Almost a year after Riverside’s village president called on Riverside-Brookfield High School to share the cost of installing radio transmitters inside the school to eliminate police radio reception “dead zones,” officials appear no closer to solving the problem.
And the school’s superintendent indicated that a solution might not be coming any time soon.
RBHS Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said in an email that school, police and fire officials agreed that it would be premature to do anything about the issue until the West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3) emergency dispatch center went live.
WC3, which will be headquartered at the North Riverside Police Department, includes that village, Riverside, Brookfield and McCook. While the municipalities have been working for more than a year to get the dispatch center up and running, it still must receive final approval from the state.
That state approval is expected to come sometime in August or September, said WC3 Executive Director Jason Rodgers, but there’s still technological infrastructure work to complete as well. He said officials are hopeful that WC3 will be up and running some time during the first quarter of 2018.
So any solution to the “dead zone” problem the Riverside police and fire departments are experiencing inside RBHS, which is located in Riverside, could be at least six to eight months away.
“There was agreement that to do anything prior to the new dispatch communication center being fully up and running would be premature,” Skinkis wrote, referring to a meeting last week with police chiefs from Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside.
Skinkis said that once WC3 is up and everyone is on the same radio frequency, it should become apparent if the problem is the same for everyone.
“At that time we (chiefs and I) will revisit how to address the issue and how to share the costs associated with the repair,” Skinkis wrote in his email.
Early in 2016 Chicago Communications LLC, which services Riverside’s emergency dispatch equipment, estimated it would cost about $125,000 to install 20 new “repeater” antennas inside RBHS to eliminate dead zones.
RBHS officials balked at the cost, which was double an earlier estimate, saying they wanted more questions answered and requesting Riverside pursue a grant to help defray costs.
Riverside applied for a federal Justice Assistance Grant, but the village was not chosen as a grant recipient. On Aug. 3, Police Chief Thomas Weitzel confirmed the news of the failed grant attempt to members of the village board.
While the police department will apply for the grant again, Weitzel said it could be months before they hear anything from the federal government.
In the meantime, Riverside trustees and the village president called on high school officials to step up and eliminate a problem they don’t believe will be solved when WC3 is up and running.
And waiting almost another year to solve the problem is “untenable,” according to Riverside President Ben Sells.
“It’s getting to the point where, it seems to me, something needs to be done,” Sells said. “We can’t put our folks at risk. If we have an active shooter situation, God forbid, in that school, and our people can’t get help, that’s untenable to me.”
Because all of the agencies in WC3 will switch to the radio frequency used by Riverside, Riverside officials believe all of the police agencies served by WC3 will face the same problems.
“There is no debate that there are repeaters needed there,” Weitzel told members of the Riverside Village Board on Aug. 3.
Riverside Trustee Joseph Ballerine said the issue was the high school’s to fix.
“This needs to fall at the feet of [District] 208 and their school board,” Ballerine said. “I don’t think it should fall on our feet. We’ve done the yeoman’s job trying to get a grant, but it’s their building.”
Riverside Trustee Doug Pollock, who has children attending RBHS this year, said he wanted “to be able to sleep at night.”
“School starts in 12 days,” he said on Aug. 3. “What’s the next step, because something needs to be done?”