By Steve Robinson | June 19, 2017 - 10:35 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – With high speed rail to consider, the Town of Normal has spent the last few years pondering how rail passengers who will need to use both the north and south tracks at Uptown Station will get from one platform to the other.

As a result of a 5-2 vote by Normal Town Council members at their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday night, the question of how was resolved: They gave approval to begin researching construction of an underpass between the two tracks. An underpass was one of seven options presented to residents at a fact-finding session the Town put on with the firm the Town hired to research the matter, New York City-based WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff this spring. Council Members Kathleen Lorenz and Scott Preston cast the dissenting votes.

Town officials narrowed to seven the potential options for a crossing then from those, believed their best option for getting from the north track to the south track was an underpass. At one time, both an overpass and an underpass were among the options being deliberated on.

On April 27, the Town held a public session showing residents options open to the Town and encouraged comments. The majority of those persons who spoke then told Town officials they favored the option of an underpass. Lorenz and Preston were concerned about the fact the number of choices of possible options available to the Town, of which there were seven, were not narrowed down further.

Normal’s 2014 Uptown 2.0 plan which was commissioned by the Town and done by WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff first recommended construction of an underpass which would have a $12.7 million price tag. An overpass, the research showed, would cost Normal $8.6 million. Mayor Chris Koos has said State or Federal funds would be needed in order to pay for such construction.

Among 41 comments Town officials received following the April meeting showed 29 residents who responded favored construction of an underpass.

Bruce Nelson, project manager for WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Wayne Aldrich, the Town’s Director of Public Works, recapped the seven options that Normal officials had to choose from to begin the discussion.

Aldrich and Nelson explained that once the vote was taken to decide which of the seven alternatives would be chosen and pursued, the Town would need to spend the next six to nine months working with the National Railroad Association, after which a Federal government report would be released on the subject.

After that report is released, Aldrich said, “We get down in the weeds to start the design phase.”

“We’re making a 25-year decision here,” Council Member Jeff Fritzen said to start Council dialogue. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like and I can’t decide based on appearance.” He added “funding uncertainty” on the part of the Federal government also has a role in the matter.

Aldrich said an underpass doesn’t create as much of a construction headache as any other option might. He added underpass construction would be “less disruptive” to commuters than an overpass.

Concerning funding, City Manager Mark Peterson said, “When the Federal government is involved in such a project, it means the government pays up to 80 percent and we’d pay 20 percent. Those are the kind of projects they look for.”

Following the session which lasted slightly over two hours, Lorenz said she would have liked to have seen the options the Town had to choose from reduced from the seven that were presented to the public and Council members. “We paid a lot of money for this study and it’s a 25-year decision, so we want to make sure we get it right. The outcome of the study didn’t convince me this was the only path to take.”

Seven residents asked to give public comment and both sides of the issue – in favor and not in favor of the underpass – were presented as a result. Former Normal Mayoral Candidate Marc Tiritilli said he favors a “no build” option. He said what the Town is considering with the underpass option, “isn’t about safety. It’s about (having) a centerpiece.”

But college student Wes Ward told Council members he was in favor of the underpass being proceeded with. “There will be gains from such debt” related to constructing the underpass, he said. He added he believes the Mayor’s contention that Normal can handle such debt related to the project, making it work.

Following the meeting, in response to Lorenz’s concerns, Koos said, “When we went through public review, public support was overwhelmingly in favor of an underpass. When WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff presented this in a public setting, an underpass was preferred.”

Addition To Constitution Trail Centre Approved: Council members unanimously approved a final development plan and conditionally approved a final plat for a fifth addition to Constitution Trail Centre. At that site with approval, a Sky Zone Trampoline Park will be opened on 2.233 acres of the property.

Last Meeting For Retiring Town Clerk Wendy Briggs: She has served three mayors, two city managers, and seen 19 Town Council members sit on the dais in 32 years in the Clerk’s office, 28 of them serving as Town Clerk. But Monday’s meeting was the last one for Wendellyn “Wendy” Briggs. She will retire at the end of June. Town Deputy Clerk Angie Huonker will be promoted to Town Clerk effective July 1.

Briggs worked in the mid-1970s for City Manager David Anderson and in the Town Clerk’s office, leaving to work in a law firm before returning to work for the Town Clerk’s office in 1985, being promoted to the Town Clerk post three years later. She received a proclamation for her dedication presented to her by Koos and given a standing ovation by Koos and Council members.

“I truly appreciate being able to work for all of you and help in any way I can,” Briggs said.

Janessa Williams Appointed To Human Relations Commission: Council members unanimously approved the appointment of Janessa Williams to the Town’s Human Relations Commission. Williams is filling a vacancy left by the recent resignation of Alberto Espinosa. Williams first moved to Normal in 1973 to attend Illinois State University where she received a degree in Accounting. After living in the Chicago area for 16 years, Williams returned to Normal in 2004 to work at her alma mater. Among her endeavors away from her work, Williams has established a Umoja Celebration at ISU, a graduation event which represents African American tradition, heritage, and culture.

Agenda Items Approved: Other omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting on June 5, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures as of June 14, 2017.

• A resolution authorizing an extension to an existing license agreement with Connect Transit for access to Uptown Station.

• A resolution accepting the low bid and awarding a contract to Astoria, Ill.-based K. K. Stevens Publishing Company for printing the Normal Parks & Recreation Department’s seasonal program guides: Fall (48 pages); Winter/Spring (44 pages); and Summer (64 pages) at the cost of $27,154.33 (plus postage).

• A resolution waiving bids and authorizing the renewal of a subscription to Microsoft Office 365 through the State Joint Purchasing Program from CDW-G at an annual cost of $67,984.46.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement for technical planning services with McLean County Regional Planning Commission.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an agreement with the University of Illinois for groundwater lever monitoring.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a three-year extension to the SCADA integration services contract with Normal-based SCADAware, Inc.

Unit 5NORMAL – Teamwork between drivers for Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. and Normal-based Unit 5 School District is improving, explained the bus company’s location manager. Mark Bohl updated School Board members on progress being made to make sure this fall’s busing of students will be improved over difficulties experienced by parents, students, and the district at the start of the school year last year.

“We’ve seen teamwork improved over the past school year,” said Bohl. Bohl, a military veteran, was hired last October to attempt to improve the situation that was experienced at the start of last school year. “Everyone is doing a good job and attendance by drivers changed 100 percent from last fall. About 130 drivers are on First Student’s payroll, and the company, as required by agreement with the school district, is attempting to maintain a substitute driver pool of around 15 percent, he said.

Bohl said two people have been designated to answer phone calls for First Student from parents when the school year starts, explaining “communication is the key.”

Regarding what transpired at the beginning of last school year, Bohl said First Student had a “false calm” about the start of school. He said an increase in drivers last December helped improve the situation.

Having heard this report, Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. suggested to Bohl that “it would be helpful to the Board if you and Dr. Daniel reported to us inf the first few days of school” concerning how matters were progressing. Dr. Mark Daniel is Unit 5 Superintendent.

Unit 5 mapSome Districts In State Considering Not Opening In Fall: But before buses can even begin to roll to a school, the school has to be open, ready to receive students. For some district superintendents, Daniel said after the meeting, there are concerns about and even contemplation of not opening schoolhouse doors if State funding isn’t there. Board members unanimously approved amending the district’s 2016-17 school year budget which closes out at the end of the month. Combined, the district’s Transportation and Education budgets show a $5.5 million deficit, the majority of monies due would be coming from Springfield.

The State owes Unit 5 payments totaling $8.1 million for Transportation and Special Education reimbursement The State has, so far, only provided Unit 5 with one payment toward that debt. The district is hoping to receive another State payment by June 30.

Following the meeting, Daniel told reporters, “We’re facing a difficult year ahead.”

Transportation and Special Education reimbursements from the State are referred to by educators as categoricals. “Without categoricals, we have enough money to get through 75 percent of the school year,” explained Board Member Joe Cleary following the meeting.

Daniel said a State-wide group which addresses issues of large school districts, Springfield-based Large Unit District Association, is encouraging its member district superintendents to get the public to write their legislators to push them to pass a budget in time to begin the 2017-18 school year.

He added parents need to begin writing letters to State Representatives and State Senators with their concerns about the consequences of what a potential third year with no State budget would mean for Unit 5. He said 60 percent of the State’s students go to school in 58 districts in the State.

As of the end of that meeting, Daniel said, “We’re not at the point of saying ‘don’t open.’”

Unit 5 Getting Virtual Classrooms: Board member unanimously approved a $170,880 contract with Normal-based Zdi Audio Visual for a virtual classroom project to be installed for use at both Normal Community West High School and Normal Community High School beginning this fall. Unit 5 will use capital projects fund dollars to pay for project. Zdi will install and maintain high-resolution screens, as well as visual equipment and sound equipment in one classroom per high school. The visual and sound equipment at both schools will have motion-detecting capabilities.

Board Approves Renewal Of Insurance, Workers’ Comp. : Board members unanimously voted to renew district insurance policies through various insurers including AIG;; Allied World National Assurance; ACE; Travelers; and Wright Specialty Insurance. The insurance paid for covers auto; property; general liability; crime; and boiler and machinery. In addition, the District pays for an umbrella policy, and several individual liability policies.

The district’s premium for the policy this coming school year totals $1.2 million, an increase of 7.42 percent, or $83,857, from what the district previously paid.

In addition, a workers’ compensation coverage plan with Safety National Insurance was approved, its premium totaling $92,169 annually. That amount is 1.9 percent less, or $1,765 less being paid by the district from what they paid for coverage last year. Also, Unit 5 will pay Cannon Cochran Management Services to serve as a third party administrator for claims. That firm will receive $13,000 for their services.

Next Board Meeting July 12: There will be no second Board meeting in June. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12 at District headquarters, 1809 W. Hovey Ave.

By Steve Robinson | June 11, 2017 - 7:17 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonIt was a recipe for the perfect, albeit slightly warmer than some would want spring day: Take seven musical acts comprised of teens and young adults, add the curious and the musicians and their fans and supporters, place in an ideal location that area residents already love, and mix.

That would describe the ingredients for the 4 ½ hour event known as “Young Summer Sounds” which featured seven musical acts mostly consisting of young people from local high schools and some recent high school graduates, which took place on the Roundabout in Uptown on Saturday, June 10.

The groups who performed included: Leah Taylor; Colton Stogner; Adrian and Olivia; Leah Marlene; Vapid Heights; Rose Room; and Sunday Afternoon. These individuals or groups displayed their talents for what looked like a crowd of a couple hundred people at any one time during sections of the event, folks who sat on the hill and its surroundings, with more folks passing through at times. These young people were looking to show their skills to the community.

Stephanie Chow, daughter of Dr. James and Dr. Michelle Chow, is a member of the group Rose Room, and will be a junior at University High School this fall, and was the organizer of this event. She got the job when she was contacted by the Town’s Uptown Manager, Joe Tulley. “Joe approached me with this idea that he had, an idea for a cool event, but said he thought it would be better if a person under-18 managed it.” On Saturday, Tulley was unavailable for further comment.

Chow’s mission clearly stated, was to reach out to contacts she knew in the local music scene to see what interest they would have in participating. She also placed ads on Facebook to spark interest in the event.

“From there, we organized it and made it happen,” Chow said, smiling. “I’m really happy that the bands got exposure because that was one of the motivations for making this event.”

Chow added, “It would be difficult to find gigs if not for the Town of Normal,“ Chow said. She added she began playing with bands when she was in fifth grade, doing so with bands at events like the Town’s Farmer’s Market and the Annual Worldwide Day Of Play event. Through those events, that’s where I saw a lot of other people play as well.”

Singer Has Been “Getting Gigs” Since 4th Grade:
Singer Leah Marlene said she has been playing music gigs, or “giging” as she called it, since 4th grade. She’s now lead singer for the local band called Vapid Heights. She will be a junior this fall at Normal Community West High School, and explained her band is a mix of kids from all the high schools in the Twin Cities and the county. When she hasn’t been in a band, “it’s been just me and my guitar,” she said.

Leah Marlene is the daughter of Derry and Deanne Grehan. Deanna Grehan said she advises parents who see, either that their child has a talent and wants to perform, or requests help in making that a reality to “be in tune with that and try to support them along the way. Starting them on piano is probably the best way to start as it’s the basis of all other instuments.”:00 – 7:30 Sunday Afternoon

“Sunday Afternoon” Played On This Warm Saturday: A band that plays a little rock, a little blues, and anything in-between, Sunday Afternoon, organized by 2017 Calvary Christian Academy graduate Austin Willis, has seven members from different high schools. Sunday Afternoon began last summer, and have had a few changes in membership since it started. The group will need to look for new members after this summer as four members of the group recently graduated and are college-bound this fall.

Illyana Lin, daughter of Leon and Deanne Lin, will be a junior at University High School this fall, and has always been interested in music, she said. She added she’s been “singing for as long as I can remember,” having taken voice lessons in sixth grade.

“I just like the freedom you have with music,” Lin said. “You get to interpret it to your own style, but you can keep the initial beauty of it, making it your own.”

Lin is also thinking ahead to her future career, too, but not as a musician, as it turns out. She’s learning about the world of Information Technology, and is currently interning at State Farm Insurance. She said when she gets to college, she will major in Computer Science. “I have to make money somehow,” she reasoned.

Other members of Sunday Afternoon are: DeMari Fennell, Jacob Labertew, Zack Rainey, Naomi Jacob, and Nick Saathoff.

All of the kids who took part in this event are to be commended for showing the community their skills in this format and kudos, too, to the Town of Normal, through Tulley, for asking young people to help reach out to other young people to find the talent for it using a one-of-a-kind approach.

Relay For LifeRelay For Life of McLean County is pleased to announce that local couple Molly LeMonnier and Adam Chandler have been selected as Honored Survivor and Honored Caregiver for 2017. This year’s 24-hour event will take place at Normal Community High School from 4p.m. Friday, June 23 until 4p.m. Saturday, June 24, and will again include a 5K Run Saturday morning.

Their Story: In December this year, it will be 12 years ago when LeMonnier, then in her late 20’s, considered doing a self-breast exam. Up until that time, it wasn’t something she considered doing. But one night, LeMonnier admits, “Something wasn’t right.” So she performed the exam to confirm what she was feeling.

“But this time, I felt a lump in my right breast,” LeMonnier said of that moment that changed her life. “I called the doctor right away and she got me in. That’s when it all began.”

What her fingers told her was verified by the doctors – LeMonnier had a solid tumor. While she went through tests to confirm if the tumor was cancerous, “she had a nice, long ‘Honey-Do’ list for me,” said husband, local broadcaster Adam Chandler. Knowing something from her time there would take a few days.

By the start of 2006, doctors confirmed the lump was cancerous and began LeMonnier’s treatment, with Chandler by her side. That treatment included eight sessions of chemotherapy followed by a month of radiation. A PET Scan showed LeMonnier to be cancer-free after that. By this time, a full year had gone by.

Having beaten the disease by the end of 2006, the couple wanted to start a family. “But the doctors said we needed to wait a year to get all the chemicals out of my body,” LeMonnier said. LeMonnier and Chandler abided by the medical request, and waited as asked. Once that year was up, they began trying to start their family, succeeding when their first child, a daughter, was born on April 21, 2008. The couple now has two daughters.

But also in 2008, LeMonnier had a reoccurrence of cancer which was diagnosed as Stage 4 Breast Cancer. Her doctors put her on a different drug this time, called Herceptin. Within a month of starting treatment with that drug, the cancer was gone. LeMonnier has been cancer-free ever since.

When she was diagnosed the first time, “it was tough to get though the first diagnosis because, y’know…I promised her parents, ‘I’m going to take care of your little girl’,” Chandler remembers. He said the cancer caused situations where “I can’t do anything to help her fight that battle. As a caregiver, you have to come to the realization you can’t physically or mentally do anything. The best you can do is be there to be their support.”

“When the doctors said Molly was cancer-free, it was as if this weight is lifted off you,” Chandler said. “That’s when we decided, ‘let’s live our lives,’ start a family, get a bigger house, travel more.”

LeMonnier’s advice to people whose cancer journey has just started or may be continuing: “Don’t second guess yourself and have a positive attitude.” Chandler said ACS was helpful through the battle, encouraging the couple to seek a second opinion, but the couple became strongly acquainted with Relay For Life in 2006 when they participated in their first event.

“Relay For Life has given us a way to explain to our daughters that while Molly has beaten the cancer, we understand that the money raised helps benefit with developing new drugs like Herceptin,” Chandler said.

LeMonnier explains, “At Relay, I look around and talk and share with other survivors, particularly those in their 70s and 80s and that has given me hope.” She added she made it past 40 and hopes to make it past 50 and keep walking laps just like the people from other teams on the track next to her.

“Money raised at this Relay event, and other Relay events will help continue to do just that,” said Kimberly Wright, Community Manager for the American Cancer Society, based in Peoria. “We want to have more teams formed and come out to have fun and join the cause. We want to see people come out for the 5K event, have fun and share in the joy of stories like Molly’s and Adam’s. Molly received a new medication as part of her treatment because there were dollars available donated by residents who cared.”

Relay For Life of McLean County hopes to raise $300,000 in 2017 and have at least 85 teams and 400 survivors and 400 caregivers at their annual Relay event. Relay For Life of McLean County will be held from 4 p.m. June 23 to 4 pm. June 24, 2017, at Normal Community High School.

In 2016, Relay For Life of McLean County raised $297,606. Since it began in McLean County in 1994, Relay For Life of McLean County has raised over $7.6 Million to fight cancer. We are looking for more teams to join us in the fight!

Relay For Life of McLean County volunteer leadership and staff would like to thank our Presenting Sponsor, State Farm Insurance, and our Gold Sponsors, Country Financial and Avanti’s Italian Restaurant, along with all of the other sponsoring businesses and organizations for their dedication to helping us win the fight against cancer.

More information may be obtained by contacting either Catina Struble 309-706-5367 or Steve Robinson at 309-242-7838.

Relay For LifeBloomington, Illinois – June 8, 2017 – Thomas Briggs’ only exposure to Relay For Life of McLean County was as a member of Normal Community High School’s Marching Band as the group participated in getting evening activity underway. But after NCHS’ musicians circle the track this year, Thomas will get to circle the track a second time – in the annual Survivors March – because of what he’s experienced in the past year.

As his freshman year at Normal Community High School was winding down in May 2016, Thomas found having exams and papers due weren’t the only item that might have produced anxiety for him. A nagging tingling sensation on his left side was followed by the discovery of a lump on his left side – both unusual and worrisome for the young man and his parents, Mark and Susan Briggs, Bloomington.

The discovery of the lump on his collarbone and on his side led to a trip to his pediatrician, who ordered several tests that determined Thomas had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. What followed for Thomas was treatment to fight the cancer at St. Jude Medical Center and the Illinois Cancer Care Center in Peoria.

That treatment included a summer of four cycles of chemotherapy and 14 radiation treatments. His treatment was completed by late October. PET Scans last December and again as recently as March showed Thomas to be cancer free. He will however, need quarterly checkups.

Susan Briggs said the American Cancer Society’s website, cancer.org, was “a wonderful source of information. My husband and I didn’t know anything about Hodgkin’s or what the possible treatments might be until seeing that site.”

His courage in the face of the disease is among the reasons Relay For Life of McLean County has named Thomas Briggs its Honored Youth Survivor. Relay For Life McLean County will hold its annual 24 hour event starting at 4p.m. Friday, June 23 and running until 4p.m. Saturday, June 24, at Normal Community High School. Our annual 5K event will begin with registration at 8a.m.

The 16-year-old said that, in the past year, he has learned that “most of the drugs used on me were from doctors who were funded by the American Cancer Society. I didn’t even think about how cancer can affect someone my age until I was diagnosed with it. If people donate, it will help doctors to find new ways just as they did for me.”

“He’s right about that,” said Kimberly Wright, Community Manager for the American Cancer Society, based in Peoria, said. “New ways to fight varying forms of the disease are discovered every day because money is available to find new ways to fight it by doctors who just want to see it end. Thomas’ story is proof of that. We couldn’t be prouder that Thomas is our Youth Survivor this year.”

“Thomas’ story doesn’t just show how helpful the American Cancer Society website can be, but also that money raised by our McLean County Relay has and will help patients,” Wright added. “Thomas’ treatment came about because there were dollars available donated by residents who cared.”

Relay For Life of McLean County hopes to raise $300,000 in 2017 and have at least 85 teams and 400 survivors and 400 caregivers at their annual Relay event. Relay For Life of McLean County will be held from 4 p.m. June 23 to 4 pm. June 24, 2017, at Normal Community High School.

In 2016, Relay For Life of McLean County raised $297,606. Since it began in McLean County in 1994, Relay For Life of McLean County has raised over $7.6 Million to fight cancer. We are looking for more teams to join us in the fight!

Relay For Life of McLean County volunteer leadership and staff would like to thank our Presenting Sponsor, State Farm Insurance, and our Gold Sponsors, Country Financial and Avanti’s Italian Restaurant, along with all of the other sponsoring businesses and organizations for their dedication to helping us win the fight against cancer.

More information may be obtained by contacting either Catina Struble 309-706-5367 or Steve Robinson at 309-242-7838.