These are good days for education in Riverside and surrounding communities. I was delighted that the Riverside-Brookfield High School referendum passed on its first try, but I was also surprised that it passed by a fairly comfortable margin.
The final vote tally shows approximately 760 more yes votes than no votes (4,428 to 3,666). My prediction was, that if the referendum passed on this go-round, it would be by only 100-200 votes. I'm delighted to be proven wrong.
The referendum's passage, of course, was a crucial first step, but much work remains to be done and legitimate questions must be answered for the project to move forward. For example, the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which owns the Brookfield Zoo, has not yet approved the lease agreement that will become a crucial part of the parking garage and ballfield projects.
And now the high school must move its negotiations with the Village of Brookfield into high gear regarding the conversion of Rockefeller Avenue for parking.
I believe that one reason for the success of the referendum and the eventual success of the project itself is the generosity of eight highly knowledgeable Riverside residents in stepping forward to form a citizens' oversight group.
Even though I had supported the referendum even before the group formed, my comfort level went up enormously knowing that construction experts like lawyer Karen Layng and architects David Lesniak and Diane Legge Kemp are willing to work with District 208 in developing and monitoring a best-practices approach to the impending massive project.
Equally important, and I commend Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann and the District 208 board for this, is that the contributions of the oversight group appear to be not just tolerated, but welcomed.
The district's largest-ever construction project could be a fertile breeding ground for all kinds of nasty insider turf wars and fiscal mismanagement, but the school administration is off to a great start by accepting this expert advice.
Baldermann, in fact, has said he hopes the group will be involved throughout the entire construction process, a sentiment no doubt echoed by many in the community, who relish the sense of security brought by those extra, expert eyes working on our behalf.
And I was also intrigued that Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside all passed an additional 1-percent sales tax by wide margins. In the case of Riverside and North Riverside, those margins could fairly be described as huge (1,647 to 775 and 1,248 to 382, respectively).
In Riverside, I noticed very little public conversation either for or against the sales tax increase. Few promotional efforts appeared, apart from a brief item in our Riverside Review utility bill stuffer and several village trustees writing letters to the editor in support of the tax.
Times have changed, because this same issue was soundly defeated last time it was on the ballot. At that time, people talked a lot about how the tax would unfairly penalize Riverside retailers and contribute to their exodus out of town for the greener pastures of LaGrange and Forest Park.
This time, though, all parties were careful to emphasize that non-Riverside visitors would bear the brunt at the Harlem Avenue gas stations and the Brookfield Zoo's main restaurant.
That seems to have been a crucial selling point, along with the fact that so many nearby communities either already have or were voting on similar taxes.
But perhaps most important is that voters have come to the realization that the state can no longer be counted on as a reliable source of funding for road construction and repairs and that these projects, while far from glamorous, contribute a great deal to quality of life in the village.
The new consensus seems to be that we need all the stable, pain-free sources of revenue we can get. This new sales tax should prove to be one we can live with easily, with little or no impact on our local businesses.