With enrollment continuing to rise and the need for more classroom space increasing, there’s no doubt the Riverside District 96 administration is in a tough spot.
After a five-year exile outside the district’s attendance boundaries, D96 central administration moved back into its former home in the basement of Central School last fall. With new administrators and staff added to the mix, it’s a tight squeeze down there.
But the message it sent to the community was powerful. We’re here; we’re available.
For five years prior, D96 administration sent the opposite message — if you need us, come find us.
While it would be nice for the administration to have its offices inside the Central/Hauser campus, which is the hub of the district, we understand it might not be physically possible to accommodate them.
We’re not sure anyone has an expectation that the D96 offices must be located “on campus.” But parents do have an expectation that the administration be easily available, and officials should seriously take this into consideration when choosing a new site for the central office.
The preferred site, according to a recent presentation to the board, is a medical office building on Ogden Avenue, a bit west of Harlem Avenue. Its advantages are obvious: There’s plenty of space, there’s off-street parking, and the rent is cheaper than a site in downtown Riverside.
One clear disadvantage to the site is that it’s located in the southeast corner of the district and relatively isolated, particularly from the district’s North Riverside and Brookfield residents.
Should the district choose a site in downtown Riverside, there would be some disadvantages. Parking is often hard to come by (although there is a new parking lot on Burlington Street that is barely used and there is employee parking along the railroad tracks on the Burlington Street side of the right-of-way) and rent would almost certainly be more expensive. The space also might be more expensive to convert into offices, depending on the site.
The great advantage a downtown site would offer — and D96 officials should not lose sight of this — is symbolism.
Symbols matter. For an entity like D96, whose administration in recent years has been seen as deliberately disconnected from those it serves, the symbolism of a downtown office would speak volumes to residents.
What’s most important, of course, is that the administration become the open, available, communicative entity it has long promised to be. If that happens, the location of the central office really won’t matter. Harlem and Ogden may be isolated, but the term is relative. It’s not exactly buried underground.
D96 is going through many changes right now. The new administration is experiencing some growing pains and trying to establish a new team. In many ways, that was expected.
But the administration needs to keep reaching out to families and other taxpayers, honestly and directly, about those changes. If they do, the location of the central office will become a secondary concern.