By Bob Uphues
Riverside Swim Club members will vote in September on whether they want to move forward with either of two plans unveiled last week to renovate the 57-year-old facility just west of the downtown Riverside train station.
If the private club gets enough community buy-in — in the form of enough members willing to pay a premium in dues to help fund construction next spring — work could begin as early as the day after Labor Day 2020.
"We feel like we have a really important village asset we're responsible for, and we take that seriously," said Riverside Swim Club board President Chris Porter.
But such a change in membership dues will require a change in the club's bylaws, said Porter, and that will need the support of 51 percent of the entire membership. That's a high bar, and one club officers have failed to clear in the past.
For more than a decade, multiple formal and informal studies have all come to the same conclusion, the facilities at the club — including the pool itself and the clubhouse — are drawing near the end of their useful lives.
A study conducted as far back as 2006 confirmed the deteriorating condition of the pool, which leaks about 20,000 gallons of water a day, according to Porter.
"We can keep putting money in a hole and burning it, or we can put it to good use," Porter said. "Option B is to keep limping along, replacing what we can, as long as we can."
About 75 member families attended a meeting July 9 at Riverside Township Hall where Porter revealed the two improvement options on the table.
The more ambitious of the plans — pegged at a cost of about $5.35 million — is a full-scale renovation that would widen the main pool to eight lanes and expand the diving well with a side feature, separate from the main pool. In addition to installing a new water filtration system, there would also be new concrete decks and new permanent shade structures.
The more ambitious plan also calls for a new sport court east of the pool, an outdoor grilling and dining area, a raised ADA-accessible deck wrapping around the end of a new clubhouse and snack bar that could be used year-round, should club officials choose to do so.
Even with the scaled-back renovation plan — estimated at $3.5 million — the clubhouse and snack shop would be replaced with a larger one-story, insulated and fully heated and air-conditioned, ADA-compliant structure that would include staff offices with quick access to the pool deck, modern changing and shower facilities and a large dining room.
However, if club members opt for the scaled-back plan, the pool will remain six lanes and the diving well will be smaller and won't include the slide. The kiddie pool will be about the same size it is now, though configured differently, and the concrete deck would be replaced only as needed. The existing sport court would be left as is.
The key to either plan becoming reality is, of course, the willingness of members to take on the burden of funding it. Porter said the club in recent years has improved its financial position and has increased membership after a sharp decline that followed a failed 2013 bid to get members on board to support a $4.2 million renovation plan at that time.
Membership dropped about 30 percent following that vote, said Porter, but the club strengthened its outreach locally and in nearby communities such as Berwyn, Brookfield and LaGrange Park. About 15 to 20 percent of the club's membership comes from outside the village, Porter said.
And for the first time in a decade there's a waiting list to join Riverside Swim Club, which now has 550 member families. And the membership also includes more young families with small children.
About 65 percent of the membership, according to Porter, joined five or fewer years ago.
"That whole  vote turned the pool around," said Porter. "From an overall financial standpoint we were healthy in 2013, but we needed to take the next step."
The moment of truth will really come early next year as Riverside Swim Club renews members, who will see their dues increase to help fund the improvements. The burden on individual member families will depend on how many members there will be moving forward.
In addition to annual dues, new members' initiation fees will no longer be refundable. Instead, that money will go toward paying debt service.
The club's initiation fee is $1,000, with membership dues of $705 for 2019. There was also a $100 special assessment.
The club's bank has indicated it would be willing to consider a loan if membership levels next year indicate solid support.
"We hope to know by the end of March," Porter said. "The green light is the willingness of members. Do we all believe this is what we need?"