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Larger Central pool might sink relationships


Last updated 8/28/2019 at 3:20pm | View PDF

After two failed referendums to pay for large-scale upgrades at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high schools, it didn’t take a deep dive by officials to identify a major obstacle to success.

The plan to construct a brand new 10-lane pool facility at Central while keeping South’s pool at six lanes was spotlighted by opponents as an inequitable distribution of resources and simply reinforced the perception of some that South had second-class status.

District 86 board members decided that, to ensure the third and $140 million ballot measure last April was the charm, the Central pool design would be scaled back to six 25-yard lanes, the same as South’s. In a stroke of forethought on the part of officials, the pool site would allow for future expansion.

The referendum passed.

Fast forward to last week. Board members learned from architects that building 40-yard lanes at both pools is a more prudent design and appropriately decided to do so.

They also were told that a pool with additional lanes at Central could be built for considerably less than initially estimated thanks to value engineering. Additionally, Superintendent Tammy Prentiss endorsed an eight-lane pool as originally recommended by the pool task force.

Of course, that’s not what voters were told they were casting their ballots five months ago. Should that matter if the economics have changed?

In District 86, yes, it should.

Against the backdrop of distrust and claims of inequality that some residents have fostered, unilaterally altering the plan that reportedly converted many from a “No” to “Yes” on the referendum certainly would feel like a bait and switch, as some have expressed.

Does it make fiscal sense to build a bigger pool? Yes. As reported, value engineering has the potential to offset most, if not all, of the additional $1.9 million to $3.5 million cost, and there’s no question that adding those lanes down the road will carry a bigger price tag.

Does it make functional sense to build a bigger pool? Yes. Central’s enrollment of 2,726 is nearly twice as big as South’s, which is why the original plan called for a 10-lane pool. And there’s the longstanding learn-to-swim program that would make such a facility an important asset to the larger community.

But this decision comes down to political considerations. The 10-lane pool at Central was not a point of contention because it was considered lavish, at least not primarily.

The optics of Central of having it and South not aligned perfectly with the narrative of South’s unfair treatment.

Board member Kevin Camden floated the idea of Central residents taking ownership of a larger pool, saying, “If the want is there for more, I think there may be an opportunity for folks there who want to fund it.”

That’s an issue for a different editorial. As it relates to district dollars, this is a case where promoting district unity means passing on eight or 10 lanes at Central, an otherwise inviting opportunity.


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