At the end of 2011, this space identified two issues that were critical to get right in the coming year. The first was the removal of the Fairbank and Hofmann dams and improvements to Swan Pond Park. The second was getting Riverside-Brookfield High School back on the right track.
As for the dam removal and Swan Pond, the grade for the village of Riverside is an A-minus.
Getting to that result took an enormous amount of work and involvement from village officials and a handful of tireless residents (say what you will about Don Spatny, he was an absolute pit bull), who cajoled, demanded, argued, begged and finagled for a host of details that made this once-in-a-lifetime project succeed to the level it did.
For all the concern about the loss of the waterfall effect of the dam and the lagoon behind it, they're not missed. The river flows freely, in places swiftly, through the old dam site. New species of fish have been introduced or have migrated above the dam site. Kayakers have already been seen slipping through an area they once avoided because of its danger.
The toe stone laid on each side of the river to stabilize the sediment there is still a bit jarring, but its effect will likely soften as trees, shrubs and grasses grow along the bank in coming years.
In Swan Pond Park, the removal of buckthorn along the river bank and the repairs to the WPA retaining wall have opened up vistas of the river not seen in generations. The park area itself has been regraded to improve drainage. While the concrete culvert opening in the park is a bit jarring, that too may soften over time as the park matures around it. The only disappointment is the asphalt walking path, a late compromise. Too narrow in places and made of a material that seems out of place in that naturalistic setting, we hope that time will soften its effect as well. It does, however, make for a pleasant, easy stroll along one of the most beautiful stretches in the village.
For Riverside-Brookfield High School, the grade is incomplete.
The school board has made cuts that have raised class sizes to levels we believe are too high. Fees have skyrocketed for parents who already pay a premium in taxes for the services they are provided.
While the school board crows about a 2011-12 budget surplus, it largely was the result of timing, with expected property tax appeals being delayed.
According to agenda items, the school board has been discussing or negotiating with teachers on a new contract in closed session, but there has been no news on how those talks are proceeding.
That contract is absolutely critical to get right, and we just don't know yet the result of that crucial factor. Add in the upcoming school board election this spring, and things at RBHS are as uncertain as ever.
The holding pattern can only last so long, and then the board, and the voters who put them there, will have to start asking themselves some very hard questions indeed.