With 2011 in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to the New Year and a prediction of two critical stories we’ll be following as we head through 2012.

A year ago at this time, residents were waiting for work to begin on the removal of the Fairbank Dam, the smaller of two dams on the Des Plaines River near Riverside. To date, that work still hasn’t started, even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois Department of Natural Resources have awarded a contract for completion of Phase Two of the project – the notching of the larger Hofmann Dam and a comprehensive re-grading of Swan Pond Park.

Given the delays, plan changes and general incomplete nature of the information regarding the work to be done, it’s been hard not to be a little apprehensive about what the final product will end up being.

This is an important project not just for the future health of the waterway itself but for Riverside. The re-grading of Swan Pond Park is the key to whole ball of wax, and village officials need to continue to push for improvements that are in keeping with the park’s historic significance in the village’s history.

As delays lengthen and contractors and other agencies look to cut corners to contain costs, Riverside must be vigilant in safeguarding its heritage at this most important site.

This newspaper has been a proponent of this project since the outset and continues to believe that, in the end, the removal of the two dams and improvements to the park and riverbank will be a benefit.

But we also can’t fault anyone for doubting what the final product will look like when those responsible for doing the work blow their timeline by an entire year.

Riverside-Brookfield High School appears to be at some kind of crossroads. With the community mired in the nation’s prolonged economic slump and the prospects for getting additional tax revenue from voters dim, there’s concern the school may, at some point, reach a breaking point.

This year has been a tough one for families whose kids have been denied the extracurricular activities that had become commonplace. The school has also been more careful about course availability, closing out courses where enrollment was flagging.

Major program cuts have been spared, but at some point, if the balance sheet doesn’t add up, substantive academic cuts will get made, and then you have families second guessing where to send their kids for high school. That’s a situation where no one wins.

The decision by the teachers union and school board to re-open negotiations on the current contract is a significant development and one we hope will lead to some out-of-the-box thinking to not only help the school district balance its budget but also win back voters.

Next year will be a crucial time for making both things happen.