NORMAL – While Normal Town Council members voted to approve awarding a bid for a water main project to Gibson City-based SNC Construction in the amount of $417,505.59 plus a potential $5,000 bonus for early completion, before voting to approve the resolution, there was some discussion which preceded the Council’s 6-1 vote approving it, with Council Member Stan Nord casting a lone opposing vote.

Town Water Director John Burkhart indicated to Council members SNC Construction is a new contractor in dealing with the Town, but he added at some point in their company’s experience, all companies have first time experiences working for municipalities. Burkhart’s report to Council members explained the project will provide an additional supply source for water to the Town and would minimize any service interruptions.

Nord said he had an issue with the timing of the project and that the Town would be experiencing a couple of expirations of Tax Increment Funding districts which would be a loss of income to the Town. “If we must spend the money in the water fund, I’d rather we spend it on something which is a current problem for our citizens,” he said. Two things he suggested were to eliminate lead piping from the current water system or simply just save the money.

Burkhart said the work to be done should not interfere with the road being worked on being used. He added the Town is continuing an inventory of what lead piping the Town has, which he said, “to date, number less than 35.”

“Staff is trying to stay ahead of projects when it makes sense,” Council Member Kevin McCarthy said. “I’m not in favor of putting this off.”

Resolution Regarding Grant For Extending Constitution Trail Approved: By a 6-1 count, Council members approved a resolution pledging financial commitment and acknowledging Town support for a grant from 2020 Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, applying for an extension of Constitution Trail between Adelaide St. and Parkside Rd. Nord cast the lone dissenting vote on the measure.

Applicants may apply for up to $2 million in grant funds.

Mayor Chris Koos and Council Member Kevin McCarthy both explained because these two streets empty onto streets leading to main road arteries of the Town, adding them to Constitution Trail was important. Koos said adding this extension where it will be will help get people to both Parkside Junior High School and Parkside Elementary School, Normal Community West High School, and Maxwell Park. Nord said he wanted to see the Town seek another source of income which wouldn’t involve taking money from sources used to pay for Town roads, such as its Motor Fuel Tax Fund.

Resident Patrick Dullard, president of the group Friends Of Constitution Trail, addressed Council members, encouraged Council members to support the extension. He reminded the group invested nearly $5,000 in engineering fees to see what could be done to extend the trail. He reminded those dollars were collected before any formal request for the Town to put tax dollars into the project was even brought to the Town’s attention.

Resolution Amending Rules For Comments At Council, Board Meetings Passes: Council members unanimously approved a resolution amending two aspects of existing rules for public comments at Town Council meetings as well as at meetings of other Town Boards and Commissions. The first item is to provide a maximum of 30 minutes related to any item on that specific meeting’s agenda.

A second public comment period, not to exceed 15 minutes, will be added to the end of the agenda and allow residents an opportunity to address Council members on any matter germane to Town issues.

Nord told Council members he has heard from residents who wished to address Council members on a matter and were told they could not because their topic was not germane to the Council meeting agenda. He also took issue with making residents wishing to address items not germane to that night’s meeting wait through an entire meeting before they can speak. “Someone then has to decide what’s germane and not germane,” he added. “We should just let them come in and let them speak.”

Koos explained the thinking behind the changes was that “The Council meeting is not a public hearing, the Council meeting is a business meeting. I and the majority of the Council feel we’re going to take care of business that comes before us in that evening.” He reminded also that meeting minutes or bills to be paid are not action items to be addressed in public comments.

He added that people who want to talk about their issues with the Town can do so once the formal business session concludes.

Council Member Scott Preston said he had no problem with citizens addressing non-germane issues at Council sessions, whether it was before or after the regular Council session. “I will say that all comments germane to Town business is something that is important to me,” Preston said. “Making sure that all comments are germane to Town business, whether on the agenda or not, is something that is important to me.”

Koos added that there is no set rule for how communities handle allowing citizens to participate through public comments at such government meetings.

Having public comment at the end of such meetings would also allow Council members to mingle afterward with those who spoke at the end of the meeting, particularly if the citizens are expecting a response from Council members. But McCarthy countered on that point, saying Council members aren’t always the only people in attendance at such meetings. He said sometimes people scheduled to give presentations to the Council or citizens’ groups also sit in Council sessions, too. He said his preference would be that those who attend who have business with the Council receive priority at meetings.

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz reminded citizens have an opportunity to reach out to Council members on any topic through phone calls, 1-to-1 conversations, and email. Nord proposed a motion to remove the need for germane comments and allow for all public comments to be done at the beginning of meetings for 30 minutes. That proposal failed because no Council member would second it.

By Steve Robinson | October 19, 2020 - 10:15 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – A recently completed Tree inventory was part of Normal Town Council members’ agenda as the governing body met remotely Monday.

Council members heard from members of the Town’s Parks And Recreation Department who presented a report on a recent tree inventory taken which was approved at a Council measure at a meeting in June. Parks And Recreation Director Doug Damery, assistant director Gene Kotlinski, and recreation supervisor Tyler Bain walked Council members through the report.

Bain began by explaining over 11,000 trees were taken note of in the inventory, and noting “the majority of them were in good condition.” He said the Town has saved roughly $35,000 in benefits related to greenhouse gases, and over $300,000 in water-related benefits. The inventory is on a Town-related website and categorizes for each tree such as benefits related to water, energy, and property, assigning dollar values for each category.

Among other things, Bain said, the inventory site notes that a 5 ½ feet wide cottonwood tree in Fairview Park is the largest tree discovered.

Bain said the inventory is a useful tool for people seeking to learn about different species of trees and other bits of interest related to certain trees. Updating the site is a “constant evolution” Bain said as trees die and need replacing. Council Member Scott Preston called the inventory and the site “was an outstanding resource that helps us know what we have.”

Council Member Stan Nord noted that no trees along Constitution Trail appeared to be part of the survey. Bain said that was true, explaining areas such as the woods between Constitution Trail and the Camelback Bridge, near Vernon Ave. south, would require a separate inventory in which they would note larger trees and do it separately.

Council members unanimously approved an ordinance amending Town Code concerning trees and shrubs also in June. The tree inventory of the Town’s urban forest was conducted by Kent, Ohio-based Davey Resource Group and completed this summer.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources through the Urban and Community Forestry program of the US Forest Service funded the tree inventory. Council members unanimously passed an ordinance required of the tree ordinance amendment in order to fulfill a reimbursement request.

Smart Cities & Initiatives Update Presented: Council members received an update concerning the Town’s desire to become one of a number of “smart cities” across the country. Smart Cities are defined as being those that, among other things, “can effectively use the power of data and technology to cater to the changing needs of its citizenry.” Council members heard from Town’s director of innovation and technology, Vasu Vgadhiraju, who provided an update on progress Normal is making toward becoming a Smart City.

A Smart City, Vgadhiraju explained, are cities that use technology to solve numerous issues. Currently, Vasu Vgadhiraju explained, Normal finds itself between the first two phases of heading toward becoming a model Smart City. Those phases are ad hoc, where the community is just starting and opportunistic, where the community is forging partnerships with others to focus on shared outcomes.

She said the Town establishing a comprehensive plan toward becoming a Smart City started in November 2017. Among the goals for the Town to have smart operations is to get to the point where it has digitized applications and other forms, and increased training and resources, among other things.

She added the Town reaching out to forge partnerships also helps Normal toward a Smart City designation. She cited the partnership the Town has established with Normal-based Unit 5 School District to improve digital exposure within the community.

Following Vgadhiraju’s presentation, Council members appeared pleased with her efforts. Mayor Chris Koos pointing out she attended a Smart Cities initiatives conference where attendance was by invitation only.

Nord asked if there were other cities in Illinois who were also participating in this initiative. Vgadhiraju said many in the Chicago area, including Naperville and Aurora were, and that downstate, Champaign and Peoria was, too, and depending on the city, “there are varying degrees of effort.”

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting held Oct. 5, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Oct. 14, 2020.

• A resolution authorizing a memorandum of understanding with McLean County Regional Planning Commission for a pavement rating and assessment project.

• A resolution to award the bid for Main Street water main extension project to SNC Construction, Inc. at a total cost of $417,505.59 plus up to a potential $5,000 bonus for early completion and authorize the City Manager to execute agreements with Union Pacific Railroad and RailPros.

• A resolution to appropriate $370,000 in Motor Fuel Tax funds and authorize the Mayor to execute professional engineering service agreements with The Farnsworth Group for Phase I and II design services for West College Ave. from Rivian Motorway to White Oak Rd.

• A resolution of financial commitment and acknowledgement of the Town’s support for a 2020 Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) Grant Application for an extension of the Constitution Trail between Adelaide Street and Parkside Road.

• A resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter into a six-month lease agreement with Enterprise Fleet Management for four (4) 2021 GMC Sierra double cab 4×4 and one (1) Chevrolet 15-passenger van.

• A resolution amending the rules for public comments at meeting of Normal Town Council and other Town Boards and Commissions.

By Steve Robinson | October 18, 2020 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: News, The Normalite

NORMAL – For a business open to the public during daylight hours, completing renovations can be like starting work on a jigsaw puzzle. Depending on the work needing to be done, you are bound to need to have different vendors passing through to get the job done. And most likely, they would arrive at different days and times.

Normal Public Library found itself in just that situation in March when it planned out work on two existing restrooms and plans for adding one on the building’s ground floor.

A total of $50,000 for the project came from a “Live And Learn Construction grant” which the library had begun working to apply for as far back as fall of 2018 and received from the Illinois State Library, explained Brian Chase, Director, Normal Public Library. He said it was a matching grant, meaning the library put up the same amount for the project.

The total cost of the project, he said, was around $200,000. The library used money from its special reserve fund which the library uses for improvements, Chase explained. The two existing restrooms on the ground floor had last been modified in the 1970s which created problems for some disabled patrons, something the renovation the grant money would be used for would rectify.

Chase said the library applied for the grant for the specific need of adding “accessibility enhancements” to the library. Laura Golaszewski, community engagement manager for the library, said Chase worked to coordinate with Bloomington-based architects Felmley-Dickerson to make sure that end of the project went smoothly during the time the library was shut down.

The new restrooms now only allow for single occupancy, and they are not gender specific.

But just as the project was getting underway in March, the country experienced a worldwide pandemic furthering complications to getting the job done. The library was forced to shut down as were all but essential public places by the middle of that month.

But at 12 noon on Wednesday, Oct. 14, Normal Public Library reopened to the public with some modifications. “Originally, when we planned to do the restroom project, we didn’t plan to close at all,” explained Golaszewski. The pandemic hadn’t begun when the project did, so patrons could be directed to use restrooms either on the second floor or in the basement, she pointed out.

She said the library had no intention of closing before the pandemic hit, and materials to begin the project started rolling in with work getting under way in late May. While the work was being done, there was no access to restrooms on the ground floor.

“But with the pandemic and handwashing being the best way to combat COVID-19, we didn’t want to open and have a main floor with no place to wash your hands,” Golaszewski explained.

Once COVID-19 was here, the library had a lot of supply chain issues, getting anticipated materials to arrive, in addition to scheduling contractors as needed to get the work underway. “They are for whoever needs them,” Golaszewski said of the restrooms. “They are nice and spacious, and are all ADA accessible.”

The library put finishing touches on the newly-completed restrooms just before the library reopened.

Pandemic-Related Changes: Patrons will notice a few pandemic-related changes at the library. There is Plexiglas shielding at stations at the front desk, and there are fewer public computer stations for use, which are spaced for health reasons.

By Steve Robinson | October 17, 2020 - 10:14 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – When Unit 5 set a date for remote learning to come to an end with students returning to class this past Monday, the district not only anticipated but knew about 76 percent of the students would return to class. The district learned through a survey it conducted late last month parents of the remaining 24 percent still had concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic enough they wanted to maintain their children continuing schooling through remote learning.

Because of that division between students attending and not attending in person, “we had to reassign some classroom teachers at the elementary level from Pre-K to grade 5, to be fully remote instructors,” explained District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle to Board members and a small socially distanced audience at Normal Community West High School during the Board’s Oct. 14 session.

The scheduling for students’ return will work this way: Students in Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten through 2nd grade, 6th grade, and 9th grade returned to classrooms this week. The week of Oct. 26-30, students in grades 3 through 5, 7 and 8, and 10 through 12 will return to in-person classes.

Shifting the teachers around meant students, regardless of whether they were general education, bilingual students, and special education students, would be affected by the rearrangement, in an attempt to meet students’ needs, Dr. Weikle explained.

When district officials estimated how many parents might opt to continue their children to learn remotely, Dr. Weikle said they anticipated between 20 to 25 percent might still want to continue remote learning.

Concerning the students participating remotely, Dr. Weikle said, “They are still getting instruction from a Unit 5 teacher, it is just happening in a remote environment so they have, with them learning remotely, they have daily attendance, and that attendance is taken by logging in, participating in the instruction by the teacher, and turning in work.”

The students who will be attending in person will do it in shifts, Dr. Weikle said, with half of the students attending on Mondays and Thursdays, and half doing remote instruction on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays are neutral with everybody taking in remote instruction from home, Dr. Weikle said.

Where families have children with multiple last names, attendance schedule will be determined based upon the last name of the oldest child will apply for all students in that family.

Public Comments To The Board Regarding Returning Students To Classrooms: Lindsay Mitchell, parent of a son who is a freshman and a daughter in her junior year at Normal Community High School, registered her concern that her daughter was experiencing some stress as a result of needing to do school work remotely. “Our children need to be in school five days a week and that this really does impact their future,” she told Board members. “I just, honestly, in my heart, feel that we need to return to full five days a week instruction is necessary and imperative.”

Board members also heard from three separate parents whose children attend the bilingual students program at Cedar Ridge Elementary School. Through an interpreter, the parents raised questions concerning, among other things, whether there would be enough space given to keep students safe from coronavirus.

“Good News” Concerns Susy Marcum Named “Best School Nurse”: Board members met and were informed that Registered Nurse Susann “Suzy” Marcum, who serves as school nurse at both Fairview Elementary School and Grove Elementary School, was named “Best School Nurse” in the State by Illinois Association of School Nurses. The association represents 900 nurses statewide.

Normal Community High School’s “Good News” About Honor For AD Nic Kearfoot: Board members learned from Normal Community High School Principal Trevor Chapman that NCHS athletic director Nic Kearfoot has been named Illinois High School Association Division 5 Athletic Director of the Year for school year 2019-2020. Chapman, in his memo to Board members, credited Kearfoot with “setting up for athletic events, ensuring that all logistics have been organized, and making sure events themselves go off without a hitch.”

Chapman also acknowledged Kearfoot’s work with the Great Plains Foundation, which assists young men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds, helping those young people to continue their educations and be able to contribute to their communities. Kearfoot has been AD at NCHS since 2018, when he replaced Mike Clark who retired.

UFEA Contract Approved: By a 6-1 vote with one Board member abstaining, Board members approved a three-year contract between the district and members of Unit Five Education Association members, which would expire in 2023. Because he is married to a UFEA member, Board Member Mike Trask abstained from voting on the contract.

Contract With Kelly Education For Hiring Substitute Teachers Approved: Board members unanimously approved a contract with Michigan-based Kelly Education for hiring of substitute teachers. From their offices out-of-state, Joseph Kelley, vice president for business development and strategic partnerships, and Stefani Neumann, strategic sales manager, introduced Board members to how their company, a division of Kelly Services which has been in existence for seven years, functions.

Kelley said the first thing Kelly Education will do is hire all current substitutes and would lift any pension restrictions regarding work with relation to the Affordable Care Act. He said new members to their program would receive professional development, as well.

Kelley told Board members while Kelly Education would be operating the substitute teaching program, it is the district who would have control of it. “You have the final say as to who is hired in this program,” he said. He said the company has a hiring pool ratio of 3-to-1, so that for every absent employee, three substitutes would need to be available.

He added that if there are retired district teachers who wish to continue teaching, Kelly Education encourages “wanting to keep as many people who want to work within your schools working once they retire.”

Board Receives, Unanimously Approves Annual Audit Report: Board members received, and voted unanimously to accept, an annual audit report from Hope Wheeler, a principal with Champaign-based audit firm of CliftonLarsenAllenLLP, reported to Board members they had no modifications or no issues found during the course of the audit.

Board Member Mike Trask reminded that there was one finding the district needed to address last year, and compared having a clean audit this time to a baseball pitcher throwing a perfect game, and added, “Collectively, across the district, it is, quite frankly, a team effort – not only with our finance department, but anybody who deals with any sort of transactions, whether it’s building principals, staff members, and to get an absolutely clean audit is phenomenal.”

The result of the audit “shows what an exempleary staff in every facet in every building our leadership has provided financially,” Board Member Dr. Kelly Pyle added. Wheeler returned the compliment to the district explaining the district has acted quickly to correct issues when discovered in previous audits.

By Steve Robinson | October 13, 2020 - 10:28 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – Whenever the pandemic America is experiencing is deemed over, there will be financial costs involved to people who will have had their businesses damaged, curtailed, or even closed as a result of the episode which began earlier this year. Candidates for the seat in the 13th District of the U. S. House of Representatives gave differing views as to how recovery should look when they debated Monday night at the Center For The Performing Arts on Illinois State University’s campus. The event was not open to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and was the second time Republican incumbent Rodney Davis and Democratic challenger Betsy Londrigan have sparred this political season.

Davis, seeking his fourth term to represent the district, and Londrigan, who challenged Davis to try to win the seat two years ago, answered that question taking different approaches in how businesses could receive help from Washington.

“We don’t know how much we’re going to have to do once the pandemic ends,” Davis said. And what would need to be done after it’s declared over would determine monies needing to be spent, he added. He did say a $1.8 trillion package which was worked on for this would be a good start to helping Americans, but he blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for holding up the process despite, he said, that President Donald Trump was willing to come meet with her to get the process moving.

“Those packages help Mom-and-Pop shops – five million small businesses,” Davis added. He explained that in a crisis such as this, Democrats and Republicans can generally find common ground to get such a package passed so money can get to those who need it. But he also said he blames Pelosi for not allowing a stimulus bill to get passed nearly two weeks ago.

Responding, Londrigan reminded that Davis is the co-chair for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. “Rep. Davis fails to mention President Trump knew this virus was deadly, he knew it was airborne, and he knew it in early February,” Londrigan said. Even with finding that out as early as he did, Londrigan said Trump “had no national plan for testing, no national plan for tracing, no national plan for providing protective gear for our essential workers – nothing.” She added neither Trump nor Davis said anything that would aid the American people through the early parts of the crisis.

She pointed out researchers at the University of Illinois worked to provide a total of 530,000 rapid saliva tests to see if students or staff had the disease. The results, she said, showed only one quarter of one percent of those people tested turned out to be positive for the disease. As a result, she explained, “students are back on campus and businesses are reopening.” She said by comparison, the Trump Administration has only shown the American people failure during these circumstances.

The event was, even with just journalists and political aides present in an auditorium which could sit nearly 700 people, calm and uneventful until the closing comments by candidates. During Davis’ closing, as he was contending Londrigan mentioning Davis wanting to dispose of pre-existing conditions was false, Londrigan verbally scoffed at his contention. That brought a reply from Davis “to not interrupt because this isn’t a Presidential debate”

The event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of McLean County, Heartland Community College, Illinois Wesleyan University, Illinois State University’s Center For Community Engagement and Service Learning, The Pantagraph, WJBC Radio, and WGLT Radio.