When the matter of just how and where a refurbished memorial to Riverside’s war dead ends up on an agenda of the Riverside Village Board, trustees will have at least two different recommendations to consider before making a final choice.
This summer the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission, which enlisted a landscape architecture firm to come up with options and cost estimates for sprucing up the memorial, recommended moving the refurbished memorial to an area just outside the Riverside Township Hall.
But on Oct. 12, members of the Riverside Preservation Commission voted 4 to 0 to recommend leaving the Gold Star Memorial, which was dedicated on Memorial Day 1921 to honor three Riverside men who died while serving their country during World War I, right where it was.
“We were trying to respect the sacredness of the site,” said Charles Pipal, chairman of the Preservation Commission. “[Guthrie Park] was selected 100 years ago, and it’s been in continuous use since that time.”
Pipal also stated that commissioners were concerned whether a site next to the township hall would be able to accommodate the large crowds that the village’s Memorial Day event has drawn in the past decade.
If overflow crowds necessitated closure of Riverside Road, Pipal said, it could be a problem, since the Riverside police and fire departments are located right next door.
And while the memorial’s historic home presents issues related to ADA accessibility, commissioners felt historic precedent was a compelling reason for it to stay in Guthrie Park.
About a dozen members of the public, including a half dozen veterans, argued for the memorial to remain in Guthrie Park.
Tom Sisulak, a Riverside resident who has organized the village’s Memorial Day program since 2008 and whose event now draws more than 100 people annually, called the memorial Riverside’s “sacred” ground.
Shocked at the option recommended by the Landscape Advisory Commission – the commission studied three options, including two that left the memorial in Guthrie Park – Sisulak was pleased by the Preservation Commission’s recommendation.
“I was elated they went in that direction,” Sisulak said after the commission’s Oct. 12 meeting.
Pipal credited both the Landscape Advisory Commission for its input, saying all three option “had merit to one extent or the other.” The Landscape Advisory Commission made its recommendation based a number of factors, including increasing its visibility and integrating it into the civic fabric of the village, its accessibility to those with disabilities, easier access for electricity and water and opening up views in Guthrie Park.
In the end, said Pipal, leaving the memorial in Guthrie Park made sense to members of the Preservation Commission.
“The arguments they made were compelling,” Pipal said. “In the end, we felt the sacred nature of the existing site should be retained.”
The commission’s final recommendation was to keep the memorial in Guthrie Park, to clean and refurbish all of the stones and plaques (a large granite boulder bearing a plaque containing the names of those who died during World War II was dedicated at the site in 1948), installing a concrete footing for the World War II memorial, installing a wheelchair-accessible sidewalk from the north side of the park to the memorial and regrading/replanting the memorial area.
Pipal suggested that the village board might also want to have the Riverside Historical Commission examine the issue and perhaps offer its own recommendation.
Sonya Abt, the village staff’s liaison to the Preservation Commission, said it will be up to the village manager and board to get an additional recommendation from the Historical Commission.
Neither recommendation made by the two Riverside advisory commissions trumps the other. The village board will have the final say and could choose a solution not yet recommended.
It’s unclear when the matter will come before the village board; it could be later this year or early in 2018. There is no money earmarked in the draft 2018 budget for refurbishing the memorial. The Riverside American Legion Post donated $5,000 toward the project earlier and last month won a $2,000 federal matching grant for the project.
Cost estimates obtained by the Landscape Advisory Commission indicate that refurbishing the memorial and leaving it at its longtime home would cost an estimated $32,000.