By Bob Uphues
Riverside officials will seek a little professional help soon to help them assess the village's public facilities and recommend a strategy for using buildings that already exist, perhaps repurposing them for other uses, and explore constructing new facilities to meet contemporary needs for public safety in particular.
Village Manager Jessica Frances and President Ben Sells announced on Feb. 2 that Frances would be consulting with department heads to draft a request for qualifications that will be sent to planning firms with expertise in public facilities.
"Our idea is in this RFQ to really identify firms that would have a particular expertise with regard to doing that kind of analysis for police and fire needs," Sells told village trustees at their Feb. 2 meeting.
According to Frances, it could be up to 90 days before she receives proposals from firms and selects one to do the assessment. It's unclear what it will cost the village to have a firm complete a facilities assessment. Frances said she would seek village board direction once a planning firm has been identified.
"I don't see any board action being taken until the new board is in place [after the April 4 election]," Frances said.
While Sells identified public safety facilities as of particular importance, the RFQ will ask a firm to assess all of the public buildings in Riverside, which would include facilities such as the water tower and pumping station used by Riverside Parks and Recreation, the Centennial Park well houses used by the Historical Museum and the former Youth Center building and old public works garage that stand adjacent to the main fire house on Riverside Road.
The garage and youth center serve a variety of purposes, from storing police vehicles and vehicles seized by police to storing village equipment and files. Much of the old Youth Center is used for firefighter training and for storage.
The Youth Center – built on the site of the original Riverside Hotel Refectory – has long been identified for redevelopment, but there's never been a systematic, long-range assessment of how that land might be best used.
With a new centralized fire and police emergency dispatch center set to go operational in North Riverside later in 2017, Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said it makes sense to talk about the future of the police department, half of which is buried underground in a windowless former air raid shelter next to the township hall.
"It's woefully inadequate for our needs," said Weitzel. "It was not built to handle what we need today for police operations."
Once the chosen firm completes the facilities needs assessment, the village likely would seek to start a community-wide conversation on how to implement a plan.