The time has come for the Riverside Historical Commission to become more active in the community and to engage residents in helping to preserve the village’s history through the Riverside Historical Museum. This was the main conclusion of a brainstorming session held by the commission Nov. 17 to chart its goals for the future.

“To the public, the museum is not a priority,” Commissioner Jim Frantzis said at the meeting. “We want to make it one.”

Commission Chairwoman Martha Heine called the special meeting due to changes over the summer that have altered the role of the commission in managing the museum.

In June the village hired a part-time museum director, thereby partially alleviating the commissioners of the day-to-day operations of the museum, which had been their main responsibility in the past. That created the opportunity for commissioners to pursue other projects, but it also highlighted the financial constraints of the commission. Although the village has guaranteed the director position through 2008, Heine said, the funds to support it may not be available beyond that.

“The position can be removed because of the financial state the village is soon to be,” Heine said.

Funding is also limited for the renovation of the west well house in Centennial Park, where the commission plans to create an exhibit space for the museum. The village received a $75,000 grant for the project, but subsequent bids put construction costs close to $200,000. The commission and museum director are currently seeking other grants to finance the rest of the project.

In addition to increasing physical space for the museum, at the meeting commissioners also discussed expanding and broadening the services they provide for the village. This would include increasing the number of tours through the village, collecting and preserving records from local organizations, and updating architectural records in the village.

Another top priority is creating a website for the museum. Commissioner Michael Flight said that while there is some historical information on the village website, the museum goes unmentioned.

“If you do a search on the Riverside website, you wouldn’t know there is a museum,” Flight said. “I would like to bring us into the new century in terms of educating and publicizing the village as a whole.”

In order to fulfill all these goals, Heine said the need for fundraising was inevitable. The commission has raised about $3,000 with a fundraising letter campaign this month. It was the first fundraising effort for the group, which has been in existence for over three decades.

Beyond funds, however, commissioners also stressed the need to create partnerships with other village organizations and to attract volunteers to their ranks. Suggestions presented at the meeting included working with local schools and the Riverside Chamber of Commerce to provide tours, historical information or other services.

Heine said she also wants to increase the commission’s presence as village events, such as its Fourth of July celebrations, to encourage more support from residents. If they could attract a strong group of volunteers, she said, they would have more manpower for collecting and organizing records or conducting other research projects.

“We can have people work on small facets of the village’s history,” she said. “We just have to recruit them.”

Heine said the commission would decide exactly what such projects should be, and how else the commission can go about fulfilling its “wish list,” over the next few months. If they are successful, some commissioners saw the creation of a stronger and more active commission as one solution to the financial problems that spurred the commissioners to action in the first place.

“People have no idea how many tourists come from out of town to learn about our history,” Flight said. “We could be part of economic development for the village. Our history is one of our greatest assets.”