By Steve Robinson | February 16, 2021 - 4:57 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – During Monday’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council session Monday, held remotely due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the Town’s Fire Chiefs updated members of the governing body concerning how a 16-car train derailment and fire at a nearby apartment complex created a busy weekend for members of both departments.

Normal Fire Chief Mick Humer told Council members said the first call came about the derailment around 5a.m., and once on scene firefighters realized it was a large situation, but the original call about the incident said 60 of 150 car train had come off the tracks between Vernon Ave. and Fell Ave. In truth, Humer said, just 16 cars had come off the track.

He said fire officials quickly realized the railroad crossings between Fell Ave. and Ft. Jesse Rd. were blocked due to the derailment. Luckily, Humer said, it was discovered there were no tanker cars turned over among the wreckage, which could have meant the possibility of hazardous materials being among the damaged cars. He said three power poles had been sheared off, but the lines were attached, meaning the power hadn’t gone out.

Published reports indicated Ameren and Nicor crews were present with railroad crews evaluating the accident. Power was shut off in a large area around Uptown to make repairs. Uptown Station and Bone Student Center were used as warming stations for residents of the affected area.

He credited elected officials with responding quickly getting information out to the public to avoid worry.

City Manager Reece’s Contract Extended: Council members voted 6-1 to approve a resolution for extending the employment contract of City Manager Pam Reece. Council Member Stan Nord cast the lone opposing vote. Reece has been City Manager for the Town since April 2, 2018, succeeding Mark Peterson who retired at the end of March that year.

The agreement for Reece’s employment the Town entered into was amended to reflect a wage adjustment in April 2019. The contract Council members approved will keep Reece at City Hall through March 31, 2024. She will receive a salary of $190,550. Employed by the Town for nearly 30 years, Reece served as Deputy City Manager under Peterson before being elevated to her current position.

Among the issues Nord questioned about the Town’s agreement with Reece was a clause concerning severance pay to Reece in the event of her dismissal. Should the Town either terminate Reece’s employment or not renew her contract with the Town, Mayor Chris Koos explained to Nord, Reece would receive severance pay. “It’s not broad-based,” Koos said. “A non-renewal is a passive termination, a firing is an active termination. The end result is the same.” The Mayor added that how the language in that part of the contract came about was the result of a conversation he had with Reece.

Nord then asked Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day for his opinion on the matter. Day verified that any non-renewal of such a contract “would, in effect, be a termination.”

Nord argued such compensation would be “a guaranteed payment” likening it to Reece receiving “a golden parachute” should her employment be concluded prior to the contract expiring. “I’m not in favor of the golden parachute clause.” Koos was quick to correct Nord’s assertion, saying, “It’s actually, not a golden parachute, Mr. Nord.”

Council Member Kevin McCarthy contributed to the conversation, saying he “disagreed with aligning City Manager renewals and election cycles. The City Manager position is a professional position.” He added the job of Council members “is to hire the best person we can to run the Town.”

Solid Waste Agreement With Bloomington-Based Company Approved: By a 6-1 count, Council members approved execution of a two-year agreement with Republic

Services at the Bloomington Transfer Station for the transfer and disposal of solid waste collected by the Town with the Town paying $537,903 for the service. Nord cast the lone opposing vote objecting to the length of the contract which would be for two years. The current contract between the company and the Town is due to expire March 1.

Agreement With Stark Excavating On Maxwell Park Ball Fields Project: Council members unanimously approved a resolution Accepting a bid and approved a contract with Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. in the Amount of $375,383.05 for a project to replace baseball and softball fields at Maxwell Park. The ball fields were first built in Maxwell Park in 1978.

In October of 2018, Council approved the application to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) for an Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) Grant for renovation and improvements at the park. The Town received an award of the requested maximum $400,000 grant. As part of what was required by the grant, the Town committed $400,000 to match the grant amount, resulting in a total project cost of $800,000.

During public comments, former Town Council candidate Ron Ulmer said, “With all the millions of dollars spent on walking and bicycling trails that are used for recreation and transportation, it is oxymoronic for the Town to encourage driving to the place of outdoor recreation and exercise that contribute to a healthy lifestyle.” He suggested using an established set location for users to be picked up or dropped off at the park. “Normal already has plenty of pavement,” he said. “Green space makes urban areas more attractive and improves quality of life.”

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

• Approval of minutes of the budget work session special meeting held Jan. 26, 2021.

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting held Feb. 1, 2021

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Feb. 10, 2021.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. for the Gregory St. culvert rehabilitation project (MFT Project 20-00268-00-BR) in the amount of $862,923.73.

• A resolution approving an amended site plan for Heartland Community College (1500 W. Raab Rd.).

By Steve Robinson | February 1, 2021 - 10:16 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – The Town Of Normal received Community Development Block Grant money from the Federal Government related to assisting residents in relation to the Coronavirus, COVID-19, in the amount of $335,359. Toward the end of Normal Town Council’s regular meeting Monday night, done remotely as a result of trying to protect Council and others from the virus, Council members received an update on how the money received has been spent thus far.

Taylor Long, associate planner with the Town, explained to Council members the Town was seeking approval for an amendment to the Town’s five-year plan and use monies provided from the Federally-based CARES Act, and put that money toward housing assistance.

According to its creator, the U. S. Treasury Department, the Federally-funded Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides for payments to State, Local, and Tribal governments navigating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. The CARES Act established the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund. Treasury has made payments from the Fund to States and eligible units of local government.

What the Town is proposing is putting some of the money it will receive for COVID-19, totaling $335,359, toward housing assistance. Long said this would be the second time the Town would receive money for such purposes. The amount the Town received last year was just over $246,000.

Long said the Town has done research into housing assistance and looked at information provided by McLean County Regional Planning Commission among others in the area in the previous year and discovered such assistance is “still the greatest need facing the community that can be addressed with these CDBG-CV funds.” To that end, the Town will seek comments from the public starting Feb. 4 through Feb. 21.

“During that time, any member of the public can send in comments to the Town, as well as a virtual public hearing next Wednesday, Feb. 10 from 6p.m.-7p.m. He added persons wishing to participate in that session should contact Normal City Hall.

Council Members Approve Trio Of Measures Related To J&M Final Development: Council members unanimously approved a trio of resolutions related to J&M Planned Development, located at the northeast intersection of Cottage Ave. and Village Ct. All three resolutions were unanimously approved. The first resolution conditionally approved a final development plan, phase four of the project. The J&M PUD was approved for development of residences near a mix of other facilities such as grocery, video rental, a medical office, and a church. Residents moving into the PUD would also have access Connect Transit bus service which runs along Cottage Ave.
J&M needed to meet conditions set by the Town before the resolutions were passed including paying remaining development fees.

Council members unanimously approved a second ordinance conditionally vacating an easement within the development. Part of this concerned layout of the units coming in conflict with a storm sewer. The owner of the property has relocated the storm sewer further south, and the easement’s original location will be vacated.

Council members unanimously passed a third ordinance conditionally approving an amended final plat of the development, an action related to establishing property boundaries.

Located south and east of 1000 S. Cottage, construction on the facility began in 2017 has been constructed in sections. With the resolutions approved, J&M can now formally begin construction.

Public Comment: Former Council candidate Ron Ulmer addressed Council members in public comments concerning extension of a water main on West College Ave. Ulmer registered his objection to the Town doing that, in part, he said, has to do with the fact there is no business or housing development being considered for that part of town.

Liquor Commission Approves Fine For One Licensee, Grants One To New Licensee: Council members, acting in their capacity as Normal Local Liquor Commission, imposed a fine on one licensee for a violation and approved a license to an establishment which recently had changed owners. After a lengthy discussion, Commission members voted unanimously to impose a $1,750 fine against JSP, LLC, doing business as Joe’s Station House Pizza Pub, 305 S. Veterans Parkway. According to hearing records, owners of the pub faced a trio of violations including allowing indoor dining, which was a violation of Gov. J. B. Pritzker’s State COVID mitigation orders.

Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day explained Town liquor code requires all licensees to operate their businesses with all State laws and public health regulations, of which allowing indoor dining at the time was a violation during the pandemic.

Council members unanimous approved the business’ owners were fined a total of $1,750, which included court costs. Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of levying the fine, with Commissioner Stan Nord voting against the measure.

Omnibus Items Approved: Council unanimously approved these omnibus items:

• Approval of minutes from the Council’s regular meeting of Jan. 19, 2021.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Jan. 27, 2021.

• An ordinance abating the levy of 2020 Property Taxes for Special Service Area Number One.

• A resolution authorizing frame rail replacement and corrosion repairs to A 2009 Pierce fire engine.

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members received an update on operation of the Town’s public transportation system at the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting, conducted remotely, on Jan. 18, in light of the country’s ongoing pandemic. Riders of Connect Transit suspended fare collections in mid-March of last year as the medical crisis began but its Board Chairman and Interim General Manager reported Federal and State funding have helped keep the service functioning during the difficult period.

Board Chairman Ryan Whitehouse explained the pandemic created a drop of over 40 percent in ridership for Connect Transit as a result of the pandemic.

Whitehouse said Connect Transit implemented policies when the pandemic began in March to assure riders they are being protected from the disease. Connect Transit suspended fare collection to avoid physical contact between riders and drivers in March. Connect’s Board of Directors will take up when to take up fare collection at a meeting in February.

Other measures taken include riders boarding and exiting buses from the rear door, and being required to wear face coverings at all times. Buses are also cleaned and disinfected every four hours, he explained. Whitehouse added the current cleaning schedule is unique because buses generally are cleaned every 24 hours. Of the cleaning schedule, Whitehouse told Council members, “Regular bus cleanings are happening every four hours with buses coming back to our facility and a deep cleaning happens. We’ve hired staff to clean every four hours.” He called such a procedure “unique.”

He added a bus transporting riders from the McLean County Health Department in Downtown Bloomington to the COVID testing site at the McLean County Fairgrounds leaves three times a week.

Whitehouse said of Connect’s $14.5 million budget, passenger fares account for roughly just nine percent, or $1,382,360, combined comes annually from the Town and the City of Bloomington. Normal’s share totals $$541,840. Larger funding for the system amounts to $9.3 million, or 65 percent, from Illinois Department of Transportation, and another Federal payments totaling slightly over $2.1 million, 14 percent, keep the system operating.

Connect Transit will get a financial boost in the form of grants totaling $17.92 million — $9.92 from IDOT, and an $8 million grant from the Federal Transportation Administration. Whitehouse said the money will go toward, among other things, improvements at the Downtown Bloomington transfer area and for purchase of four 35-foot buses.

Connect Transit’s previous general manager, Isaac Thorne, announced his intention to leave at the end of July, and left a month later. Martin Glaze succeeded Thorne as Interim G.M. and exited in October. Retired Normal City Manager Mark Peterson has served as the system’s interim general manager since. Whitehouse said a search for a permanent G.M. using a search firm is underway.

Council Approves Solar Array For Church: Council members unanimously approved Conditionally an Amended Site Plan for First Presbyterian Church, 2000 E. College Ave. so the church could install a Solar Array. The church was making a request of the Town to amend their site plan in order to install a ground-mounted solar array northwest of the church building. The church’s previous request for an amended site plan from the Town was in 2004 for construction of a building addition and relocation of the playground and sand volleyball court.

Issuing Refunding Bonds Approved: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing issuance of General Obligation Refunding Bonds, Series 2021 in an amount not to exceed $2.1 million in order to refund the Town’s Taxable General Obligation Bonds, Series 2010A Recovery Zone Economic Development (RZED) Bonds.

Liquor Commission Hears Report Of Settlement: Council members, acting as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, unanimously approved a liquor license each for two establishments now under new ownership. Commission members were informed by Mayor Chris Koos, Liquor Commissioner, of a settlement between the Town and 35 YEARS LLC, LANDMARK, doing business as Marie’s Place, Landmark, 1520 E. College Avenue, Normal, IL And 35 YEARS LLC, PATRIOT CENTER, doing business as Marie’s Place, Patriot Center, 115 Susan Drive, Suite H, Normal, IL.

Koos explained the owners of the establishments have paid all fees and all settlement costs to the Town and new owners of the businesses were seeking liquor licenses for the establishments. He also said the prior owners “no longer have any interest in this business.”

Koos also reported to Commission members eight liquor licensees elected to pay their fee in two installments and that all license holders met the Town’s September 30, deadline. As a result, no late fees were charged.

Last April, Liquor Commissioners denied licenses to the Marie’s Place locations for varying reasons including citing the prior owners for, in the past, failing to provide food to patrons as they had advertised they would.

Audits done by the Town and inspections done by McLean County Health Department at locations at Patriot Center shopping plaza and at Landmark Mall last April were to have had food on site but did not offer any. A third location, located in a strip mall at 1702 W. College Ave. never opened.

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

• Approval of minutes of the Regular Council Meeting of January 4, 2021

• Approval of Report to Receive and File Town of Normal Expenditures for Payment as of January 13, 2021

• A motion rebating funds to Central Illinois Regional Broadband Network (CIRBN)

• A Resolution Considering the Release of Executive Session Minutes from June 19, 2017, February 18, 2019, and April 15, 2019.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and accept quotes totaling $54,949.22 from Dell for the Purchase of Computer Equipment.

• An amended resolution to appropriate $930,000 of Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) Funds for the Towanda Avenue Bridge over Sugar Creek Repair Project.

NORMAL – The building sits in front of the waterpark and pool in front of Fairview Park on Normal’s north end. It has had a history which indicated it had been used for among other uses, a sanitarium before other uses were found for it. Now that property, located at 901 N. Main St. will see another chapter of its life written by a developer who wants to revamp the two-story structure and surrounding properties at 903 and 905 N. Main into senior housing.

The plan Normal Town Council members heard Tuesday during the session held remotely as a result of the country’s continuing pandemic seemed a positive enough for the community to Council members to give a 7-0 unanimous vote to a resolution conditionally approving an amended site plan for the project.

The project’s developers, Springfield-based Laborers’ Home Development Corporation (LHDC), approached the Town with the intention of constructing 41 senior housing units attached to a soon-to-be built second building of 23 feet high which would have additional units. The units would be available for residents age 55 and older, according to LHDC.

According to the report provided Council members by Mercy Davison on the matter, the project will rely LHDC, a non-profit group, to receive affordable housing tax credits from the State. The stage the project is at for LHDC is having hired an architect for assembling building plans and putting together a site plan which would be presented to Town Council members at a future meeting for final approval.

Davison’s report indicated LHDC is a non-profit group which develops, owns, and manages affordable senior housing throughout the Midwest, including Illinois. All the units, the report states, would be built to meet Federal accessibility guidelines and have features such as grab bars in bathrooms and showers, accessible controls, accessible doors, cabinet hardware, and adjustable shelving.

McLean County has owned the former sanitarium property for decades, as well as the surrounding properties, including the Emergency Management garage, which also has 901 N. Main as it address; McLean County Nursing Home at 903 N. Main St., and the county juvenile detention center at 905 N. Main St.

Davison said the only item needing to be worked out between the developer and the county concerns the number of parking spaces needed. She added Town Code ties parking for multi-family projects to the number of bedrooms in each residential unit. Code calls for this facility be required to have 66 parking spaces. LHDC is requesting a variance to provide 34 spaces, including 4 which would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Council members had positive comments when they addressed it before voting. “Personally, I think this is a great project,” said Council Member Kevin McCarthy. “We’re taking an old, unproductive, used asset and we’re going to rehabilitate it and make it productive again and add to it.”

“It’s worth noting the number of boxes this project checks and fills,” added Council Member Kathleen Lorenz. She added such a complex would diversify the housing options available to seniors in the community.”

“I think it’s an exceptional project,” Koos stated, adding, “This is a significant project. It takes a significant building in our community, an historic building, and puts it through an interesting adaptive reuse. I know it’s something the Town and the County have been concerned about for years.”

“It’s our plan to restore the structure to its historic former look and bring it all up to code,” explained Tim Ryan, representing LHDC. “Also restore its historic features intact.”

Normal Planning Commission members voted 7-0 to approve the proposed project during their session on Jan. 7. Only one member of the public spoke at that session concerned about an increase in traffic at Summit St. if the project were approved.

By Steve Robinson | January 18, 2021 - 10:01 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

NORMAL – The wait is finally over for Illinois State University’s Volleyball team. Precautions surrounding COVID-19 forced the Missouri Valley to push back the sport’s regular fall scheduling in favor of playing when players came back for spring semester.

On Monday, after a fall semester of wondering when they would be allowed to not think about COVID-19 restrictions and concentrate on kills and digs, third season head coach Leah Johnson and her team took to Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena to get a feel for the new season with hopes of getting back to the Conference Championship.

They managed that last year, having been seeded 2nd and disposing of 6th seed Drake before falling to top seed Northern Iowa. And things went so well, the Redbirds obtained a berth in the NCAAs but fell in the opening session to University of Cincinnati.

What she said she witnessed during the session was “this was a team I could trust and I saw that again today,” said Johnson, who met remotely with local media members via Zoom after the practice session. “We needed this experience in practice to feel what it’s like to get our name called, seeing our name up on the big board because we’ve been beating each other up for a little while now.”

Johnson said the team was prepping for a new season with returning players coming back in July and newcomers joining before fall semester. “It was disappointing to hear our season was transitioned to the spring, but once we kind of got through that grieving process, I believe everyone expected to prepare,” Johnson said.

At that point, Johnson said, she and her team practiced six days a week, simulating playing on one side of the net through a full match. “We did as much simulating as we could, and with that, we also simulated resiliency.” She said that also meant mentally preparing for changes thrown their way as a result of COVID.

Some of that resiliency will mean contending with playing games on back-to-back days as opposed to having a few days to recover and go at it again. Johnson said the team was actually considering scheduling games in that manner in the fall before the league moved the season as a whole to the spring. “If you win day one, your opponent knows what they get to fix before game two,” she explained. “Our goal is to constantly best ourselves. I also think it will be about recovery – which team can play their depth, which team can recover and see the next match as a brand new match.”

Johnson said with five returning seniors and six freshmen on the roster, “This is a team that is pretty special. It has a lot of potential and has five seniors who have all been at starting roles or significant roles their entire career. This year’s seniors (and hometowns) are: Kaylee Martin (Sterling, Ill.); Kendal Meier (Cedar Rapids, Iowa); Stef Jankiewicz (Farmington Hills, Mich.); Alyssa Kronberg (Palatine, Ill.); and Sydney Holt (Eureka, Mo.). The team also has six freshmen, including one redshirt, joining the team for their first season as Redbirds. The team also has one player from Austria and one from New Zealand.

“They’re a pretty special senior class,” Johnson said. “If I could keep them around longer, I would.” She added that everyone underneath them is competitive. “That’s one thing the seniors have given me feedback on – how the freshmen, sophomore, even junior class, are pushing them. It’s not easy to still be a starter in our gym just because you’re a senior. It’s not given. You have to earn it and they’re feeling that. So that’s a good sign for the future, too.”

Meier, who plays in the middle blocker slot, said it may not seem like the season has finally arrived until they hit the court to open the season at Marquette Friday night.

Kendal Meier: Because of COVID, players will need to wear masks while on the court. Iowa native Meier, a senior, told reporters players didn’t play with masks, so playing with them “was a huge adjustment. Coach is all about being prepared and when the season starts, you will have to wear a mask, or working out, you will be wearing a mask. I think we all have embraced the face that we are wearing masks.”

Meier said to answer the question of what makes this team different, she has to go back to comparing advantages and disadvantages such as the advantage of training for a full semester. One of the advantages, to her, was being able to spend time at length bonding with freshman teammates, something that doesn’t happen in the midst of a season.

Stef Jankiewicz: Stef Jankiewicz, another senior on the team, said the cold and snow are the biggest difference in adjusting to playing in the spring semester because she said it usually get cold toward the end of the season, when the team plays at the MVC Tourney in November. Jankiewicz said the additional bonding time also helped the team in terms of players knowing what is expected of them on the court come game time. She said she is looking forward to helping ISU “show the team’s competitive side” when they take to the court against Marquette.

Jankiewicz said COVID has added a layer of responsibility for players in that they had to make sure that, in addition to bringing shoes, certain stretch bands, and kneepads to games or practices, they also brought masks. The end result was all team members held each other accountable for making sure additional items like masks were part of their equipment. “Freshmen held us accountable the same way we would hold them accountable for things,” she explained.

About that aspect of how the team is operating now as a result, Jankiewicz said and referring to the underclassmen, “That’s one of the biggest differences that I am really excited for because I know they will always be there to push me, and every single person on the team will. So, I have to hold myself to a new standard every match and every practice.”

Redbirds Host Bradley Monday At 6p.m.: The Redbirds will play Missouri Valley Conference rival Bradley Monday at 6p.m. followed by a two-night visit by University of Cincinnati. On Feb. 1, the Redbirds visit Bradley for a 6p.m. The game at Bradley is part of a three-game road trip as the Redbirds will visit Indiana State for contests on Feb. 7 and 8.