovations to the boys’ P.E. locker rooms and band areas, and increased classroom space.

Sarah Roodhouse, head of the Performing Arts Department, was excited to see how the new plan would benefit her students. The performing arts department has grown in the past six years by 20 percent. “The new space proposed is for Orchestra and Band which would allow the choir and theatre to expand into those spaces left by band and orchestra.”  

So after years of planning, disagreement, and campaigning, what is the next step?

It is back to the drawing board. More plans are to be drawn up, and more conversations are still to come.

Chris Donovan lives in Oak Park, and has been involved in the pool issue for the last year. He is gratified that the pool referendum did not pass, because he has different ideas about how the project should be approached. “…I realize that the existing pools have structural integrity issues, so the board should reconsider the STANTEC plan and rebuild the two pools in their current locations,” he said. “The OPRF School Board should coordinate those improvements with the rebuilding of the ‘boys’ locker room and relocation of the ‘girls’ locker room.”

As ideas like this one continue to whirl around town, it seems as though many have their own idea on how to handle the pool situation.

Ultimately, it will be up to the Board on how to handle the ensuing situation.

More work and more communication is expected in the future. “As to how to move forward with a facilities plan- well, that’s something we need to discuss as a Board,” says Spivy.

Lundgren is also unsure of the next step.  “I only hope that the we don’t move forward with a plan to renovate the pools to end up with less than what we have today.”

Spivy looks to the future as a hopeful time, full of new plans, but also healing. Since the “Vote yes” and “Vote no” campaigns were so divided, she believes there is a lot of work cut out for the community. “We have a lot of work to do trying to heal the rift that has been created in our district and to heal the wounds caused by some of the incredibly divisive and unkind accusations heard during the campaign. Clearly there is a much deeper issue to be addressed than simply a facilities plan given the vitriolic tone of the rhetoric.”