By Bob Uphues
When the Riverside Public Library's Board of Trustees unveiled its plans to renovate the lower-level of the building back in the fall of 2017, they did so hoping that the work could be funded solely through private donations.
But after two years and about $220,000 in donations in hand, the library board now plans to ask voters to approve issuing $1.5 million in construction bonds to pay for the renovation project. The referendum question is slated to appear on the March 20, 2020 presidential primary ballot.
"We showed the public we did try [to solicit donations], but we're nowhere near our goal," said library board President Joan Wiaduck. "What we're going to find out from the public is whether they want this or not."
The library board has hired Speer Financial as its bond counsel and is working with the law firm Chapman and Cutler on the referendum question and making sure the village board adopts it before the Dec. 30 deadline.
If the referendum doesn't pass, said Wiaduck, the library board will "go back to square one" and determine whether to continue fundraising or scale back its plans.
On the other hand, if voters pass the referendum, the lower level renovation could be complete before the end of 2020, said library Director Janice Foley, who celebrated her 20th year in that post on Sept. 1.
"We have all of our blueprints," said Foley. "If the referendum is approved, we'd get the rest of the plans approved by the village and then go out to bid. We could finish it within the year."
According to library officials, who rolled out the referendum plan publicly at the Riverside Village Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 5, passing a $1.5 million referendum would increase annual property taxes $30 on a home valued at $300,000 and $63 on a home valued at $600,000 over 20 years.
The library board has posted its village board presentation on the library website at riversidelibrary.org/renovationproject.html.
The renovation plan unveiled by the library in 2017 included the creation of a larger, dividable public meeting room, a Teen Room, a reconfigured Juvenile/Middle School area, a new multipurpose/storytime room and an Early Learners Area to accommodate an explosion in use by younger patrons.
Library officials say between 800 and 1,000 students use the library after school every month. The number of people attending programs at the library has nearly doubled since 2009, they say, with 13,658 in 2018.
All but about $55,000 of the roughly $220,000 already raised through private donations will be used to fund the construction of the Early Learners Area. The library has hired CSI Construction to begin that work this fall. The Friends of the Library will donate another $25,000 to purchase furniture for the new area in the southwest corner of the lower level.
The last time the Riverside Public Library went to voters for a bond issue was back in 1984, when voters passed a $1.5 million referendum to fund construction of a 12,500-square-foot addition, which nearly tripled the space of the original 7,500-square-foot building, which was built in 1931.
The lower level initially was designed for adult use. As the use has evolved over time to one geared more toward children, those older design elements – like an open plan that doesn't contain noise – has become less desirable.
Still, according to library officials, since 1999 the board has spent more than $500,000 to improve and maintain the library, including a $375,000 replacement of the heating and air-conditioning system in 2017.