Riverside Recreation Director Ron Malchiodi stands in the reception area of the new Parks and Rec HQ at 43 E. Quincy St. last week. The new space will allow the department to double its programming and also rent the space for private events. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

March 15 was something of a homecoming for staff of Riverside Parks and Recreation when they unlocked the door to their new headquarters building at 43 E. Quincy St. The village of Riverside, which bought the one-story brick building with a rear two-story garage addition for $227,000 in August 2019, had owned the property three decades earlier.

In fact, as Memorial Hall, the building housed recreation programs between 1968 and 1988, when it auctioned the property off to a local resident who used it as office space for his business. Prior to the village’s first ownership, Memorial Hall served as the lodge for the Riverside American Legion.

Recreation Director Ron Malchiodi was able to obtain a photo – unfortunately just a copy of a photocopy – of the building when it was Memorial Hall from the structure files at the Riverside Historical Museum.

He says he’d like actual photos from Memorial Hall’s former turn as a recreation facility to adorn the walls.

“If anyone attended a recreation program at Memorial Hall, we would love a copy of those photos for display at the Quincy building,” Malchiodi said. If you have digital copies, you can email them to riversidepr@riverside.il.us.

The newly renovated headquarters houses the department’s four full-time employees in a second-floor office space above the garage. The main public spaces include a new reception area with a desk that accommodates two work stations. There are two new ADA-compliant bathrooms off the lobby.

A wall separates the lobby from a larger multipurpose activity room that will be used for recreation programs. During the Landmark’s visit to the building last week, the room was being used for the department’s hybrid school year program.

“This is a little bigger than the water tower, so it will house some of the bigger activity classes, more of the adult classes and the water tower will become more of our early childhood programs,” said Malchiodi, referencing the department’s former headquarters in the water tower complex at 10 Pine Ave.

“Essentially, it just doubles our programming opportunities, especially in the evening, so where we now have four time slots, we’ll have eight.”

The new facility will also allow the department to house special recreation programming in partnership with West Suburban Special Recreation Association (WSSRA), which provides those programs for Riverside residents. Right now, the village doesn’t have space to accommodate any onsite special recreation programs.

Parks and Rec has launched a community survey to help the department focus its programming efforts for the new space. Residents are asked to participate by visiting online by clicking here.

Beyond recreation programs, Malchiodi said that Riverside Parks and Rec wants to “ramp up” rentals of the public spaces for private events. There’s a large storage space at the rear of the multipurpose room to store tables and chairs, each of the bathrooms can accommodate multiple people at once and there’s a small kitchenette with a sink, microwave and fridge that can be used for private events.

Malchiodi said the department also plans to use the facility’s off-street parking lot occasionally for special pop-up events. He has already reached out to the Riverside Arts Center, just across the street, about possible collaboration.

Costs ballooned

The renovated public spaces look pretty modest and functional, but the renovation of the old Memorial Hall into Riverside Parks and Rec HQ turned out to be quite expensive, and a final accounting has not been tallied. That report, according to Finance Director Karin Johns, is expected to be presented to the village board in April.

“What we’re planning on doing at our second meeting in April is having a public discussion of the project, where the overages came in and how,” said Village President Ben Sells.

According to Johns, there are still “many large outstanding invoices that need to be applied to this project.” Those unspecified invoices are on top of a total that was 61 percent over the initial budget last October.

Riverside initially budgeted $405,500 for the renovation, but after the architect and contractor began taking a closer look at what it would take to bring the building into code compliance – including a fire suppression and alarm system, electrical work, two rooftop HVAC units, new ADA-compliant bathrooms, a triple-basin drainage system for the garage and the installation of a new water line to the property — by October 2020 the cost had ballooned to about $695,000, about 61 percent over budget.

“The most important renovations in the building are things no one will ever see,” said Malchiodi. “A lot of that infrastructure is where we invested a lot of the money.”

While the final construction costs are still being determined, the most expensive aspects were approved last October, said Village Manager Jessica Frances.

Sells acknowledged the steep cost overruns, and said the village made a mistake by not having an architect walk through the building prior to setting an initial estimate of cost for the work to renovate the building.

But the price of the property was such that the village leapt at the chance to obtain space to expand its recreation programming.

“The lesson we learned is that we should have taken more time and done our due diligence,” Sells told the Landmark. “We were getting such a good deal on the building, we were blinded by that and rushed things.

“But even if we had accurate numbers, I’m certain the board would have done this anyway, because we needed the space to expand our recreation programming.”

While the village put up the money to buy the building, Riverside Parks and Recreation will be paying the village back for the cost to renovate it through revenue it collects through programming fees.

A repayment schedule will also be presented to the village board for approval in April.