By Steve Robinson | September 17, 2019 - 1:01 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – The battle struggle concerning Normal Town Council established rules went on for another session on Monday in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station. Current Council meeting rules for public attendees include that they may speak to Council members during a public comments portion of the meeting, but only on topics listed on that meeting’s agenda.

During the public comments segment, former mayoral candidate Marc Tiritilli, while quickly addressing a few issues he wanted to cover, mentioned the need for the Town to fill a vacancy for a representative from the Town on the Connect Bus Transit System Board. Mayor Chris Koos interjected reminding Tiritilli the Board vacancy was not among the listed items on the agenda and that public comments should pertain to items on the evening’s agenda.

Hearing this, Tiritilli ended his comments about Connect. But during the Council Member Comments portion of the meeting before adjournment, Council Member Stan Nord asked for Tiritilli to be able to continue his comments regarding the situation concerning Connect’s Board appointment. Koos informed Nord that could only take place if Council members voted to suspend the established public speaking rules. A vote to suspend those rules took place with Koos and Council Members Chemberly Cummings, Kathleen Lorenz and Kevin McCarthy voting against doing that. Nord and Smith voted in favor of suspending those rules.

With regard to this particular issue, the Office of Illinois Attorney General is currently investigating a challenge to that rule filed in the spring by council member Karyn Smith.

Nord then became insistent Koos fill the Connect Board vacancy. Koos replied saying there was an interested party who withdrew their name from consideration as a result of not wanting to be involved in what the interested party saw as “toxicity” present on Connect’s Board.

At the start of the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, Smith requested an edit in the minutes from the Council’s Sept. 3 meeting. Smith wished to have Town Clerk Angie Huonker edit minutes from that meeting to, in her opinion, more properly reflect statements she had made. Supporting Huonker’s capabilities as Town Clerk, Koos denied Smith’s request.

Brewpub Design Approved: Council members unanimously approved waivers from the Uptown Design Review Code requested by two brothers desiring to open a brewpub at the former location of a longtime key shop. Having gotten that approval, brothers Ryan and Steven Fiala will demolish the original structure and replace the former key shop location with a two-story structure which will house a microbrewery. Being two stories will add square footage to the property. Also included in the design of the proposed new building are a pair of outdoor patios.

At the Sept. 9 meeting of Uptown Design Review Commission, the design was approved after the brothers and the architects they hired to do the work spoke. No members of the public spoke at the session.

Fiala Brothers Beer LLC will create craft brews and operate a full-service kitchen according to the report provided Council members by Assistant City Manager Eric Hansen.

At the Council’s Sept. 4 meeting, Council members approved brothers Ryan and Steven Fiala’s request for proposed plans for a brewpub by a 5-2 vote with Council Members Nord and Smith voting in opposition to the plan. The Fialas proposed brewpub would be established at 127 E. Beaufort St., the former location of Bill’s Key And Lock Shop.

Annual Town Financial Trend And Condition Report Reviewed: Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn presented Council members with an annual summary concerning the Town’s Financial Trend and Condition Report. Among the highlights of the report was continued increase in assessed property values. Equalized Assessed Value increased from 0.7 percent in 2017 to 1.4 percent last year. While this is a good trend, Huhn reminded Council members the Town would prefer to see EAV growth of at least 2 percent annually. Having that happen, Huhn explained, helps the Town to take in sufficient property tax dollars to offset increases in expenditures.

A slight piece of good news came courtesy of travelers, Huhn said, in explaining numbers of folks using Central Illinois Regional Airport. In 2017, CIRA saw a drop of 12 percent in passengers using the airport, a drop of usage of nearly 12.4 percent versus 2016 numbers. But in 2018, it looked like folks were flying out of CIRA again, as the airport registered 364,482 travelers going through the airport last year, an increase of 9.15 percent.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Sept. 3, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town expenditures for payment as of Sept. 11, 2019.

• A resolution to amend the lease agreement for the Illinois State University Art Gallery to extend the term to Feb. 28, 2020.

• A resolution to accept the proposal and award a contract to Layne Christensen Co. for drilling test wells at three locations within the corporate limits in the amount of $32,960.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and accept a quote from Peoria-based Presidio Networking Solutions Group LLC in the amount of $112,443.42 for the purchase of body camera video storage and protection and related professional services.

By Steve Robinson | - 6:34 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – For many a junior high student, the thought – let alone the actual anticipated step up to becoming a new high school student – can be an anxious event. In the school year of 1995-96, students having completed eighth grade the spring before and headed for high school that fall had an additional concern besides trying to remember where their hall locker was.

That school year, Normal was getting its second high school in an attempt to lessen overcrowding at venerable Normal Community High School. The new school, Normal Community West High School, located at 501 N. Parkside Rd., opened the fall of 1995.

NCWHS faculty, staff, and students used their homecoming weekend Sept. 13 to celebrate the milestone of the school turning 25 years old.

Dozens of former students filed through the cafeteria to look at mementos of their years at the school and to visit and reminisce with their former teachers. The school’s first principal, Dr. Jerry Crabtree, was among those who saw a number of former students at the event which was held prior to the Normal West football game against Big 12 Conference opponent Danville.

Crabtree was principal of Parkside Junior High School and he and a number of teachers from PJHS who had been assigned to staff Normal West that first year were a little anxious themselves to be starting a new year heading and teaching in a new school. Roughly 150 teachers, both certified and non-certified, as well as a handful of support staff, could lay claim to helping get the new school up and running that first year.

Crabtree joked that all the kids he oversaw at PJHS in the spring of 1995 “couldn’t get rid of me” when they became Normal West freshmen. Kidding aside, Crabtree said that timing for those kids “was great because the whole objective when we started West was to really build a family atmosphere because those kids were like our own kids.” Crabtree admits that’s cliché thinking, but he said there were a number of teachers who he supervised at PJHS who came along to Normal West when he did.

Now married, Julie Stone was known as Julie Bueller when she was among the first students to enter Normal West when it opened, as a member of the school’s first freshman class. “We were really excited to be coming here,” Stone said about how she and her friends felt about being the first students to occupy the school. “There were a lot of new features here,” she said. “There was a new computer lab, a lot of new resources here, and we were really excited about it.

“Having Dr. Crabtree and some of our teachers from Parkside was really neat because it was neat to have that continuity. That made it feel pretty natural to come here.”

Prior to Normal West opening, Unit 5 School District had structured junior highs to have seventh, eighth, and ninth grade age students. Students entering high school at NCHS across town started high school with 10th grade through senior year graduation. Prior to Normal West opening, the district changed that format so that 9th graders would begin attending high school. Sixth graders shifted from grade school into junior high.

Crabtree remained as principal at Normal West for eight years, retiring in 2003, succeeded by Tom Eder. Looking back on his time at the school, Crabtree explained, “The overriding memory I have is of the students who were here. They were like my own kids. I tried to treat them like that. You can’t have the same kids for six years and not know them.” Crabtree added being around kids for that length of time as an educator means you get to know students’ parents and grandparents, too.

Crabtree said it’s both unique and “cool” to have former students who now teach at Normal West. Social Studies teacher John Bierbaum is one of them.

Lexington resident Jill Stutzman came to the pre-game event with her husband, Dave, and their children, and found herself looking back over her high school days going through the memorabilia that were laid out on numerous tables scattered throughout the cafeteria. “I wanted to go into elementary education when I got to college,” Stutzman said. Currently, she’s doing just that, teaching at Lexington Junior High School. An athlete herself, she was on the Wildcats’ girls’ basketball team the first two years Normal West was open. That team went to State those first two years. Her Wildcats girls’ head coach was Bernie Chiaro. She has parlayed that experience into serving as a coach on the LJHS girls’ basketball team now.

Class of 2015 member Stephanie Davis held her toddler son at this event and looked over old pictures from her recent past in secondary education. She is now a freelance graphic designer in her own business in Normal. “I was heavily in art, choir, and band while I was here,” she explained. She played the teen named Kim in the school’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” She has been back volunteering to help with the school’s production of “Beauty And The Beast” and will return to offer her talents for the Wildcats as-of-yet unannounced production next spring.

NCHS Principal Trevor Chapman taught business at Normal West from 2005 through 2011 before moving on to George L. Evans Junior High School to become an administrator. Chapman credits Bierbaum, who had himself been a student and faculty, to guiding him concerning the culture of the school. From Evans, Chapman became NCHS principal in 2017.

By Steve Robinson | September 16, 2019 - 11:41 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – When either raising children or watching them grow into young adulthood, 25 years tends to feel like it goes by in what many characterize as the blink of an eye. In Normal, the group who founded the Children’s Discovery Museum in Uptown and seen its progress grow and the hundreds of kids pass through now bringing their own kids must feel the same way.

On Sept. 12, the Children’s Discovery Museum celebrated its 25th anniversary with a breakfast at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel in Uptown. Later in the day, the Museum was open for all the fun educational activities it provides in the three-story structure. Later in the day, parents, grandparents, and kids were invited to have a slice of birthday cake to celebrate.

During the morning celebration at the hotel, Beth Whisman, the Museum’s executive director, told the 400 breakfast attendees, “We’re here today to the people whose mission and vision and passion and talents came together to find a way to fill this museum.”

The Museum began with phone calls in 1988 between then-Bloomington Mayor Jesse R. Smart and area residents Shari Buckellew, and Cheryl Denslow. Each woman had an idea for the museum but didn’t know the other at the time. When the women did meet, they began formulating a way to convince donors the project was worth the effort. Herb Eaton joined forces with the ladies after seeing a newspaper article about what they wanted to accomplish.

The event recognized the group of seven who saw a vision through to becoming a reality. The museum founders are: Doris Reeser, Lynette Reiners, Kathy Moore, Andrea Ginnetti, Eaton, Buckellew, and Denslow. In honoring these people, Whisman told the gathering, “These folks, like everybody else, had busy, busy careers. Yet each of them made time to make this community involvement come to life.” The Museum did come to life, at first located at a small storefront called Kids Crossing at then-enclosed College Hills Mall on March 27, 1994.

When the popularity of the Museum led to increased demand for field trips and birthday parties, it was determined a larger space was needed. That meant the founding group geared up for seeking out more community partners and do more fundraising. The next home for the Museum was Constitution Place, beginning in 1995, an 8,000 sq. ft. former train station in Bloomington, where it would be known as the Children’s Discovery Museum Of Central Illinois, until it found its current permanent home in 2004. The move also meant shortening the name to its current moniker, the Children’s Discovery Museum.

While the museum was settling into their second home, “that was while the Town was looking into their redevelopment, consultants recommended the Town look to anchor everything with something that would bring families to the Uptown area,” Buckellew recalled. “When the Town contacted us, they knew we were looking to move from Constitution Place. They asked us if we would be interested in locating in what was then known as Downtown Normal.” The museum cost roughly $8 million to construct with the museum founders raising $3 million, the rest the Town contributed, borrowing some of it.

When the idea of relocating the museum to its now-permanent home was first brought up, explained former City Manager Mark Peterson, “There was some skepticism in the community, but I think, of the people who were involved in the Children’s Museum, I think they thought it was a great idea.” He said logistical issues such as parking and the building being in close proximity to railroad tracks were things “we knew we could deal with,” he added. “Those of us who were involved in it weren’t skeptical at all. I think we were believers from the beginning that this was a great addition for Uptown, and more importantly, a great addition to the community.”

“I remember being in a meeting and saying, ‘we can do this, and this museum will be a great addition to the community,’” said Kent Karraker, who was Mayor of Normal 25 years ago. “There were a lot of challenges, but I have got to commend the founding board of the museum. They were intrepid pioneers and they’ve done a fantastic job to where the museum has grown to what it is now.” He said opponents of relocating the museum into what was newly christened Uptown “were among the first to attend the museum when it opened.”

Peterson admitted where the Museum is home now wasn’t the original location planned for it when it was considered being added. He said it was first considered to be located on land where Uptown Station now sits. “But we shifted it over to the east a little bit, but that was a minor change,” he said, adding the owners of the bar formerly located where the museum now sits, Rocky’s, was compensated by the Town.

At the time Reeser and Buckellew were among the group wanting to put the museum started in 1988. “A friend of mine and I had seen a museum like it in Michigan and we both thought it would be really nice to have one like that here,” Buckellew recalled.

Once the museum opened and people saw what it contained, Peterson said, any skepticism about the museum’s potential success faded.

Pushcart Derby Moving To Rivian Plant: Kids are always seeking new places to play. And in previous years, some have participated in the Museum’s Pushcart Derby. The derby, a fundraiser for the museum, encourages kids to apply principles of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) to design and race a vehicle. In June 2020, the fourth year for the event, the popular race will relocate to Rivian Automotive’s manufacturing property. Proceeds from the annual fundraiser support the Museum’s mission, enabling the expansion of STEAM programs, the creation of new exhibits, continuing outreach initiatives and scholarship provision for disadvantaged youth.

Two Million Plus Visitors Now: The 25th anniversary comes just three months following the museum honoring its two millionth visitor in June.

By Steve Robinson | September 14, 2019 - 10:58 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Everybody attending a big high school homecoming game wants to see a big victory. It’s many respects, just anticipated and expected by fans of the home team. And Although Normal Community West High School went scoreless in the first quarter of their Big 12 Conference game against Danville Friday, Wildcats defenders held their guests scoreless the rest of the way while they marched to a 29-7 victory.

The Wildcats received the kickoff to start the game but punted to the Vikings after punting having gotten as far as the Vikings’ 40 before Danville defenders pressured them. Danville (1-2 Big 12 and overall) started their opening drive just inside Wildcats territory at West’s 49 yard line. The Vikings chewed up the clock as much as they did yardage, scoring when sophomore quarterback Eric Turner, Jr. dashed into the end zone for the score followed by junior kicker Edgar Segura’s successful extra point. That gave Danville a 7-0 lead with 3:16 left in the opening quarter, a lead they carried into the second quarter.

Each team would have two possessions in the second quarter before Normal West (2-1 Big 12 and overall) would find enough traction allowing them to get past Danville defenders. Senior quarterback Carson Camp would connect on an 11 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Cole Hernandez at the 2:27 mark of the second quarter for the Wildcats’ first score of the game. Freshman kicker Owen Senn’s extra point tied the contest at 7-7.

Danville started their ensuing possession at their own 35 but the Vikings punted on their fourth play of the drive having lost five yards. Segura’s punt put the Wildcats at their own 35 to start their next possession. But a 48 yard completed pass from Camp to junior wide receiver Cole Hernandez put the Wildcats on the Danville 17. Two plays later, junior running back LaTre Billups rushed past defenders for a 5 yard score followed by a successful 2-Point conversion pass between Camp and Hernandez, increasing the Wildcats’ lead, 15-7, going into halftime.

Danville would have two unsuccessful drives and West one before West would add to its lead at 4:40 in the third quarter. Camp would connect with Billups a second time on an 18 yard touchdown play, Billups dashing down the far sideline into the end zone for the score. That resulted in West increasing the lead, 23-7, thanks to a 2-Point conversion play which followed as Hernandez connected with sophomore wide receiver Max Ziebarth.

Both sides would get a possession each before Danville would get the ball again, starting at their own 16, the result of a Vikings interception. West had a drive which started at their own 28 and was progressing until Ward picked off a Camp pass, giving the Vikings the ball at their own 16. But that drive was stopped when Normal West junior defensive back Davonte Crawford picked off Turner’s pass and got the Wildcats starting a new drive from their own 30. From there, the Wildcats chewed up both yardage and time on the way to their next score. That came when Camp connected with Hernandez for a second time on the night, this time from 12 yards out, putting Normal West up, 29-7, with 2:37 left in the contest, followed by a failed extra point try by Senn resulting in the final score.

“It took us a while to get us going and eventually, we got going at the end of the half, and that’s what I wanted to see,” said second-year Wildcats head coach Nate Fincham. He labeled his team’s response the rest of the way to the slow start as being positive.

“At the beginning of the game, we came out a little flat and Danville came out ready to play and we had to kind of catch our breath and wake up and play,” Fincham said, theorizing as to why his team was scoreless in the first quarter.”

Danville head coach Marcus Forrest said his team played the way he said his likes to play. “We played physical, we played aggressive, we played at the tempo we wanted to play. We were moving the ball and controlling it.”

But he added miscues started to help the Vikings’ desire to keep that style of play continuing led to his team unraveling in the later quarters. “Normal West has a quarterback who is a tough kid and we knew that. But we also knew defensively when we could get to him, good things happened for us. When our defense was passive, bad things happened for us.”

By Steve Robinson | September 12, 2019 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: Unit 5

NORMAL – At Wednesday, Sept. 11’s regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board, two days had gone by since Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel made his intentions known that he would be leaving at the end of the school year, on June 30, the result of a decision to take a job to be closer to family in the Chicago area. At the Board meeting held at Parkside Junior High School, Board members received details on how the search firm the district was considering hiring in aiding in the search for the new leader would proceed.

Dr. Jill Hawk and former school administrator Diane Robertson, representing Oak Park-based search firm School Exec Connect, gave Board members insight into how the firm works to help the district find the most qualified candidates for the position Daniel has held since July 2014.

Robertson explained that using focus groups and interviews with district staff, parents, students and other interested parties, the firm “will be looking for a good fit for your community. The only way to do that is to come in for a couple of days and talk to people.” Such community input, Robertson explained would give the firm an idea from those talks an answer to the question “what kind of skills does the superintendent need to possess?”

Robertson added the group would also produce and post an online survey for residents of the district to complete, as well as host “a couple of open forums.” “We don’t want you to settle,” Robertson told Board members. “We don’t want to bring you candidates number 8, 9, or 10.”

This next search for a new Unit 5 Superintendent would be the third consecutive one for the district using School Exec Connect, the previous two resulting in the hirings of Niehaus and Daniel. The cost for finding a new superintendent through School Exec Connect breaks down as $23,500 for consulting services; travel expenses not to exceed $5,000; and costs for advertising the opening, based on options chosen by the Board. The Board also has a background check option available from the company, which if the district opts to use it would cost $750.

Robertson said the firm generally begins with a planning meeting with Board members shortly after the firm is hired. She told Board members that during that meeting is the Board’s opportunity to tell the firm how they want the search to be done.

School Exec Connect’s reach stretches to not just Illinois but also Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Board members will take up whether to hire the firm at their Sept. 25 meeting.

Transportation Issues Continue: The issue of transporting students continues vexing the district. In his Superintendent Comments segment, Daniel said he understands parents are frustrated by issue of buses not getting students to their schools on time. Daniel told the audience he is frustrated about the situation, too. “The service we are receiving is not acceptable,” Daniel said in referring to the district’s transportation provider, Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co.

“We understand most buses are running on time, but most is not enough,” Daniel said. He added he and Board members expect a quick solution from the provider. In addition to Daniel’s remarks, there were two public comments on the subject from Lindsey Dickinson, president of Unit Five Education Association and Tony Cole, a parent with two students in school in the district.

Dickenson pointed out that as a result of buses arriving late to some schools, those students miss out on between 30-45 minutes of class time at the start of the day. Cole added it sounded to him as though Unit 5 was attempting to solve the issue which he saw as primarily a communication breakdown between the district and First Student.

LaCrosse Co-Op Proposal Presented: Illinois Wesleyan University has both men’s and women’s lacrosse. There is a club lacrosse team, comprised of high school age players, both boys and girls, known as the Bloomington-Normal Warriors. Board members were presented with a proposal by Normal Community High School Athletic Director Nic Kearfoot which he and Normal Community West High School Athletic Director Stan Lewis have worked on which Kearfoot presented to start a lacrosse program at those two schools.

Currently, there is only a practice field for the club team – the field at Kingsley Junior High School, known as Truman Keys Field when the school was used by NCHS, Kearfoot explained. Kearfoot said in order for Lacrosse teams to use that field once more would require getting the field into shape as though it would be used for football. It has been over a decade since high school teams played football on that field, when it was a high school facility.

Being a spring sport, Kearfoot said he and Lewis have approached Illinois Wesleyan University Lacrosse coach Zach Iannucci about using Tucci Stadium, which is used for football and men’s and women’s lacrosse. Board Member Alan Kalitzky asked about how much money it would take to add the sport to its roster of athletic activities. District Operations Director Joe Adelman told Kalitzky answers to questions like that are being researched presently.

To get the sport approved by Board members and thus get set things in motion for the work needing to be done so that the sport can debut, potentially by next year, Board President Barry Hitchins informed Kearfoot that for the item to appear on the agenda of the Board’s next meeting on Sept. 25, Kearfoot would have to have the item submitted to the district office by Sept. 20.

Benjamin Elementary 4th Grader Recognized For District 70th Anniv. Art Contest Entry: When Board members met for their Aug. 28 session, they were introduced to a group of seven students from varying grade levels who won an art contest, the goal of which was to honor the district celebrating the milestone of its 70th anniversary. While she was not able to attend the prior session, Benjamin Elementary student Kaitlyn Call was recognized for her effort. At this latest meeting, Call’s art work displayed with her present by her principal, Marlys Bennington doing the honors.