Riverside Village President Ben Sells will hold the first of what he said he hopes will be several town hall meetings on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. in Room 4 of the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road.
With the village completing a facilities study last year and obtaining rough concepts and estimates of cost, Sells said he wants to gauge what residents think the village ought to do with its existing facilities including the former Youth Center.
Sells will be joined at the town hall by Village Manager Jessica Frances.
However, the format of the meeting looks to be pretty open-ended, so that residents can drive the conversation, according to Sells.
“I don’t have an agenda for it at all,” he said in a phone interview last week. “It’s an opportunity for people to communicate with me and a way to talk about what people have on their minds.”
Sells did specifically mention he hoped residents would provide feedback regarding the facilities assessment and recommendations for making over the municipal campus in and around the township hall.
The village spent $80,000 last year to have an architectural firm, Williams Architects, assess all of the village’s facilities, from its village offices inside the township hall, to its fire and police stations, the former Youth Center and old public works garage.
The firm concluded that the present facilities were inadequate, particularly the police and fire stations. The firm also rolled out a series of concepts for modernizing the municipal campus for between $24.5 and $28.5 million.
Renovating existing facilities without expanding them, according to Williams Architects, is estimated to cost between $6.7 and $9 million.
For the village of Riverside to raise that kind of money would require voters to pass a referendum to issue construction bonds.
“We need to start having these conversations, because residents are the ones who need to decide what they want and pay for it,” Sells said.
In November 2018, the village board agreed that an ad hoc committee might be a good way to tackle the facilities issue, but formation of that committee is on hold at the moment, according to Sells.
A video tour giving residents a behind-the-scenes look at the condition of municipal facilities is also in production and should be ready to roll out in early February, said Frances.
Another aspect of the facilities discussion could revolve around how Riverside addresses fire protection in the future. At present Riverside’s fire department is staffed on a paid-on-call basis, with Fire Chief Matthew Buckley as the department’s sole full-time employee.
Is there a possibility Riverside might partner with neighboring communities, such as North Riverside, on creating some sort of fire protection district? That question appears to be on the table for consideration and potentially could impact facilities decisions for Riverside.
At this time, however, it’s unclear if such an arrangement is possible or even desirable.
“We’re talking internally to see if it makes sense,” Sells said. “But we don’t know what it even means at this point. …
“If we were able to do it, that’d dramatically change our options with respect to the facilities study.”
Sells said he decided to give the town hall format a try given a renewed interest generally in government recently.
“With our new political reality, the idea of the town hall has gotten rejuvenated, so people might actually come,” Sells said. “Hopefully, it will be positive and productive.”