Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 is working with the Park District of Oak Park to reorganize and share portions of its sports fields on the school campus and across Lake Street at Ridgeland Common. The two tax entities have signed a memorandum of understanding and are working on a formal agreement which could take place this summer.
Among the improvements on offer is a new track with space to accommodate on-court events like the discus and pole vault. The latest attempt at a renovation, which D200 officials hope to complete by the 2023-24 school year, comes amid discussions of long-term maintenance plans and ongoing Imagine OPRF capital projects.
The School District and Park District held a town hall on May 4 to answer questions from families, students, and community members who wanted details about the project’s costs, schedule, and potential impact on surrounding residential areas. Superintendent Greg Johnson, who led the nearly hour-long presentation and moderated the Q&A session, was joined by Park District Executive Director Jan Arnold and OPRF Athletic Director Nicole Ebsen and Ron Anderson, Chief of Operations.
According to school district plans, the athletic field renovation is primarily focused on the West Field, otherwise known as the Back Field, which sits behind the school building and along Linden Avenue, said Ebsen.
She said the district began considering updating its sports fields after learning that the school’s agreement to use Concordia University Chicago’s outdoor track facility in River Forest will expire in 2024. .
With plans still in an early stage, the cost of the project has yet to be determined, Johnson said. At this point, the district hopes to lock in those details by summer, launch a bid by next fall, and begin construction next summer and be ready by the 2023-24 school year, a said Karin Sullivan, spokeswoman for the OPRF, in an interview following the meeting.
At the May 4 meeting, Johnson said the district was looking to fund the project from its cash reserves and that the project itself would take about four to five months.
The restoration of the grounds is also separate from the next phase of Project Imagine, which aims to focus on the high school’s indoor sports facilities, Johnson and Sullivan said. Phase 2 of the Imagine project, which includes the renovation of the swimming pool, locker rooms and several physical education and multipurpose rooms, has not yet been finalized or approved by the school board.
“We need to find a home for our largest and most diverse program, for our boys’ and girls’ track,” Ebsen said of the district’s loss of the Concordia facility. She told attendees that she and other leaders were thinking about partnering with other nearby high schools or Triton College in nearby River Grove, “but what really drove us to this was taking aware that we would become a kind of second homeschooler.”
If the district were to move in this direction, OPRF student-athletes would be bused to other schools, could have later practice start times, and be home later in the evening.
“It was something that we quickly realized was not necessarily a long-term solution for us,” she said.
The backcourt – home to the baseball and softball fields – will be transformed into a full 400-metre, eight-lane track with competition court for events including discus, pole vault and shot put , as well as a triple, long and high jump, she says. The district also plans to place a 65m by 110m multi-sport synthetic turf pitch in the middle of the new track, supplementing the space with a 600-seat bleacher. Johnson said the west field repairs would benefit all students; he would be available for PE classes or other teams including Marching Band, Cheering, Drills, Special Olympics and more.
But what does this mean for baseball and softball fields?
They would be moved, Ebsen told attendees at the town hall. The baseball diamond would be moved to the South Lake Street field, directly across from the high school. The south field is already a grass field and is typically used by the school’s soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey teams. The softball field, however, would be moved to the Ridgeland Common Recreation Complex, an Oak Park District facility. The Ridgeland Common site is also a grass pitch.
Ebsen said having grass pitches is a major benefit, especially for the school’s baseball and softball teams, because synthetic turf reduces maintenance, eliminates mud and keeps rain out unlike on natural grass.
“Our freshman softball program, just for example,” she said, “has played five games so far and probably won’t be able to complete its conference program at the rate we’re going with the weather. expected in the coming weeks.”
During the presentation, Johnson explained to attendees the school district and park’s plan to replace Ridgeland’s synthetic turf pitch, which is nearing the end of its life; scoreboards and fencing around the perimeter of the pitch. Johnson said the Oak Park District and Park District have already voted on and approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOA), allowing the two entities to “invest” in each other and share space. whole.
The next step is to create an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between the District 200 School Board and the Park District Board that would spell out the details of their relationship, Johnson said. A draft of this IGA would likely be presented to both boards in June, and further meetings would take place to continue the conversation, he said.