By Steve Robinson | August 9, 2022 - 9:13 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – Roughly 20 Normal residents were present when petitions gathered by some of those residents seeking a change in the format of Town government from at-large representation to a ward system were turned in to Town Clerk Angie Huonker’s office Monday at Normal City Hall. Those favoring the change, saying they were from a group called “Citizens For A Better Normal” were outside Huonker’s second floor office by the 2p.m. deadline.

The petition question asked of residents was “Shall the town be divided into 6 districts with one trustee elected from each district?”

A total of 2,200 signatures were required by state law for the measure to be on the ballot for Nov. 8’s general election. Normal’s population is roughly 54,000 people, and this is not the only attempt to see the Town government format changed as previous tries to make such a change have failed.

Huonker said she certified and accepted the petitions she received. She said she then passes on to McLean County Clerk’s office notification that had taken place. From there, residents have five business days to file challenges to the petition filed Monday. If there are no challenges, the referendum will be sent to the county clerk to be included on the November 8 ballot.

The change would create a ward system similar to what Bloomington residents experience. In such a system, residents would need to address concerns to the Council member residing in their ward. Currently, in the Town’s at-large system, if a resident has a concern, they can bring it to the attention of any of Normal’s six Council members or Mayor Chris Koos. Changing Town government to a district format would mean residents would need to speak to the Council member representing the district they live in. That Council member would have to live within the district’s boundaries. A map of the Town shows three Council members live in the central part of the Town.

There appears to be no specific resident stepping up to serve as leader for the group desiring the governmental form change, and yet, about a dozen Normal residents were on hand to see the petition getting filed. None of those individuals would comment or give their names to a reporter. Calling themselves Citizens for a Better Normal, organizers issued a press release saying the referendum will allow for voters to decide if districting is in the Town’s best interests. No one is listed as being responsible for leading the group on the group’s website.

One resident, Susan Lash, told reporters while she is not part of the organizing body seeking the change in Normal’s government system, “I did go out and ask my neighbors and discuss it with them. To me, it’s a very important issue that we have districts in town.” Right now, she explained, the problem she sees with the current at-large representative government is “when everyone is responsible, then no one takes responsibility.”

“When you have an actual representative from your area, then you can call on them when you have a problem,” she explained. “It’s frustrating when you don’t have someone who actually knows the problems of your neighborhood.”

She added making a change in the Town’s government form would allow for “a mixture of points of view” in it.

By Steve Robinson | August 1, 2022 - 10:37 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – With a 6-1 vote, Normal Town Council members approved a resolution authorizing execution of a joint funding agreement with Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for Phase I and Phase II of engineering to be done for the Underpass Project at Uptown Station. Council Member cast the lone opposing vote. The proposed agreement with IDOT will provide funding for both Phase I & II engineering for the Underpass project. Council Member Stan Nord cast the lone opposing vote.

The second phase of the project involved detailed construction design engineering services up to $3 million in Federal funding. This funding is part of the BUILD grant funding scenario approved by Council on July 19, 2021. BUILD stands for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development and are distributed by U.S. Department of Transportation and USDOT explains which projects they are awarded for by saying, “to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve national objectives.”

The total cost for the underpass project is $23,942,120. That figure includes $1,692,120, or 7.07 percent from Town of Normal. Other funds include: $13 million, or 54.30 percent in BUILD funds; $3 million, or 12.53 percent in other Federal dollars; $7,942,120, or 33.17 percent in non-Federal funding; $5 million, or 20.88 percent, from Illinois Commerce Commission’s Rebuild Illinois program; and $1,250,000, or 5.22 percent from ICC’s Grade Crossing Protection Funds.

Previously known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Grants, Congress has dedicated nearly $7.1 billion for ten rounds of National Infrastructure Investments for funding projects which have what they consider “significant local or regional impact.”

Part of Nord’s objection, he explained, stemmed from what he saw was a difference in project cost he thought the project would be, dating back to what he understood the cost would be in April. He said he was given to understand, when the Town submitted reports to Federal government for needed funds, the cost would be $30 million. City Manager Pam Reece explained to Nord an additional $7.1 million came in grant dollars made available by Federal Railroad Administration. Reece said the Town felt it was worth seeking addition funding “in anticipation of additional project costs.”

Mayor Chris Koos pointed out to Nord the Town “doesn’t know how much this whole project is going to cost until we bid it, and it’s going to be this Council’s responsibility to respond to that – to change the scope of the project, to find additional State or Federal funding if it’s available to address construction and what is obviously the inflationary cycle in our government that we’re in right now.” Koos called Council’s plan at this point being prepared with “strategic moves” in case material costs increase.

Council Approves Grant Agreement With Carle Center for Philanthropy: Council members voted to approve a resolution 6-0 to $100,000 of unallocated American Rescue Plan funds to the Carle Center for Philanthropy for operation of a mobile health clinic. Carle Center for Philanthropy will be paying monies needed to operate the mobile clinic. Council Member Kathleen Lorenz recused herself from voting on the resolution as she is employed by United Way of McLean County, which has made donations to Carle. Reece said among the funding partners for this project are Tinervan Family Foundation, XXXXXX XXXXXX, the City of Bloomington, and the Town of Normal.

The mobile clinic has made visits to the Twin Cities in the past, City Manager Pam Reece told Council members. Reece added the mobile unit the Town’s contribution was put toward is for a new unit which will replace an older mobile medical unit which has been coming to Normal once a month.

Services of the mobile clinic would be performed in a 40-foot bus prepared to perform medical services done in a building. The Town’s financial contribution would join contributions from other partners, with the money going to partly fund the $700,000 mobile clinic that would make regular visits to locations in Normal, in addition to visiting sites in Bloomington and rural areas of McLean County.

Town Finance Director Huhn Recognized For Award: During comments made before the meeting closed, Reece recognized Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn and his staff for the Town having received the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from Chicago-based Government Finance Officers Association. “It’s very much a team effort to put our budget documents together and something that we’re very proud of,” Reece said in announcing to Council members the Town receiving the award.

Public Comment: In a public comment at the start of the meeting, Normal resident Ronald Ropp expressed concern regarding a Town ordinance requiring payment of $1,250 to build a house on land his family owns. The land, he said, utilizes services provided by Dry Grove Township. No Council members responded to his comment.

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

• Approval of minutes from the regular Council meeting of July 18, 2022.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of July 27, 2022.

• A resolution to award the bid for Locust St. and Harris St. water main replacement project to Bloomington-based George Gilner Inc. at a total cost of $616,259.

• A resolution conditionally approving a final plat within one and one-half miles of corporation limits by expedited process – Marty Ropp subdivision.

NORMAL – Taking the pulse of what residents of Normal want to see develop at the south end of Uptown was the focus of an online meeting organized by the Town of Normal and held remotely to see what ideas and concerns residents had for the area. Those surveyed, and a number of Illinois State University students who took part in the meeting stated a grocery in Uptown Normal would be desirable in order to head off that area of town keeping it from being considered a “food desert” where no groceries exist.

Town Planner Mercy Davison introduced the meeting saying details concerning June 28’s session would be posted to the Town website, www.normalil.org, as will details for two future in-person meetings. Doug Farr, founder of Chicago-based Farr Associates, and Olivia Grenzebach, a planner with the company, anchored Thursday’s 90-minute online meeting. In addition to the online session held Thursday, Davison added, two in-person meetings will be held with dates of those meetings to be announced.

Farr began by defining the borders for the area next on the list to be seeing improvements in the future. The area consists of 8.3 acres bordered to the north by railroad tracks, to the east by Linden St., to Irving St. to the south and Constitution Trail to the west. Farr said his organization conducted an online survey to gauge what residents felt was needed in Uptown

Farr officials indicated they are on track to submit final results of revitalization including costs by the end of the year after which construction would begin with completion of the final phase of construction anticipated to be completed by mid-December next year.

Among the elements those surveyed said for a renovated Uptown south to be successful included the need for more parking there. That was followed by what those surveyed saw as needs for wide sidewalks and pedestrian areas, bike lanes, landscaping, and outdoor dining.

Farr indicated the firm is aware that roughly 10 percent of the land in Uptown south is open space, and that the underpass will occupy 0.9 acres of the 8.3 acres in that area. He said Constitution Trail will continue through that area and Uptown Circle, provide tiered green space, and provide for gatherings and public events.

Farr said responses to the 30 question survey were topped off by a number of themes including: Fine grained spaces for walking and biking; Mixed land uses including housing; Accessibility to be able to drop off and pick up people, and parking; amenities such as a grocery store, Normal Library, food, and entertainment; and open space for public gatherings.

Farr suggested that the gathering space should be “walkable” and “car free.” He added housing “was an absolute winner as there is a market for it.” He added there seem to be a split between people who wanted a form of plaza for the space with another group expressing a desire for more open spaces in Uptown. He added a recommendation that any restaurants ought to be grouped together rather than spreading them throughout Uptown.

When asked to envision how they believe Uptown South will become in the future, 65.46 percent of those surveyed said they would like to see some form of mixed use, as opposed to any kind of residential structure; 38.80 percent said they would like to see the area used for primarily commercial use with some residential use; and 18.97 percent of those surveyed said they would like to see the space used for residential with some space for business use.

Survey respondents were asked what two specific types of business they believed would enhance quality of life by being placed in Uptown saw 41.03 percent favored a grocery store; 38.63 percent favored restaurants; 36.41 percent favored retail; and 22.05 percent opted for something categorized as “other.” Items under “other” ranged from coffee to cultural space to book store to pedestrian use areas.

Farr said he believed some of those who were surveyed were thinking beyond Uptown South when they answered questions. Those surveyed were quizzed concerning the size of stores they would like to see in the area if development is in the area’s future. A total of 63.49 percent of those surveyed said they desired buildings 30-60 feet in width, followed by 28.22 percent surveyed preferring buildings between 15 ft.-30 ft. in width, followed by buildings of 200 feet in width only drawing preference from 8.29 percent of those surveyed. A total of 86.48 percent of those surveyed said they would like to see cul-de-sacs connected to Constitution Trail while 13.52 percent of those asked about that said they opposed the idea.

Three Proposed Designs For Public Space – Cloister, Square, and Plaza: Farr said his group is proposing three possible designs for public space in Uptown South — Cloister, Square, and Plaza. Farr said the cloister design would have people strictly on foot, prohibiting people from using cars in order to travel through it. In the Square option, Farr said the park is surrounded by nearby streets and would have two crossings to Constitution Trail. Farr said this option would have both auto and pedestrian access. The third design Farr introduced was a plaza design. Farr admitted the plaza design was harder for people to immediately visualize. Farr said were the Plaza option to be chosen, the amount of green space would be less than in the other two options. He compared it pictures of green space in parks in Europe. He said the plaza option would have space for cars to drop off visitors in one corner of its design.

During discussion following presentation of the choices, Avery Spranger, a student at Illinois State University, reminded Farr and the Town representatives that comments in the survey about the University being in a food desert “are there for a reason,” reminding that students often go to CVS Pharmacy on Fell Avenue but primarily for snacks.

“People can’t walk two miles in the middle of their busy schedules to go get groceries,” she stated. She stated CVS “charges $7 for Oreos and that’s why a grocery is on the list” of improvements she would like to see when a finalized design is chosen. She said having a grocery close by in Uptown is why students made such a suggestion.

Patrick Walsh, student body president at ISU, tacked on a need for a grocery in Uptown because, as he explained from doing some research, CVS Pharmacy does not have a common distributor for food items like milk. Morgan Taylor, representing Jack Abraham, candidate for McLean County Board District 6, which includes ISU and Uptown South, read a statement from Abraham concerning the need for a grocery option in Uptown. “Uptown Normal has various shops and other establishments,” Abraham wrote. “But what is lacking is a viable option for residents looking to buy groceries. Having an affordable grocery store option in the Uptown area will give students and residents alike a practical way to groceries without having to organize carpool trips to other grocery stores in town or settle for the limited options that are in Uptown currently.

Abraham recalled the snowstorm experienced in February which forced ISU to close for a couple days. He said that left students with needing to stock up on food for a few days. “If students did not have access to transportation to groceries outside the area, they were forced into more expensive and less diverse options. We need a cost effective grocery store in the Uptown area…”

Student Livi Sweich contributed suggesting creation of a community garden in the Uptown area. Doing so, she said, would help provide fresh vegetables which could be sold at the community pantry. Farr said some communities use underdeveloped or underutilized land parcels for just such uses. Farr said Normal has vacant spaces which could be considered to be used for just such purposes.

Another student, Braxton Myers, said he’s among a number of students who don’t stay in Normal because they believe the Town hasn’t the infrastructure to support students who don’t have cars. “If we want to keep students here, if we want to have students stay here throughout the entire process after they graduate, I think it kind of starts with the infrastructure and having the grocery stores and available access to these amenities.”

NORMAL – Could the notion of Normal becoming a community where Town Council members represent individual wards rather than the current process of members representing the Town as a whole be in the Town’s future? There is a group of residents who would like to see a change in the way the Town is governed, with Council members currently serving at large, changed to a ward system where a person elected to Town Council would have to live in and represent a specific ward.

A petition is being circulated which would be turned into the county clerk’s office in Bloomington which, if enough signatures are gathered and verified by that office, would put the question whether Normal should have representatives who serve on Council being required to reside in the neighborhoods they represent.

Currently, at least three Council members live in the same general area rather than being spaced in different sections of Town.

Council Member Stan Nord, currently serving his first term on Council, said he has been asked by residents why the Town doesn’t have wards already in place. For decades, the Town has had a system where residents could contact any member of Town Council with concerns. A change to wards would mean residents would need to approach their Council ward representative to address any issues.

Nord explained local residents supportive of the change learned about how another central Illinois community, Rantoul, learned how to govern using the ward system. He said he has gotten pushback on the ward system idea from “WGLT and people who are currently elected.” WGLT recently posted an article on their website reporting about the ward idea.

Kathy Siracuse is a Normal resident signed the petition and is helping promote making wards possible. She said she would favor Town Council members shifting from their current Town Council at-large designations, where they represent the Town as a whole regardless of where they live, to a ward-oriented system similar to Bloomington, where the Town is divided into wards and Council members would need to be living in the ward they represent while on the Council.

“I just know there’s a lot people in Normal who are very dissatisfied with the way Normal is being run and managed,” Siracuse said. She added that because of that, “we aren’t getting what we need in the Town of Normal as far as taking care of the issues that need to be addressed.” At the same time that there are folks who object to how the Town is being governed, Siracuse added, “We aren’t seeing voter turnout. You know, if you want to change something, you’ve got to go out and vote for it.”

But while Siracuse and Nord believe this to be a good idea for Normal, Council Member and Town Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy said he has been approached by residents who are asking him why the Town would consider making such a change.

If a ward system were implemented, residents would find themselves able to contact only the Council member representing their ward. McCarthy said he has had residents confirm for them that specific change concerning contacting a Council member is something residents would need to get used to. McCarthy said residents, upon hearing that, have asked him, “Why is that better?”

McCarthy said another resident pondered the effect of a lack of choice at the voting booth. “This person said they get to vote for all members of the Council, and have an influence” on how the Town decides matters. McCarthy said the resident then asked, “In a ward system, I would only get to vote for one so my voting power gets diluted?” McCarthy confirmed for that person that was the case.

“There is a misconception that the ward system is better representation,” McCarthy said. “It’s actually less representation.”

McCarthy said one of those people asking about less representation asked him, “Why would I do that?” McCarthy said he replied, “I don’t know why you would do that,” and thus, why Normal would do it.

He added when Council members vote on projects, which neighborhood benefits doesn’t come into consideration because Council’s belief is projects approved are a benefit to the entire town. He added going to a ward system would make Council members address and be concerned about issues central only to the ward they were elected to serve rather than Normal as a whole.

McCarthy said the Town geography for certain businesses if Normal gets divided into wards would be advantageous for some and not others. He cited putting Rivian in a certain ward would help that specific ward while a ward with fewer businesses would be at a serious disadvantage.

By Steve Robinson | July 22, 2022 - 10:24 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Normal- based Unit 5 School Board members were made aware of options available to them after hearing survey results conducted by a consulting firm during the governing body’s July 20 regularly scheduled meeting held in Normal Community West High School’s cafeteria. Collin Corbett from Libertyville-based EO Sullivan education consultants presented Board members with a trio of options the firm received regarding how the public would like the district to proceed concerning how they would like district funding to proceed. The district has been battling a deficit and is considering presenting a referendum question for the November ballot, seeking an annual tax revenue increase of roughly $14.5 million.

Board members heard about alternatives they will need to consider which were part of a survey conducted by Libertyville-based research firm EOSullivan. An executive with the firm, Collin Corbett, explained to Board members data from survey results have presented Unit 5 with three potential funding avenues to consider.

Those funding choices are: Raise district funding by about $12 million per year, allowing the district to reach a level which would help eliminate damaging effects the deficit would have on the district; Raise district funding by about $14.5 million and permit funding for specific district priorities which would include smaller class sizes, student resources and improved safety; or raise district funding by about $17 million adding expanded programs as well as technology improvements. As a result, owners of a $180,000 home would see their taxes increase between $305 and $440 per year.

Corbett said those surveyed wanted to see the district develop “a strong willingness to overcome all financial challenges.” He said the public showed interest in the district seeking out new revenue sources, although there were no specifics as to what those sources would be.

In response to a question from Board Member Alan Kalitzky asked Corbett what affect current increased costs of goods and services had on responses EO Sullivan received in surveys. Corbett explained intake of information received by researchers was gathered “weeks not months” before being presented to Board members. He added inflationary pressures from increased costs of goods have factored into some negative survey results from the public.

Corbett offset that by saying, “You’ve got a great story here because 2,500 people have had their voices heard in this community” from taking part in the survey. He added survey results do indicate some opposition to what the district wants to do and he related those to financial challenges families currently face.

Board Member Stan Gozur asked Corbett how many families polled didn’t see anything they favored among the choice Sullivan polling gave them. Corbett said there were a small number of people who may have opposed the choices given in the survey because their specific choice wasn’t among those provided. Corbett added the funding choices given were ones the public “most likely wanted to see.”

Bus Lane Work At Prairieland Elementary Discussed: Whether to use Life/Safety funds for use to create a bus lane at Prairieland Elementary School led off the meeting’s agenda, starting with a public hearing as required by State law for such potential expenditures, and during that hearing, Kalitzky said in addressing whether to spend money on repaving the bus lane that “sometimes just spending money to put patches down just isn’t enough.” He began his explanation by saying the district has done “a very good job” of maintaining its properties and that, sometimes, such upkeep and maintenance is necessary.

He added Prairieland Elementary “is a heavily used school and facility” and so it’s not just about the buses coming through, but it’s about parents picking up and dropping kids off for extracurricular activities, as well.”

No members of the public signed up to address the public hearing. No action was taken on Prairieland’s parking was taken at this session.

New Employees Introduced: District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle introduced Board members and audience members present to three new district employees. Robin Taylor, Courtney McClure, and were introduced to Board members and audience members. Taylor is the new assistant principal at Normal Community West High School. She spent last fall as an administrative intern at both Normal West and Kingsley Junior High School. She has a decade of experience as a math teacher at KJHS. Taylor told Board members, “I’d like to thank everybody for the opportunity as I continue my educational career.”

McClure will become associate principal at Normal Community High School. A 19-year teaching veteran, she has spent eight years as a special education teacher in Champaign District #4. She has experience as an assistant principal at NCHS.

Amanda Sick was introduced as the new principal at Fairview Elementary School. A 21-year teaching veteran, Sick has previous experience in the area having taught at Bloomington District #87’s Sheridan School. Sick said she was “looking forward to the opportunity” awaiting her at Fairview Elementary.

Dr. Weikle said Taylor, McClure, and Sick are just three of a “handful of new administrators” Unit 5 has on staff beginning now and they all met in meetings earlier this month.

Superintendent Comments: A number of items topped Dr. Weikle’s Superintendent Comments, including the district having had over 700 students in summer school this year. While in class, she said, elementary students’ and junior high students’ studies centered primarily on literacy, math, and social emotional learning, while high school students’ work centered on earning credits. In addition, she said, there were an additional 275 students worked on education plans which relate to individual goals.

Currently, she said, the district now turns its attention toward preparing for the 2022-23 school year, with teachers returning to work on Monday, Aug. 15. Students in grades K-12 will begin the new school year on Wednesday, Aug. 17. Students in the district’s Early Learning program will begin their classes Thursday, Aug. 18. Dr. Weikle reminded that students who are new to Illinois, or participating in Early Learning, 6th grade, or 9th grade must have completed medical physicals and required immunizations prior to starting the school year. She added if parents are having issues getting appointments, they are welcome to call the school the child will attend to see if a local medical facility can help to get those shots administered.

She added the annual Back2School Alliance supply distribution event for specific students within grades Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade from Normal-based Unit 5 School District will be held Thursday, Aug. 11 from 12 Noon-6p.m. at the south parking garage of State Farm Insurance’s Corporate Headquarters at Bloomington’s south end. Eligible students for this event in Pre-K-8th grade who are registered for school by Aug. 1 will receive an invitation to this event in the mail, Dr. Weikle said. She added high school students who qualify can contact the counseling office of their school to receive needed supplies. Students who can participate in this event must be registered for school and be current on immunizations, and qualify for either a free or reduced priced lunches.

Help Wanted: Dr. Weikle said Unit 5 is “looking to fill some key positions” within the district as the coming school year approaches. In particular, she said Unit 5 is looking for special education teachers, teaching assistants, and substitute staff in all positions ranging from teachers to teaching assistants to food service and custodial staff. She welcomed those interested to check out the district website, www.unit 5.org, or to call the district office.

First Student Update Provided: Nick Sorey, senior location manager for the Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student bus company, informed Board members there are now two safety managers on duty, as well as an additional dispatcher, making it have two on duty. He began by introducing Board members to Sheandra McCray-Sneed, who had been a dispatcher for the company and has been promoted to operations supervisor.

He recapped how First Student handled summer school explaining 67 routes were used to handle a total of 749 students on a daily basis with buses being on time more than 95 percent of the time.

In preparation for the coming school year, Sorey said there are 123 drivers scheduled to report for duty when school starts in August with another 10 in various stages of training to be added to that group. The company requires 136 drivers in order to be at full strength to run routes, he explained. Sorey added he’s scheduled to hold a meeting later this month with District Operations Director Joe Adelman and District Budget Director Marty Hickman to review all routes to be used.

Board President Barry Hitchins emphasized to Sorey how important a positive start in terms of getting students to and from school at the beginning of the new school year will be to the district’s relationship with First Student. He reminded Sorey the district will be going out for bids on transportation providers beginning this fall. Emphasizing to Sorey that what he said next to him was not a threat, Hitchins told Sorey how the beginning of the school year goes getting students to and from class “could be – could be a factor in any decisions this Board makes on” transportation contracts. Hitchins told Sorey he wanted to “remind you of the high expectations the Board has.”