March/April 2016

(With Apologies to Shakespeare)

The Village Board and I are currently struggling with the important question of “To Spend or Not to Spend” – and the equally important question: “How Much to Spend” – on replacing or re-building the Village Hall. We are struggling because we are mindful of conflicting duties: to steward Village finances as carefully as possible – and to make long term decisions that benefit our community.

Most of you know we have been working on a solution for the defects and deficiencies found in our current Village Hall. We have spent the last two years evaluating a range of options, from rehabilitating to replacing our current facility. A separate article later in this issue discusses the status of that project in detail.

Our highly experienced municipal construction manager has estimated a cost for the building, site work, landscaping, audio visual gear, furniture, and equipment, of approximately $5,000,000.

We may be able to achieve cost savings with some alternates. We hope that, after bidding, the total will be less – but, although highly unlikely, it could be more. We are working with $5 million as the best estimate.

Here is the situation as it stands:

  1. The Building Inadequacies. Our existing Village Hall is inadequate, antiquated, and unsafe. Details are set forth in the accompanying appendix. The Board unanimously voted in 2014 that we had to either make major repairs or replace the building.
  2. We Will Not Need to Raise Taxes. We have not found an inexpensive means of restoring the building to functionality. We explored a renovation project, utilizing as much of the current building as possible, but that resulted in a bid (building and site work alone) of more than $5 million.
  3. Discussion. The Village operating budget has a surplus. We have $12.5 million dollars in the General Fund, and we do not have to raise taxes to pay for this project.
  4. My Thoughts. $5 million is still a lot of money!

The Board and I wish to be as fiscally responsible as possible. That said, we cannot afford to do nothing. Accordingly, at the March 1, 2016 board meeting, we directed our construction professionals to take one final look at whether some kind of retrofit was possible that could lessen the cost. We are also meeting with our financial advisors to investigate the various options to be sure we find the best way of paying for the project.

Given the importance of this question to the entire Village, we want to ensure everyone has an opportunity to understand the issues involved, and to participate in the process. Accordingly, we are scheduling a town meeting for March 29, 2016 at 7:30 pm to discuss the needs, the solutions, and the costs.

We’ll be doing our best to get out the word. We would really like to see you at the town meeting.

John W. Norris
Mayor, Village of Riverwoods


  1. The Building Inadequacies.
    1. We have an existing Village Hall that is inadequate, antiquated, and unsafe. A partial of deficiencies and defects includes:
      1. It fails to meet current building, fire and safety codes.
      2. It is not accessible to all Village residents as its entrances, restrooms, stairways and doors are not handicapped accessible as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
      3. It floods during moderate to heavy rains, causing damage to the building and fostering the growth of mold that is both dangerous to everyone who enters the building and expensive to remediate.
      4. The meeting rooms are too small, and fail to provide means of conveying information to residents attending meetings.
      5. Much of the building has been built piecemeal with small oddly-shaped rooms and corridors.
      6. Significant elements are no longer structurally stable on their own and are held together with tension rods.
      7. The floors in the balcony areas of the old board room are no longer safe for general or public access.
  2. We Will Not Need to Raise Taxes.
    1. The Village has approximately $12.5 million dollars in the General Fund. This balance is there primarily to give the Village the ability to undertake needed capital projects, as well as provide a cushion for a downturn in Village revenues. If we entirely pay for a new building using money in the general fund, we will leave a balance in excess of $7.5 million dollars.
    2. B. Our operating budget for the 2016 has a surplus. While the surplus is smaller than it has been over the last few years, that is in part due to our taking a very conservative approach to revenues, budgeting less money from the state than is actually predicted.
  3. Discussion.
    1. We have trimmed and sized the proposed new building design to be as useful for the future as we can now conceive. The design is at a mid-point price range for municipal buildings, not extravagant, but suitable for our needs and reflective of our community.
    2. A new village hall building would have a longer useful life and not require additional expenditures in the near future. Making only the mandatory repairs and corrections to the existing building might (and I emphasize might) cost less than a new building in the short run, we would still be left with most of the existing deficiencies in the current structure and the prospect of a limited future life for an old building.
  4. My Thoughts:
    1. No one wants to raise taxes.
    2. We have built up a General Fund balance for important needs and not simply to see how large a cash balance we can achieve. Having a safe and useful village hall is an important need.
    3. If we only repair what we have rather than build a new facility, we would:
      1. Spend several million dollars to put Band-Aids on a 50-year-old building; and,
      2. Still be faced with the prospect of an inadequate facility and more expenses in only a relatively few years; and,
      3. Following a course of action that is not a true solution, but, rather, an expensive act of kicking the can down the road.
    4. The world will change, but we hope to maximize local control – over our zoning, finances, ecology, Village character and quality of life – to insure that change is for the better. The way to accomplish these tasks is by coming together as a community – and for that, we need a village hall.

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