Riverside voters will be asked to vote on whether to issue $1.5 million in bonds for the renovation of the library’s lower level next spring after village trustees voted unanimously to place the question on the March 17, 2020 presidential primary ballot.

The question approved by the village board without discussion at their meeting on Dec. 5, will state:

“Shall the village of Riverside, Cook County, Illinois, renovate the interior of the lower level of the Riverside Public Library building and furnish necessary equipment in connection therewith and issue its bond to the amount of $1,500,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?”

The Riverside library board in November approved a resolution requesting the village board approve the referendum question and submit it to the Cook County Clerk. The village board in September engaged Chapman and Cutler as bond counsel for the proposed debt issuance. All costs related to the bond counsel will be paid for through the Riverside Public Library.

Because the Riverside Public Library is technically considered part of the municipal government – that is, it is not its own library district – any bond issuance must go through the village board, although that debt will not count against the village’s debt limit.

The library otherwise operates independently of the village board, with its own tax levy, budget and board of trustees. The library’s annual budget is about $1.17 million and its board has not sought a referendum to fund either operations or a major building improvement since 1984.

At that time, voters approved a $1.5 million bond issue to build a 12,500-square-foot addition, which nearly tripled the size of the building. Since 1999, according to information provided by the library, its board has approved more than $500,000 in improvements to the building, including a $375,000 expenditure in 2017 to replace the heating and air-conditioning system.

If passed next March, the proposed $1.5 million bond issue will go toward a comprehensive renovation of the lower level, which houses the children and teen services departments.

The library board is proposing to issue bonds that will be paid off over 15 years. In terms of property tax impact, according to the library board, the owner of a home with a market value of $300,000 can expect to pay an additional $36 per year, while the owner of a $600,000 home can expect to pay an additional $76 annually to pay off the debt.

Over the past two years, the library board undertook a private fundraising effort that collected about $220,000. Most of that money is being used to fund the construction of an Early Learners Area in the southwest corner of the lower level, overlooking the Des Plaines River.

That building effort is well under way and should be complete by the end of 2019 or early next year.

In addition to that area, the plan is create a Teen Room, reconfigure the Juvenile/Middle School area and build a new multipurpose/storytime room. The library has seen a dramatic increase in the number of children using its services in recent years.

As part of its information campaign, which will kick off in January, the library board is producing a pair of videos. One will be a time-lapse video showing how many children use the library on a daily basis. The other will be a tour of the existing lower level.

While the library board has held public meetings about the proposed renovations, those have been sparsely attended. As a result, the library board will be making a more concerted effort to reach out to voters.

Part of the effort includes library staff and board members talking personally to library patrons. The proposed renovations also have been outlined in the library’s newsletter, which is mailed to residents and a link to the information is prominently displayed on the library’s website (riversidelibrary.org).

Staff and board members were present during the Holiday Stroll on Dec. 6 to answer questions of visitors.

A large poster with information about the referendum, its financial impact to property owners and a successful referendum’s impact on library services, particularly for children, also is being prominently displayed in the Great Room of the building, near the entrance.

Finally, a volunteer committee will form in early 2020 to advocate for the referendum’s passage, since board members are not allowed by law to do so. The library board’s efforts in the run-up to the March primary election will be informational.