NORMAL – For a majority of the time they are together passing ordinances in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Normal Town Council members are normally seen as unified on many matters, with a few votes where one or two members oppose a measure. But with the Coronavirus-19 creating fears of catching a contagious and for some, a deadly illness, Council members were in unison at a special session Monday night, just not all present in Chambers.

In spite of the separation, Council members unanimously voted to approve an ordinance giving Mayor Chris Koos and City Manager Pam Reece authority to make as-needed emergency discretionary decision making powers in light of the current crisis. Even though the vote was unanimous, only Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy and Council Member Karyn Smith were physically present for the vote. Koos, and Council Members Kathleen Lorenz, Scott Preston, Stan Nord, and Chemberly Cummings used a current State law which allows, with prior permission, Council members to vote at the meeting by phone.

Koos said the ordinance was first written in 1969 and the Coronavirus situation is the first time any mayor has had to use the ordinance due to a particular set of circumstances. In addition, the ordinance permits a mayor to cancel any board or commission sessions.

“These are unusual times we’re facing,” Koos said. He thanked Council members for their efforts, as well as the efforts of Town staff and residents “who are working collectively and separately to make this Coronavirus as minimal as they possibly can.” He added the situation the Town faced as a result of the virus meant facing situations where a decision had to be made within a number of hours.”

Koos said he had been hearing about the impact this situation with the disease could have had on personal freedoms. He responded to that by saying, “I heard the concerns. There was a lot of concern about freedoms and rights. The Town of Normal has no authority to supersede the State of Illinois Constitution or the Federal Constitution. I will also say I believe in personal rights. I believe in personal freedoms. I spent a year in combat in Vietnam defending those freedoms.” He said neither he nor Council members nor Town staff take such matters lightly.

He added the ordinance allows the Town “to be nimble – to be able to act quickly for the benefit of the residents of the Town.”

The Town said public comment would be asked for, in person and in writing. One person, Rob Howard, told Council members he was concerned the Coronavirus situation for several reasons, one of which was the Town imposing a strict curfew upon residents. The Town received nearly two dozen emails, a number of them cautioned for the Council to avoid passing any measures which would infringe on citizens’ civil rights as it contended with the virus.

In addition to Howard, nearly two dozen people submitted written comments about the Town taking this action, most of them unfavorable. “I wholeheartedly disagree with the proposed emergency measures,” wrote resident John Otto. “While I understand the times call for precautions, I believe giving the power to regulate free commerce, like buying and selling of ammunition and firearms, as well as gasoline, as outlined in Section 25.2-12 of Town Municipal Code is an over reach and entirely unnecessary.”

At the Town Council’s March 16 regularly-scheduled meeting, the governing body voted to delay water service shut-offs. At their next regularly-scheduled session April 6, they will decide whether or not to carry through with scheduled utility hikes. Utility rates were slated for an increase on April

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously conditionally approving a site plan for 2012 W. College Ave., a property owned by Council Member Stan Nord during their March 16 meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station. Nord, elected to his first term as a Council member last April, removed himself from the Council dais prior to discussion on the matter began. Normal Planning Commission members granted a conditional approval to the site plan at a meeting held March 5.

Among the improvements Nord sought permission for included: A gravel area sought for storage of outdoor containers; A storm water detention area; A means to protect the property from a nearby stream; Permission from the Town for additional landscaping including adding five white cedar and five cottonwood trees; Permission to put new facing of current signs; And a bike rack.

The report submitted to Council members on the resolution for the site plan, submitted by Town Planner Mercy Davison, also said the current street infrastructure could handle the sorts of loads Nord’s company was expecting, but that the existing asphalt driveway “may not hold up well under the strain of the additional truck traffic.” The report stated if deterioration of the driveway were to happen, it would need to be repaired or replaced.

The discussion on the matter began with Council Member Kathleen Lorenz asking if the matter could table it until Nord could have his legal representative present for a Council discussion. The Council vote to table the matter failed as a result of a 3-3 deadlock in voting, with Mayor Chris Koos, and Council Members Kevin McCarthy, and Lorenz voting for tabling the matter, while Council Members Chemberly Cummings, Karyn Smith, and Scott Preston voted in opposition to doing so.

Water Rate Hikes, Shutoffs Postponed: Council members also voted unanimously to postpone any scheduled shut-offs of water of residents behind in their payments and City Manager Pam Reece recommended to Koos that the Town consider postponing a scheduled utility rate hike due to concerns regarding COVID-19 virus. Reece said all customers who had their water turned off as a result of payment issues have had their taps turned back on.

Liquor Commission Receives “Marie’s” Update: Council members, serving in their capacity as members of the Normal Local Liquor Commission, held a meeting prior to the Council session. During that Commission meeting, Koos reviewed for Commissioners that two gaming parlors owned by 35 Years, LLC Landmark, doing business as Marie’s Place, were found not to be serving food to patrons. “That has gone through a number of hearings,” Koos said. He added that at a Liquor Commission meeting on March 18, 2019, Commissioners elected to take no action on renewing the business’ licenses but rather, decided for the matter for a hearing to be conducted before an administrative officer.

Koos said the administrative officer was to make recommendations to him for further consideration. He added a hearing did take place but was suspended while legal representatives for the business owners and the Town hashed out legal matters. He added that at the time of the hearing, sale of the business was being pursued.

Koos added that following a gaming parlor audit conducted by the Town on Feb. 19 this year, “the licensee’s establishment was again found to be out of compliance with the requirements of the liquor license.” He said that during a hearing on that matter on March 9, the hearing was adjourned so that “jurisdictional issues” could be discussed. The hearing officer had the hearing’s continuance slated for on March 19. Koos added that after that day’s hearing, he expects to receive the hearing officer’s recommendation on the matter.

In addition to that matter, Koos reported all liquor holders, 72 in total, ranging from bars to restaurants to hotels to gaming parlors to The Corn Crib baseball stadium, had paid their liquor license renewals in full.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of the minutes of the public hearing held March 2, 2020.

• Approval of the minutes of the regular Council meeting held March 2, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of March 11, 2020.

• A resolution rejecting bids for the Maxwell Park OSLAD Grant renovation project.

• A resolution authorizing staff to execute a three-year contract with Bloomington-based American Pest Control, Inc. for integrated pest management (IPM) services for an annual cost of $10,572.

• A resolution authorizing a contract extension with Washington, D. C.-based Cardinal Infrastructure, LLC for professional services related to Federal advocacy and funding.

• A resolution authorizing a contract with Winchester, Ind.-based Culy Contracting, Inc. for the Uptown Normal cistern rehabilitation project in the amount of $154,120.

• A revised resolution to appropriate $1,550,000 of Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds for the resurfacing of various streets for the 2020 MFT street resurfacing project and authorize the Town Engineer to sign the IDOT general maintenance form.

• A resolution authorizing execution of a service agreement with the lowest responsible bidder for the supply of electricity for residential and small commercial retail customers who do not opt out of such a program.

• A resolution authorizing the renewal of a joint agreement with the City of Bloomington and the Action Ecology Center for an energy efficiency program.

• A resolution approving a salary schedule adjustment for classified employees to reflect a cost of living adjustment.

NORMAL – Toward the conclusion of Monday’s regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal Town Council Monday, City Manager Pam Reece informed Normal Town Council members of the steps the Town has in place for the next couple of weeks in an attempt to ride out this national medical crisis.

The Town has established a separate website for residents to monitor the situation concerning Coronavirus-19, also known as Covid-19. To do its part to prevent the spread of the disease, the Town announced a decision Monday that as of March 17, there would be no further public access to Town offices in Uptown Station. Reece said while the public will not have access to Town offices on the second and third floors. She did say the first floor, where commuters are able to catch interstate and in-town buses, and Amtrak trains, will remain open to the public.

With the Illinois Primary scheduled for Tuesday, the day after the meeting, the Town did keep three voting precincts at Ironwood Golf Course Clubhouse, Fairview Aquatics Center, and the Community Activity Center running. The only change required under the circumstances was using Fairview Aquatics Center in place of an original polling site, McLean County Nursing Home.

Other municipal facilities operated by the Town, Reece said, would be closed as of March 17. “Until further notice, public facilities will be closed,” she added. “We will be available by phone and online to serve citizens. We just want to limit the public interaction between employees and citizens.”

Reece added the goal of these actions is to “minimizing the quantity and the timeline of patients who are getting ill and needing medical care.”

The Town is taking its cues for informing the public about the disease from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), Reece explained. She recommended residents go to the website of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) which also is continuously updating information to keep citizens current on the disease. Reece said these two sources’ websites can be accessed by going to the Town’s website, www.normal.org. Reece added the Town will use its website as its primary source for getting important information out to the public.

“Our goal is to reduce the risk of transmitting a virus. We certainly want to respect the practice of social distancing, and we encourage citizens to adhere to CDC and IDPH recommendations.

She added McLean County Health Department “has been an exceptional resource for us” and that the Town has been maintaining contact with the Health Department as this crisis has evolved. As of Monday, McLean County has had zero positive cases of Coronavirus-19, Reece informed.

She said the Town, in an effort to reduce contact between people in an attempt to reduce potentially picking up the bug “are cancelling a variety of classes and programs, generally in response to CDC guidelines. She said cancellations were also in response to programs Normal-based Unit 5 School district put into play to minimize the potential for spreading the virus. Last week, Gov. J. B. Pritzker ordered schools statewide closed from March 17-30 because of the Coronavirus.

The Town’s Facilities Management department will continue servicing public areas and work spaces, Reece explained, adding, “Many of our operations continue whatever the circumstances,” and public works and water departments will continue to operate. In relation to water use, Reece said the Town would delay shutting off water of those who are behind in payments, and recommended a scheduled utility and waste fee increase slated to begin April 1 be pushed back to July 1.

That last action would take Council approval, Reece said, addressing Mayor Chris Koos, and would most likely be placed on the agenda of the Council’s next meeting scheduled for April 6.

Koos responded to the idea by telling Reece, “That’s the prudent thing to do and sends a good message to our residents. We are mindful of the situations they may be facing personally and we need to do something about it.”

By Steve Robinson | March 12, 2020 - 10:30 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – With headlines of either a political or medical nature staring people in the face these days, those who attended the March 11 meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School District got to hear plenty of items tagged “good news” by the district when Board members met for what would be their only meeting this month, held in the cafeteria of Kingsley Junior High School.

Colene Hoose Elementary School’s “Good News”: You might call this a dog of a good news story – but rather, it should be called a good news story about a dog named Zephyr. Zephyr, an 8-year-old golden retriever, was introduced to Board members by Dayna Brown, Director of Communications and Community Relations for the district, because the one-time service dog for a student now has changed jobs becoming a therapy dog at the school. Hillary Tanner, a social worker at the school, and kindergarten teacher Audrey Hensley together explained Zephyr has changed jobs – from being a service dog for a student to becoming a therapy dog.

Among his jobs is to help settle kindergarten students down and sooths sick students, explained Hensley. He travels throughout the building throughout the day, Hensley added. Being a Unit 5 staffer, he even has his own identification badge. “Kids read with him and they do math with him, so he’s learning lots of new books,” Tanner added.

George L. Evans Junior High School’s “Good News”: Chris McGraw, principal at Evans Junior High School, introduced Board members to students involved in the school’s chess program who recently competed in the 2020 Illinois Elementary School Association State Chess Championships on February 28-29, 2020. EJHS’ 6th grade team emerged State Champions out of 46 teams competing, while the Eagles’ 7th grade team members were crowned State Champions out of 54 teams. Not to be left out, EJHS’ 8th grade team placed 2nd out of 52 teams, missing out on finishing in 1st place by one half-point. EJHS’ chess program also had seven students win individual silver medals, and four students won individual bronze medals.

Normal Community High School’s “Good News”: Normal Community High School Principal Trevor Chapman introduced Board members to seniors Gregory Carter, and Jacob McBride, both member of local Boy Scout troops who worked on a project to earn their Eagle Scout designations. Carter, a member of Troop #912 and McBride, a member of Troop #920, were introduced to Board members for their efforts to make to improve areas of their school. Carter worked on a project which added a Gaga Ball Pit for use in the school gym. Gaga Ball gets its name from the Israeli word for “hit,” –or, ga – and started in Israel. GaGa is played with a ball and any number of players in an enclosed space. The object of the game is for players to use their hands to hit the other players with the ball, while avoiding being hit themselves. Players are eliminated if they are hit by the ball.

For his project, McBride turned his attention toward landscaping in the back of the school where he added picnic tables to the scene. Chapman told the gathering the projects Eagle Scouts choose don’t have to be done around the school, but he added, “these two young men chose to do projects that benefitted Normal Community and both chose projects that will be around for many, many years to come.”

Kingsley Junior High School’s “Good News”: Learning can sometimes be challenging for some students as they advance from elementary school to junior high. Kingsley Junior High School Principal Stacie France, after having discovered a book called The Learning Pit by James Nottingham, enlisted the help of KJHS’ digital media teacher, Danny Tanner, and two students, Lena Ganschow and Natalie Sokulski, to help develop such a device for their school which would help students.

With Tanner’s aid, Ganschow and Sokulski developed several Learning Pit drafts, and last summer, Learning Pit posters were printed for all KJHS classrooms. The concept of student ownership of KJHS, aided by the artist talents of the girls helped to encourage students, France said. Last summer, 15 KJHS staff members attended a training where Nottingham spoke. In October, KJHS’ entire staff participated in professional development led by Nottingham and a small group learned with him again at a session held prior to the Board meeting.

Chiddix Junior High School’s “Good News”: Chiddix Junior High School’s cheerleading team finished its competitions for the year with a 19-20 season, according to CJHS Athletic Director Wendy Davis, who presented the team and information before Board members. She explained the season started with a summer camp at CJHS hosting Bradley Junior High School. The team spent a week learning skills, cheers, building teamwork, and bonding. The team cheered at all home Boys Basketball games this season as well as a very strong competitive season. The Chargers started their competition season with a 1st place finish and overall Grand Champions of the entire competition at the Midwest Cheer Fest. They continued on this winning streak and placed 1st at the Farmington ICCA Invitational and the Wilmington ICCA Invitational. Competing against 25 teams in the ICCA Championship, CJHS cheer brought back a first place finish. The team ended their season by competing at Illinois Elementary School Association’s State event against 30 other teams, finishing 3rd, missing 1st place by .32 points.

Glenn Elementary And Benjamin Elementary Share In Some Musical “Good News”: Cari Roop, principal at Glenn Elementary School, introduced Board members to information concerning the Illinois Music Educators Association (ILMEA) which has, in the last three years provided an opportunity for students in grades 5 and 6 to audition for and attend District Choir event at Olivet Nazarene College in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Unit 5 has not had students attend at the 5th and 6th grade level until this year. Fifth grade students from this event. As a result, 11 students from Glenn and 5 from Benjamin were chosen to attend on November 16, 2019. They worked with students who represented ILMEA’s District 3 and with Erin Kozakis of the Schaumburg Youth Choir, their guest conductor, for 3 hours that morning before presenting a concert for their families. “The students at Glenn came before school and the students at Benjamin stayed after school and they worked diligently to prepare for their concert” Roop explained.

The Benjamin Elementary School students involved in this were: Srivaishnavi Puvvala, Hamsini Ganti, Madhulata Prabha, and Mahi Ganta. The Glenn Elementary School students involved were: Joe Morris, Philip Brandon, Laurel Gaff, and Lena Hemp.

District “Rocks Its Socks” For A “Good News” Item: To promote an upcoming event, Brown, joined by a number of the Board members, wore their funkiest pair of socks to wear to promote World Down Syndrome Day which will be on Saturday, March 21. With school not in session on Saturday, the district will get a jump on the event by celebrating it on Friday, March 20. Socks are used to promote this day because a picture of a person’s chromosomes looks something like a picture of a group of socks.

“In Unit 5, we try to recognize all types of different students,” Brown told the gathering, numbering around 200 who were there in support of students honored for a number of “good news” items. The district recently began honoring students in its autism program, she explained, adding staff and students are encouraged to wear bright socks, silly or mismatched socks to show support for what the day is honoring, “bringing some recognition to Down Syndrome,” she explained.

Retired NPD Officer Joins District As Director of Safety And Security: As a Normal Police officer, Greg Leipold had protecting the public as a priority, one he retired from last July wrapping up a 25-year career. At this meeting, it was announced he will join Unit 5 in the position of director of safety and security for the district. Dr. Ray Epperson, assistant district superintendent, introduced Leipold to Board members and the meeting’s audience. “He came highly recommended,” Epperson said. “He’s familiar with crisis management,” among other aspects of law enforcement,” Epperson told Board members.

Wes Temples To Become New AD At Normal West: Board members were informed Stan Lewis, athletic director at Normal Community West High School, will retire this summer. At the same time, the Board was introduced to the man who will succeed him. Wes Temples, who was head football coach at Normal Community High School for 10 seasons, from 2008-2017, will take over as AD this summer.

Superintendent Addresses Coronavirus Concerns: With news of people quarantining themselves after being diagnosed with the Coronavirus continue being reported, during his Superintendent Comments portion of the meeting, Dr. Mark Daniel told attendees the district is “trying to stay very much current on the matter. We are tapping into the Center for Disease Control, and tapping into Springfield with regards to State guidelines.

“But because of the constant change involved with this, we are having to constantly change what we are doing,” Daniel said. He explained the district has emergency days built into the school year calendar, and should any of those days being used, they will be made up for toward the end of the school year. He added the safety of the district’s students is what has priority as reason for any decisions made by district officials.

“Keep your child home if they have a fever,” Daniel advised parents. “They need to stay home and if it is the Coronavirus, those are excused absences. We will treat that as an excused absence because of the virus.”

“We are also monitoring daily absences in each of our 24 schools,” he said, adding hand-washing is a critical component to maintaining one’s health. He also advised, “When students are ill and they are still not over their illness, they will be moved to the school nurse’s station where ill students will be provided masks so they do not spread the germs.” Unit 5 has ordered “probably over 100 gallons of disinfectant” to help combat the disease from spreading. The order for disinfectant for the district is on back order as a result of the amount of need at this time, he added.

“We are concentrating on areas where large populations gather, but we are also looking at drawers and rest rooms and other areas,” Daniel reassured. Those at this meeting were made aware Daniel is in regular communication with superintendents from neighboring districts to share and take in any information on the matter.

Following Dr. Daniel’s comments, Brown added she and Michelle Lamboley, the district’s executive director for special services, have been working with local and State health organizations on the matter and following CDC guidelines, as well as working with the county health department, and various other State and county departments on this matter. “This situation is changing very fast,” Brown said, adding hundreds of emails come into the district as a result.

Brown added, “The Illinois State Board of Education has made no recommendation that we close as a result of this. I think that’s important. We are taking the recommendations of the county health department because they are the experts on this.

“The only other thing is, as we talk to parents about what is going on, what we say to them is as of the moment we are speaking with them,” Brown said, explaining that is because the district wants to give parents the most up-to-date information. She added, “I’ve never seen any situation, health or otherwise, change as rapidly as this has.” At this point, Brown said she and Lamboley are “information gatherers while continuing to work with health officials.”

Public Comments Center On Varying Topics: A total of six residents addressed Board members during the meeting. Their comment subjects ranged from how African-American students are disciplined in district grade schools to why the district has not put more of an effort to hire African-American teachers to concerns surrounding the Coronavirus to concerns surrounding the district’s use of Standards Based Grading. On this last matter, the Board heard a presentation concerning this matter before the meeting, which lasted three hours, was adjourned.

Students Taking An Intro To Ed Course Address Board: The Board also heard from Normal Community West High School students in a presentation concerning their experiences surrounding an Introduction to Education course. Many of the eight students who spoke to the Board said they have an interest in pursuing a career in education.

Next Board Meeting April 8: This is the only Board meeting scheduled for this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, April 8 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.

NORMAL – As a basketball player for El Paso Gridley High School, Abe Zeller admitted, the only time he was on a team that reached the finals was when he was in junior high. He and his EPGHS teammates never got to Illinois High School Association Boys’ basketball’s State Tournament.

Tuesday night, as head coach for Roanoke-Benson High School, that particular personal stat changed for Zeller, and for his players as a team, as the Rockets their IHSA Super-Sectional contest, defeating the Titans of Chicago Fenger High School, 45-43. The win increased Roanoke-Benson’s record under Zeller to 36-1 for the season. The win allowed the Rockets to advance to play in an IHSA Class 1A Semi-final against Goreville Friday. That game will tip off in Peoria Civic Center’s Carver Arena, starting at 1p.m.

“Fenger is a great team and for us to get this win on this court, and make history for Roanoke-Benson to make it to the final four is really special for these guys,” Zeller told reporters who clustered close to be able to hear him while R-BHS fans and students cheered and celebrated the experience on Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena on Illinois State University’s campus.

Trailing 32-27 as the fourth quarter opened, two free throws from R-BHS senior forward Trent Weldon helped the Rockets pull within three, 32-29 and a deuce from Weldon helped narrow Fenger’s lead to one, 32-31. A deuce and free throw after being fouled by Fenger senior guard Donovan Taylor helped the Titans push their lead back to four, 35-31, with 7:06 left. But from there, Roanoke-Benson scored six unanswered points – a basket from junior center Luke Braman followed by a deuce and two free throws from senior guard Jack Weber. Weber took the shots having been fouled by Fenger senior forward Alex Dusley, and those points put the Rockets in front, 37-35, prompting Fenger head coach Stephan Collum to call for time.

Following the timeout, Chicago Fenger (20-15) went back in front, 39-37 with four minutes left, first due to two free throws from Taylor followed by a bucket from senior forward Jonta Lewis. That scoring surge prompted Zeller to call time with 3:55 remaining. Coming out of that timeout, Braman sank two free throws after being fouled by Taylor, tying the game at 39-all.

Fenger’s Lewis responded with a basket, pushing the Titans forward, 41-39 with 2:50 remaining. But a foul committed by Taylor sent Weber to the free throw line with 90 seconds left where he hit just 1-of-2, narrowing Fenger’s lead to one, 41-40.

A missed free throw from Lewis kept Fenger from increasing its lead, and with 42 seconds left, Weldon’s next basket put Roanoke-Benson up by one, 42-41. But R-BHS’ Weber fouled Fenger guard Willis Baker, sending him to the line where his two free throws put the Titans up, 43-42, with 21 seconds left.

But Fenger senior center Adreon Jefferson fouling Weber and sending him to the charity stripe one last time for Roanoke-Benson with six seconds left, where he made both shots with 7.4 seconds left, resulted in the final score. With six seconds remaining, Fenger took a time out, coming out of which all they could produce was a missed layup and a rebound as the final buzzer sounded.

Trailed After One Quarter, Tied At Half, And Trailed After Three Quarters: Roanoke-Benson trailed 13-11 at the end of the first quarter, managing to stay that close as a result of pair of baskets from Weber and a trio of baskets from Braman. Weber, Braman, and Weldon managed to give the Rockets a brief 21-19 lead with 52 seconds left in the second quarter only to see a basket by Fenger junior guard Kejuan Currie close out the quarter with a deuce to tie the game at 21-all, the score that started the second half. Two deuces by Currie, one by Jefferson, and a trey Taylor helped Fenger outpace Roanoke-Benson in the third quarter.

Braman led in double figures for Roanoke-Benson with 13 points. No Fenger players found double-digit points but Currie came closest, leading his team’s scoring with 9 points.

“These guys have found ways to win all year,” said Zeller, in crediting his players. “Defensively, to hold Fenger to 43 points on this court, we knew we would have to protect the paint.”

“Getting Here Is Unbelievable”: Zeller said for him to be where he was Tuesday night “is unbelievable.” He has family members who are coaches including at Eureka High School. “Basketball has a rich tradition for my family,” he explained, pointing out his uncle, Pete Meiss, was his mentor as he was learning about the profession.