By Steve Robinson | June 3, 2024 - 10:18 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved a resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Rowe Construction, a Division of United Contractors Midwest, Inc., for the 2024 Motor Fuel Tax street resurfacing project, in the amount of $966,331.18. This was one of six omnibus items on Normal Council’s agenda at the session. There were no general orders or new business for Council members to address at the meeting.

Twelve streets are scheduled by the Town for resurfacing. The Town’s Engineering Department prepared the plans and specifications for each street’s repair once underway. The Town Engineering Department received bids from two companies. Bloomington-based Rowe Construction submitted a bid of $966,331.18 and was awarded the contract by the Town. The other company which submitted a bid was H.J. Eppel & Co. Inc. based in Pontiac, Ill. The bid submitted by H.J. Eppel & Co. Inc. was $1,105,441.40.

A total of 3.72 miles of the road will be resurfaced during this project. Council Member Karyn Smith wanted to know if the miles being resurfaced were going to be lane miles or pavement miles. City Manager Pam Reece responded the project would be resurfacing pavement miles. Reece added the item Smith asked about and another resurfacing project on Monday’s Council omnibus agenda combined would award around Rowe Construction nearly $4 million for road construction work needing to be done.

She added the work Rowe Construction would be doing would cover around five miles of pavement.

Public Comments Made Concerning Street Paving And Repairs: There were two Normal residents who addressed Council members during the public comment portion of the meeting. First, Steven Thompson spoke asking Council members why the Town was paving College Ave. when he said “There’s nothing wrong with it.” He further wanted to know why the Town wasn’t paving Gregory St. He went on to say the Town needs to be divided into wards. Doing that, Thompson reasoned would get streets he believed needing fixing getting fixed. He also asked Council members when the Town would fix a stretch of Cottage Ave. to Main St. He didn’t specify the problems along that stretch to Council members.

He added, “There are streets on the west side you refuse to repair.” He also said College Ave. was in need of patching.

Ron Ulmer followed explaining he had walked under the School St. underpass where, he explained, he saw bushes growing as they have along Main St., something Ulmer said he reported to the Town last fall to request they be trimmed. When he called the Town, he said, he was informed the State would be informed but the State was not responsible for such work there. He said he has sent photos to the Town of the bushes which need trimming. He said when he walks through the Main St. underpass, he gets brushed in the face by tree branches.

He added there are leaves in that area which he said have not been swept up for “four or five years.” Rhetorically, he asked Council members, “Is that how you want Normal to look?”

He also said the railings on the School St. overpass are aging and could be hazardous to pedestrians. “Where are you people? What do you look at?” Ulmer asked saying he has gone over the situation in the area repeatedly. He also mentioned the recently installed Route 66 sign on Pine St. He asked Council members if they notice hazards on Town streets.

He mentioned that parks now have lighted signs asked if having those lighted signs “is more important than having safe sidewalks?’

Council Member Reminds About Saturday’s Special Olympics Victory Dance: Council Member Smith reminded that State Special Olympics State Games will take place and will include a victory dance event in Uptown Saturday night. As a result, she said, North St. will be closed to traffic.

Normal Liquor Commission Approves One Liquor License, One Gaming License: Council members, acting in their capacity as Liquor and Gaming Commissioners, approved one of each type of license prior to the start of the Council meeting. Both licenses were approved by unanimous votes. During the special meeting, Council members unanimously approved a liquor license for Express Liquor And Smoke Shop, doing business as Indy Liquor And Smoke Time, 1502 E. Vernon Ave. Council members granted the business a Class A License for selling liquor which would be consumed off premises.

Liquor Commissioners also unanimously approved a video gaming license for Heaterz Development Company LLC doing business as Heaterz Hot Chicken, 101 S. Fell Ave., Suite 101, Normal.

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

• Approval of minutes of the special meeting of May 20, 2024.

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting of May 29, 2024.

• A resolution accepting quotes and authorizing purchase of two 2024 Ford Explorers from Heller Ford in the amount of $81,670.06 and an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution conditionally approving the Akanksha subdivision final plat by expedited process (111 N. Grove St.).

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Rowe Construction, a Division of United Contractors Midwest, Inc., for the 2024 general street resurfacing project in the amount of $3,149,002.42.

By Steve Robinson | May 20, 2024 - 10:04 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members got a chance to hear from students who, as part of Youth On A Mission, could potentially be future leaders. Three high school students and the organizers of for the program addressed Council members at Monday’s regularly scheduled session in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station.

Paige Malloy, program coordinator, and Tracy Freeman, assistant, for Youth On A Mission began the presentation explaining the goal for the program in Normal. Malloy said the students have spent the past seven months on a project. Freeman added that, in October, the students were in Uptown Station looking for ideas for projects. Malloy added Youth On A Mission gave students a core mission to work on.

Three students — Shloka Ravinuthala, a senior at Normal Community High School; Nikhil Kavutarapu, a sophomore at NCHS and Joyce Chung, a sophomore at Normal Community West High School – gave a slide presentation to Council members which included the goals Youth On A Mission has set forth for itself which included, among other things reevaluate Town ordinances to help benefit all Normal residents.

Kavutarapu added reevaluating ordinances would be one way the Town would best represent its citizens through encouraging having a diverse commission. Ravinuthala explained to Council members that of Normal 53,000 residents, roughly 22.8 percent represent a minority. Also of Normal’s population, 5.1 percent are disabled and 11 percent identify as LGBTQ.

Ravinuthala noted that while white, African-Americans, and South Asians were part of the area’s Human Relations Commission, there were no Hispanics or East Asians represented on the Commission. The majority of the research presented to Council came from research the group had done using sites such as municiplecodeonline.com.

Council members also heard from Dhruv Ravinuthala, a freshman at University High School and Sophia Boyer, a senior at NCHS. “Diversity has played a huge role in our town,” Ravinuthala told Council members. While he explained Normal has done well in terms of diversity, Ravinuthala nodded once toward Council members when he told them, Normal “needs a permanent public space that symbolizes diversity in our town.” He said the mission of the young people in this group is “to foster a sense of belonging, appreciation, and unity for all residents in the Town of Normal.”

Boyer added the students’ plan to accomplish this will be to engage the community and use educational to help make residents aware.

On the subject of immigration, students Richa Shulka, a recent U-High grad, and Angel Yin, a junior at U-High presented explaining in a mission statement the Town of Normal and Town Council “should consider adding immigration initiatives to its agenda. The ladies encouraged the Town and Council to “add immigration initiatives to the top of their agenda.” They made this request because they believe “cultural, social, and economic dynamics are shifting.” They added addressing such cultural changes will best help Normal to represent its residents while inviting future residents to come into the community.

As to Normal being a microcommunity in some respects, two NCHS sophomores, Vivaan Reddy and River Stokes Dorsey explained that in terms of community needs, Normal has almost 300 people who are homeless and that 7.7 percent of the people in town live in poverty. Reddy and Stokes Dorsey explained they want to be able to implementing a microcommunity in the Town. Stokes Dorsey said a microcommunity is a “safe, diverse, and self-sustaining home for all.” A microcommunity would be beneficial for young people who live in a college town, Stokes Dorsey explained.

Reddy and Stokes Dorsey suggested to Council members that Normal could establish a microcommunity and showed Council members photos of one established in Homestead, Fla. Stokes Dorsey showed photos of microcommunities there that had washer-dryers, on-site daycare, and a common area computer room.

Property Rezoning Approved: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance to rezone property at 416 W. Willow St. from being single family to medium density multifamily. Town Staff found the change suitable for the property for a number of reasons which included: The property sitting on a busy east-west thoroughfare and being adjacent to properties used as multifamily rentals; and, according to the report Town Staff submitted for review by Town officials, part of the neighborhood “is appropriate for higher density development typically aimed at University students.” Normal Planning Commission held a public hearing and proposed the rezoning at their May 9 meeting.

Council Approves $10 Parcel Purchase: Council members unanimously approved a sales agreement for a parcel of land located at W. Shelbourne Dr. and Charlotte Dr. which would allow the Town to address drainage and flooding issues affecting properties on Charlotte Dr. The Town’s purchase of that land would also allow the Town to make improvements to that section of Constitution Trail. In February, the Town sent a draft sales contract to Christ Church PCA to review and approve. After reviewing the contract, the Church informed the Town in April 2024 church officials were ready to proceed with the property transfer, selling the property to the Town for $10, pending Council approval.

Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the special meeting of May 6, 2024.

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting of May 15, 2024.

• A motion to approve recommended Harmon Arts Grant Awards.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of the 836 Technologies CINT Commander II System, satellite networking package, and 836 Tactical Video Phone from 836 Technologies for $33,744.11.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. for the Normal area drainage improvements project in the amount of $197,316.

• A resolution to award the bid for Clarifier #2 gear drive and mixers rehabilitation project to G. A. Rich & Sons, Inc. at a total cost of $152,900.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the execution of a contract for design and technical services with Janesville, Wis.-based Golf Course Construction And Renovation, LLC for $40,000 to expand the putting green and build a chipping green at Ironwood Golf Course and authorize the purchase of related material.

• A resolution accepting bids and award a contract to Stark Excavating, Inc. for the 2024 sump pump discharge and storm sewer improvements project in the amount of $209,700 and an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution accepting bids and award a contract to Rowe Construction, a division of United Contractors Midwest, Inc. for the Adelaide St. Improvements (Striegel Court to College Ave.) project in the amount of $1,494,426.50.

• A resolution conditionally reapproving the final plat for Sunset Commons (southeast corner of Airport and Shepard Rds.).

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a pedestrian underpass agreement with Union Pacific Railroad Co. for construction, maintenance, and use of proposed pedestrian underpass at Uptown Station.

• A resolution waiving bids and authorizing an agreement with CIRBN LLC to create alternative fiber optic cable routes to serve Town facilities for the total amount of $49,258.31.

• A resolution authorizing an agreement with AmerenIP to temporarily relocate a 34.5 KV Line for construction of the Underpass Project in Uptown Station in the amount of $164,920.20.

By Steve Robinson | May 15, 2024 - 10:16 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – After a period of time, there can be changes in personnel just about anywhere you work, and at Normal-based Unit 5 School District’s May 15, District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle introduced new employees joining the District staff. Saying the District is “thrilled to add a number of administrators to the team,” District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle began by introducing four staffers who are assigned to various posts within the District.

Heather Rogers was introduced as the District’s new Director of Human Resources succeeding Monica Wilks. Previously, Rogers has been at Cedar Ridge Elementary for 12 years, the last three as its principal.

Dr. Branton Cathy was introduced by Dr. Weikle as director of student services for the District beginning July 1. He returns to Unit 5 and has been an educator for 28 years, the last three in the position of director of Diversity and Equity for Urbana School District 116. He returns to Unit 5 having been an administrator at Normal Community West High School.

Dr. Weikle next introduced Deidre Brooklyn who will become director of secondary education for the District. Before coming to Unit 5, Brooklyn has served as principal at Morton High School, a post she has held since 2019. She has been an educator for 25 years, having been a middle school teacher, a high school counselor, and is currently the principal at Morton High School since 2019. She has both her Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in School Counseling from Western Illinois University.

Dan Gibler was introduced as the new principal at Glenn Elementary School. A graduate of Normal West High, Gibler has been in the education field for 19 years and was an assistant principal at Normal Community West High School. For the last two years, he has been an assistant principal at Fox Creek Elementary School. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree from St. Xavier University and his Master’s Degree in Teacher Leadership from St. Xavier University.

Andrea Lentz was next introduced as the new principal at Towanda Elementary School. Her previous assignment in the District was as assistant principal at Elementary School. A graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University earning a double major in Elementary Education and Sociology. She also has a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Illinois State University. She also has a second Master’s Degree from Indianapolis-based American College of Education.

Christina Mables was next introduced as the new principal at Cedar Ridge Elementary School. A Houston, Texas native, Mables comes to Unit 5 after being in Champaign’s School District for the last 13 years which included teaching Math and English at Urbana Middle School. Her current assignment has been as administrator at Novak Academy in Champaign.

Eric Hadden is a sixth grade math and language arts teacher at George L. Evans Junior High School who will become the new associate principal at Parkside Junior High School. He told Board members “It’s nice, after 22 years, to return to the building I started my career in.”

Terry Gliege, an assistant principal at Normal West, will be an associate principal at George L. Evans Junior High School. Sarah Bockerton comes from the East Peoria School District where she teaches 7th grade math. She joins Unit 5 to become assistant principal at Northpoint Elementary and Sugar Creek Elementary schools.

All employees will assume their new duties on July 1.

“Good News” Concerning “Beyond The Books” Winners: Michelle Lamboley, Assistant Superintendent for the district, announced on behalf of the Beyond The Books Education Foundation, the winners of the Foundation’s Beyond The Box grant winners. A total of 35 recipients were from Unit 5 and Through its Beyond The Box grants, Beyond The Books Foundation has been able to support educators and their efforts for over 30 years. She explained the goal of the Foundation “is to enable educators to use novel approaches to support and inspire students learn and achieve their highest potential.”

Lamboley told Board members grants totaling $80,000 were awarded to applicants in both Unit 5 and Bloomington’s District #87 this year, $58,000 for 35 grant applications which were awarded to teachers in Unit 5.

The winner of the $10,000 “Beyond The Box” grant was Dave Weber, a STEM teacher at Normal Community West High School and Jackson Suddarth, a Family & Consumer Sciences teacher at Normal West. Weber said it was “a team effort” in putting the grant together. The other Normal West teachers who contributed included Becky Frangella, associate principal at Normal West; Dave Lehr and John Mackinson, Tech teachers; Kayley Peterson and Ali Akyuz, both of whom are teachers in Normal West’s Art department.

Weber said part of the project will be to redesign space in the school, and Suddarth said her students will “make it pretty” but that there will be a concentration on making the space ADA accessible while school staff will update fire code requirements the school needs to adhere to. One of the goals the staff and students will have is to update the school’s look inside. It’s anticipated the new look will debut next May.

Lamboley said donations have help support educators in both Unit 5 and Bloomington’s District #87 “with grants for over 30 years with innovative, educational programs.” She added the goal of the Foundation is “to enable educators to use novel approaches to support and inspire students to learn and achieve their highest potential.”

She added since “Beyond The Books’” creation 30 years ago, the Foundation has donated over $1 million to support 998 total grants. Grant applications, she explained, are done through a blind review of the applications submitted. A total of $80,000 in grants was awarded to applicants from both districts, Lamboley told Board members.

Suddarth added the part she and the students will take on the task of updating the inside with concerns related to fire code concerns, and making it “look a little more up to date.” Weber finished his comments by thanking the Beyond The Box grant providers.

Superintendent Comments: Dr Weikle joked that students probably already have the date of the last day of class memorized, but wanted to remind parents the 2023-24 school year will end May 23. She added she wanted to thank District staff for their time during the school year.

NORMAL – Tobacco shops in Normal have been able to operate with minimal intrusion of regulations placed on them by the Town of Normal. But that freedom changed after Monday night’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council meeting. Council members unanimously approved an ordinance establishing license requirements for tobacco shops.

Approval of the measure, which was unanimously done by Council members, now requires new tobacco shops obtain a license from the Town before beginning operation. License limitations will prohibit any such business from operating near schools and daycare facilities.

The new ordinance also puts a limit on such businesses being able to be concentrated in any one area of Town.

In a memo to Council members, Interim Assistant City Manager Brian Day wrote to Council members, “By regulating tobacco shops, the Town will ensure that businesses selling tobacco and related products do not locate in areas where the products are more easily marketed to or accessed by young people.”

Among key elements of the newly-passed ordinance are: License applications for smoke product businesses are submitted through the Town Clerk’s office. The City Manager will review applications making license determinations; There will be a distance restriction of 1,500 feet from another retail tobacco store or 200 feet from a school or daycare; and there will be “Grandfather” provisions for existing stores, giving them one year to obtain a license, exempting them from the distance requirements. Smoke-oriented businesses will pay the Town an annual license fee is $200.

Council Member Harris Expresses Concern About Small Business Development Center: Although Normal Council members unanimously approved continuing its support for the Small Business Development Center, Council Member Chemberly Harris registered she had heard from minority members who had not been helped by SBDC, and rather, had received help from the Peoria-based Minority Business Development Center. She said there needed “to be an awareness” that SBDC “has not made a good impression to some of our own residents and constituents who are looking for these small business owners.” She added she has been contacted by business owners who say they have not been supported by SBDC, but rather received support a from Peoria-based Small Business Development Center.

Harris said she had concerns and wanted to make sure the Town “had an awareness had not made a good impression to some of our own residents and constituents who have looked to be small business owners.” She added she has been contacted by small business owners who have complained they were not supported by SBDC, but rather did receive support from Minority Business Development Center.

Sarah Gliege, assistant director for SDBC, told Council members she has also been told SDBC “could be doing a better job making sure that our services are equitably distributed with throughout the community.” She added to address that, SDBC has hired a minority business advisor and begun identifying various minority business owners they can assist. She added SDBC is starting to work with both the area’s Economic Development Council and McLean County Chamber of Commerce.

Gliege told Council members access to services which minority business owners are seeking is “across the board, subpar.” That would include, she said, access to capital and necessary services, both of which need improving. Gliege said SDBC is working to help make such improvement possible. She told Council members SDBC does point business owners to Small Business Development Center.

Drop Box Recycling Program With Local Company Approved: Council members unanimously approved a resolution approving an agreement with Balcones Midwest LLC, doing business as Midwest Fiber Recycling so they would operate a drop box recycling program. Also agreed upon as part of this was an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Bloomington and McLean County regarding the cost sharing of the program. Council members approved the measure which included the Council authorizing an associated budget adjustment.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved By Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting of April 15, 2024.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of May 1, 2024.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Freehill Asphalt, Inc. for the 2024 crack and joint filling project in the amount of $43,228.

• A resolution approving a public utility easement at 311 S. Veterans Parkway (Raising Cane’s).

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing a contract with Donelson Construction Company, LLC, for a pilot project application of PressurePave Pavement Preservation, in the amount of $373,873.05.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Twin City Electric, Inc. for the Constitution Trail lighting project at Connie Link Amphitheatre in the amount of $34,950.

• A resolution authorizing annual support of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

• A resolution authorizing renewal of the Town’s participation in the Municipal Insurance Cooperative Agency (MICA) Insurance Program for Plan Year 2024-25 and an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution authorizing a contract with Pearl Technologies LLC for the replacement of Council Chamber audio visual equipment and five years of managed service for the total amount of $256,017.47.

• A resolution authorizing an agreement with Balconies Midwest, LLC (d/b/a Midwest Fiber Recycling) for the operation of a drop box recycling program, authorizing a cost-sharing intergovernmental agreement with the City of Bloomington and McLean County, and authorizing an associated budget adjustment.

By Steve Robinson | May 5, 2024 - 8:22 pm
Posted in Category: News, The Normalite

NORMAL – An open house was held May 1 for WGLT FM, Illinois State University’s National Public Radio affiliate at a building which has housed Illinois State University’s student newspaper, The Vidette for over 20 years. ISU officials are moving the NPR affiliate from its fourth floor of ISU’s Old Union Building to share the facility occupied by The Vidette at its location at West Locust St.

Standing outside the station’s new home at 500 W. Locust St., with around 20-30 employees and students on hand for the event, R. C. McBride, executive director of WGLT FM, told those gathered the joining of the two media outlets the event culminated “a very long road for both WGLT and the student voice for the University, the Vidette. We could not do this without your support and the support of Illinois State University.”

McBride introduced some members of WGLT’s staff, explaining the staff is growing and said listeners and supporters of the station are why that growth is taking place. He said the station and the Vidette, headed by General Manager Kevin Capie, are also working on a joint podcast project called Democracy’s Future. The project, McBride explained, “is the story of the upcoming election through the eyes of Illinois State University Students.”

“Thank you to all our students for all that you do,” McBride said, adding, “This is a really exciting opportunity.” He added that depending on the semester, the station has been able to have as many as 10 paid interns contributing to the station’s efforts.

ISU’s President, Dr. Aondover Tarhule, told the gathering, “I think WGLT is one of the institutions that make our institution unique. There aren’t many schools that claim to have an award-winning full-programming radio station.” Dr. Tarhule added the joining of the two programs “has been a long time coming and that the important thing is that it happened.”

About the location, Dr. Tarhule added, “I feel that this space and a great location.

“There’s a few things I want to remember,” Dr. Tarhule added, explaining he wanted to be able to recall all the locations where WGLT FM had been housed before getting to this location on West Locust St.

Dr. Tarhule recalled that the move for WGLT FM makes its new home the fourth place it had been housed. He explained to those gathered the station has called Cook Hall, Centennial West, and ISU’s Old Union Building. WGLT FM called Old Union home since 1977, Dr. Tarhule explained. He added the station launched a fundraising campaign for money for new studios. That campaign, he said, helped to make the current home the station has possible.

The building now has five studios at the station’s disposal. Dr. Tarhule added while the prior studio locations made memories happen, he was certain new memories will be made at the West Locust St. location.

McBride said WGLT doesn’t just inform listeners about what takes place at City Council and School Board meetings, but also informs citizens about people who have an impact on the community. He mentioned Scott Laughlin, a radio host at WJBC Radio, who passed away April 30 at age 65.

McBride said stories about the people and meetings in the community “establish the baseline of our community from which we all agree on some degree of commonality.”

Following the ceremony, McBride said, in conversations with University officials, “it made a lot of sense for the two media outlets to be in the same spot.” He added being able to assist to find the next generation of journalists was another plus for the station’s move to take place.

McBride said WGLT has six full-time journalists working for the station and another six part-time journalists working for the station, as well as 10 ISU students. McBride said the station has about 10 journalism students who are at the station every semester.

Kevin Capie, general manager at the Daily Vidette, said when he started overseeing the newspaper in 2022, the plans for WGLT’s move was in progress. The Vidette is now solely an online newspaper, he explained. He said that began around the time of the pandemic.

Capie said the students at the University’s student newspaper “were really excited about having professional journalists with them in the building. If I am not in the building, they can find WGLT News Director Eric Stock or Reporter Charlie Schlenker to get what they need.”

“Our hope is we will cover things on campus for the station and there’s stuff off campus that would effect the college, the University, WGLT would cover that with their student reporters,” Capie explained.

Capie added the paper may be losing space because Vidette staff had the whole building to themselves, but with WGLT coming into it, “the paper is gaining so much more in opportunity than what we’re giving up because our students will have the opportunity to work with WGLT as partners.”

The change, Capie added, potentially could give the student newspaper writers opportunities to have their stories in appear on an NPR website that otherwise wouldn’t be possible without the partnership.