The chairman of the Riverside Playgrounds and Recreation Commission sees a community center, capable of handling 80 percent of all the Recreation Department’s programming. The director of the Riverside Historical Commission sees a museum with room for archival storage, research and exhibits.
The Riverside village board sees a headache.
Last Thursday, the village trustees met with both the recreation and historical commissions in an attempt find common ground for the use of the former historic water tower pump house at 10 Pine Ave.
Until the building was closed to accommodate the renovation of the tower and pump house exteriors, the Riverside Recreation Department called the structure home. But once the renovation is complete, the pump house and the ground floor area of the actual tower will suddenly be available for use.
For the Recreation Department, that is potentially great news.
“What we envision in the water tower space is the erection of a Riverside community center,” said Joseph Ballerine, chairman of the Playgrounds and Recreation Commission. “We can take this space and house 80 percent of our programs. This could be a viable community center for a long time.”
But the old pump house would also be a fine space to house the Riverside Historical Museum, which occupies a cramped, circular former well house just to the north of the pump house. With no paid full-time staff, the museum hinges on the dedication volunteer commissioners who staff the museum on Saturdays and by appointment.
“Our long-range goal is working toward a larger facility to better accommodate people coming to use our facility,” said museum Director Suzanne Bartholomew. “I see us having the capacity and willingness to want to serve more people and serve them in a better setting.”
Trustees would like to see both commissions work together to formulate a plan for sharing the pump house. Both Ballerine and Bartholomew agreed to meet further to find a way share the 2,350 square feet that will be available once renovations are complete. But it seemed clear at Thursday’s meeting that both also felt such a compromise would serve neither group very well.
Ceding half of the space to the Historical Society would effectively eliminate the ability to hold programming at the site, said Ballerine. On the flipside, sharing rooms with the Recreation Department might compromise the archival materials in the museum’s collection, said Bartholomew.
Ballerine argued that the recreation department had the money in its budget to completely renovate the entire space into a Community Center that could become a revenue generator for the village.
“We can build up enough money to eventually take down the [interior structure in the] tower, and increase use,” Ballerine said. “Recreation is very important for a community going through the kind of changes we’re going through. People expect the quality of life and a recreation department. That’s what Western Springs does; that’s what Hinsdale does.”
But while, a new historical museum is not likely to be a profit center of the village, some trustees felt the pump house might be better suited to house a museum than a community center.
“From an organic point of view, the museum should be in that space,” said Trustee Kevin Smith. “It’d be a one-time move. It’s not a good idea to have a community center here, because it might be a one-time move, too.
“The long-term goal should be to get rid of the youth center [next to the fire station] and put a community center there.”
However, that course of action would come with a steep price tag, perhaps $5 million. The only way to get that kind of money would be to ask Riverside residents to approve a bond sale. In 2004, Riverside residents approved a $2 million bond sale for street repairs.
The connection between the historical museum and the water tower pump house was also made by Trustee Thomas Shields.
“Just as we have a duty to preserve the tower, we have a duty to foster and expand the collection, and there is a connection between the collection and the tower,” Shields said.
But Trustee John Scully wondered why the village should be required to underwrite the museum. Why not make the museum a private non-profit institution with a foundation that funds its operation, he wondered.
“There’s no money to do this,” Scully said. “I’m not sure this is a village responsibility. Every organization I’ve ever been with has created foundations. Have we thought about that?”
Bartholomew responded that there was a non-profit historical society at one time, but that the village created the commission in 1971 after Riverside received its National Landmark status.
With Bartholomew unable to give Scully any figures on the number of people who use the museum each year or a ballpark figure on what it might cost to relocate the museum to the pump house, he threw his support behind the Recreation Department.
“My vote would go to give [the Recreation Department] the entire building,” Scully said. “I don’t see how we can make this viable for the, and I’ll be generous, 1,000 people that go through the museum each year.”
Village President Harold J. Wiaduck Jr. encouraged village staff to facilitate meetings between the two commissions to come up with some sort of usage agreement, and to have a recommendation by the end of May.
Renovation work on the water tower is expected to continue until the end of the summer, at which time Wiaduck said he would like to see a plan of action.