By Steve Robinson | February 20, 2017 - 10:50 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved a resolution accepting a set of bids from Bloomington-based Rowe Construction Co. to begin projects at Towanda Ave., Broadway Place, and at Ironwood Golf Course. The total amount of money the Town will spend on the trio of projects is $813,982.19. Part of that amount to includes a budget adjustment of $129,849.

That total dollar figure will pay for resurfacing work to be done on Towanda Ave., including a new right-turn lane stretching northbound from Towanda Ave. to Vernon Ave. New traffic lights and upgraded sidewalks will also be part of the work done in that area.

With regard to the Towanda Ave. project, Town Engineer Gene Brown told Council members it won’t be necessary to close that section of the street at night.

Also up to be improved as part of this project are the tunnels under Towanda Ave. at Ironwood Country Club. The current ones will be replaced. Broadway Place will receive a resurfacing job as part of the project.

Tracy Widergren Appointed To Normal Planning Commission: Council members also unanimously approved the appointment of Tracy Widerren to the Normal Planning Commission. Widergren is filling the vacancy on the Commission left by the departure of Joseph Cleary. Cleary left to fill a vacancy on the Normal-based Unit 5 School Board. Widergren will serve a full four year term which will expire on March 31, 2021.

An Illinois State University graduate, Widergren, holding bachelor’s degrees in public relations and English, as well as a Master’s degree in Communication. Currently, Widergren serves as Assistant Director of Marketing and Communication at the University, and is also an instructor there. She has served as a member of the Town’s 2040 Visioning Committee and currently serves on the Town and Gown Relations Advisory Group for the Town of Normal Comprehensive Plan. She moved to Normal in 2003 and currently lives here with her husband, Jason, and son Caleb.

Liquor Commission Grants License To D. P. Dough: Prior to the regular Council session, Council members, meeting in their capacity as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, voted to approve a Class B license for SLCB Enterprises, doing business as D. P. Dough, 121 E. Beaufort St. A Class B license is for beer consumption only on premises.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting on Feb. 6, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures as of Feb. 15, 2017.

• A resolution authorizing an agreement for construction materials testing services for the 2017 construction season with Bloomington-based Ramsey Geotechnical Engineering LLC (RGE).

• A resolution approving hourly rates and direct costs for 2017 with Clark-Dietz, Inc.; Crawford, Murphy, & Tilly, Inc.; Farnsworth Group; Lewis, Yockey, And Brown, Inc.; Maurer-Stutz, Inc.; and Wight and Company to provide engineering services for various Town departments.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement for the police shooting range facility with the City of Bloomington.

• A resolution authorizing an intergovernmental agreement between the Town of Normal and the City of Bloomington for replacement of traffic signals at Towanda Ave. and Vernon Ave..

• A resolution authorizing the installation of fiber optic traffic signal communication lines under the existing traffic signal maintenance contract with Champaign Signal and Lighting Company in an amount not to exceed $25,000.

• A resolution to appropriate $220,000 of the Town’s allotment of Motor Fuel Tax funds for traffic signal improvements at the Towanda Ave./Vernon Ave. intersection.

• A resolution authorizing a license agreement with Evansville, Ind.-based Metro Fibernet LLC, doing business as Metronet, for the placement of antennas and equipment on the Pine Street water tower.

• An ordinance approving an amendment to the license agreement with based Metro Fibernet LLC for the installation of a fiber optic hut on Town property at 700 Pine St.

Steve RobinsonTwo high school coaches who made their mark last season, for different reason, were honored Sunday at a banquet held by the Illinois Coaches Association. One coach is continuing to make her mark. The other is enjoying his retirement while still managing to keep busy around the sport. Roughly 300 people attended the event sponsored by ICA.

Normal Community West High School head softball coach April Schermann, who led her team to finish second in Class 4A, and Lexington native Bob Grimes, who was head coach at Normal Community High School for 16 years until retiring at the end of last season, were honored for different achievements at the event held at The Chateau Hotel and Conference Center in Bloomington.

Schermann, whose 2016 squad finished 29-10, was named Sectional Coach of the Year. Grimes was inducted into the Illinois Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Schermann Entering Her 14th Season At West In 2017: Schermann said the award she received – being named among eight Sectional Coach of the Year recipients in Class 4A – “symbolizes how much effort was put into the Normal West softball program.” She added that, “While I was the one accepting the award, I accepted it on behalf of my amazing coaching staff, my talented and dedicated players, and on behalf of Normal West High School.”

Schermann has amassed a record of 350-109 going into this season. The Wildcats’ second place finish was the result of dropping a championship game to Oak Park-River Forest, 4-2, in 10 innings at Eastside Centre in East Peoria in June. Under Schermann, the Wildcats have won six regional championships, four sectional championships, a Super-Sectional championship, and two Big 12 Conference titles. Schermann is in the running as a nominee for the Coach Of The Year Award presented by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA). That award will be given out at a banquet during NHSACA’s annual convention to be held in East Peoria in June.

An Illinois Coaches Association pre-season poll has Oak Park-River Forest and Normal West ranked first and second, respectfully, but Schermann said she suspects last year’s results were used to create that poll. “We’re always aiming to finish first in State every single year,” Schermann said. “We just aim high and shoot of the stars.”

Grimes Enters ICA Hall Of Fame: Also honored at this function were six individuals who were inducted into the Illinois Coaches Association Hall Of Fame. The only local coach from that group was Bob Grimes, who was Normal Community High School’s Softball Coach for 15 years, from 2002 until his retirement at the end of last season. During that period, the Ironmen went to IHSA State finals three times, including finishing as a State runner-up. Under Grimes in 2007, NCHS won the Class 2A Title.

Under Grimes, NCHS won eight regional championships, nine Big 12 Conference championships, and nine sectional championships. In the process, Grimes ended his coaching career with a 423-110 record.

“I was really surprised when I first heard of it,” Grimes said afterward. While the award was given to and recognizes him for his efforts, Grimes was quick to pass the credit for his success at NCHS on to his players. “It’s like I always told the girls: I couldn’t win The Kentucky Derby with a Clydesdale. You have to have the athletes in order to be really successful,” Grimes said.

Grimes is still keeping his hand in coaching, but these days, it’s strictly as a volunteer coach with Illinois Wesleyan University’s Softball team under head coach Tiffany Prager.

To be so recognized and honored as Schermann and Grimes were is not done lightly. Their skills at motivating players got them the results they were recognized for. Such congratulations is well-earned and well-deserved.

By Steve Robinson | February 17, 2017 - 12:37 pm
Posted in Category: ISU, The Normalite

jane lynch
NORMAL – Having played a variety of roles in her acting career, upon returning to her alma mater for the first time since her graduation from Illinois State University in 1982, Jane Lynch could add one more role to resume: Honorary Doctoral Recipient. At the Founder’s Day celebration held Feb. 16 in the Brown Ballroom at the school’s Bone Student Center, the University bestowed upon the 56-year-old actress an honorary doctorate from her alma mater.

Lynch began her day at ISU taking part in the ceremonial bell ringing in the Brown Ballroom, leading a parade of nearly 30 people who each took a turn registering a chime as an audience of roughly 300 looked on. After graduating from ISU, Lynch earned a Master of Fine Arts in theatre from Cornell University.

Those degrees – particularly the earned ones – underscore her accomplishments considering, as she explained, ISU was the only school that would accept her in spite of her not being a very good student when she first arrived. She said ISU has raised their admissions standards since she took that test.

For Lynch, the bell-ringing ceremony was followed by a brief news conference, and being part of a Founder’s Day Convocation, and Awards Dinner. An actress, singer, and comedian, Lynch received an Emmy Award in 2010 and a Golden Globe Award a year later for her portrayal of cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester on the Fox TV Network musical comedy-drama Glee. She has also won two Emmy awards for her stint as host of NBC’s Hollywood Game Night.

Among her film credits are appearances in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Julie & Julia, and Role Models.

She credits three theatre professors at ISU during her time as an underclassman as early influences on her career – Alvin Goldfarb, Jean Scharfenberg, and Don LaCasse. Goldfarb, a former president of Western Illinois University, was among those who helped Lynch celebrate her achieving the honorary doctorate.

Having not been back to ISU since she graduated, Lynch said among the old haunts she wanted to tour again was the University’s quad. She explained she used to cut through the quad area even during trips when it wasn’t called for.

Fellow ISU Alum Sean Hayes Is A Mentor: Another ISU acting alum who Lynch has kept in close contact with is Sean Hayes who, Lynch told reporters, “is a mentor” to her, referring to one of the stars of the NBC comedy, “Will & Grace,” which will get a brief revival this year. “He’s one of the most open-hearted people I’ve ever met,” Lynch said.

Lynch reminded that Hayes received this honorary degree a couple of years ago during a visit to ISU. At that time, Lynch said, “Sean said to me, ‘I’ll bet they’ll ask you to do this, and you should say yes.’”

By Steve Robinson | February 11, 2017 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonJohn Puzauskas, like many people who run for school board, started out first with involvement in a school’s Parent Teacher Organization, in his case, at Fox Creek Elementary School. From there, he advanced to membership in the district’s Citizens Advisory Council before deciding the time had arrived to run for a Board seat.

That first step of getting involved led eventually to declaring his candidacy in 2004 and getting elected in 2005. But now, with his three children all graduated and getting on with their own lives, Puzauskas has decided “there’s a time for leaving an organization like this and let folks come in with new ideas and perspectives.” He opted not to seek re-election to a fourth term in the April election. His final meeting will be on April 26.

“I feel it’s the right time to move off the Board,” Puzauskas said.

An engineer by trade, Puzauskas now works as an information technology manager for State Farm Insurance. His professional training as an engineer became useful, too, being named to serve on the Board’s Architectural Committee in 2008 and 2009 to consult on the construction of the schools the district built at that time — Benjamin Elementary, Cedar Ridge Elementary, and George L. Evans Junior High School. A $96.7 million referendum passed by voters in 2008 helped make construction of the schools possible.

“I can’t imagine what Unit 5 would be like if we didn’t have these three schools, but the referendum also allowed the district to refurbish all the older buildings,” Puzauskas reminded. “That meant, for a number of the schools replacing windows, installing SMARTBoards in classrooms, and upgrading furnishings.”

Doing those things, Puzauskas said, “helped improve the environment in which our teachers could teach kids.” He reminded there was even money left over from the referendum to help the district upgrade security at all of the district schools. That means that, now, during the school day, visitors to the district’s 18 elementary schools, four junior high schools and two high schools must now be buzzed through security doors when visiting,

He has also served on the superintendent evaluation committee and the district’s finance committee during his Board tenure.

Puzauskas and his wife, Sandra, adopted three children throughout the 1990s and being a dad became a high priority, causing a job change that led him from working at Clinton Power Plant to State Farm in 2000.

When Puzauskas was elected to the Board for his first term, growth in terms of numbers of students was the big issue, with Unit 5’s total number of students increasing “by several hundred per year,” Puzauskas reminded. At numerous Board meetings, “There were almost endless discussions about ‘where were we going to put the children.’ It was almost a universal discussion about overcrowding in our schools.”

Puzauskas said Board members could see increased class sizes being a barometer of what was coming as a result of such growth, yet the district only having “finite” facilities.

Puzauskas places Unit 5’s being able to “build a state-of-the-art information technology network among the chief accomplishments he helped usher in as a Board member. He said that includes giving students at the junior high schools and high schools the ability to use laptops throughout the district. He said without putting wi-fi into all of the schools, that wouldn’t have been possible. Finally, he points to moving the district into a position of being able to allow students to take standardized tests electronically.

Superintendent Daniel: Puzauskas Motivated District To Minimize Risk: In praising Puzauskas, Unit 5 District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel said, “John has an ability to motivate us on how to minimize risk. Anytime we want to examine a situation, John is excellent at asking, ‘OK, how have we examined this and are we thinking of how to minimize the amount of risk to better serve our kids?’” Daniel added giving attention to such a concern is crucial to a district such as Unit 5 because it has such different types of facilities being used.

Unfinished Business: In terms of unfinished business Puzauskas’ exit will leave for Board members, he recalled the Sept. 7, 2012 shooting incident at Normal Community High School. It involved shots fired but no deaths or injuries, and prompted a mass evacuation of the school. An NCHS teacher, new to both the profession and just days into his first job, defused the situation.

As a result of that incident, a then-14-year-old boy was taken into custody. The student allegedly took a handgun from his backpack toward the end of a first-period Health class. Criminal charges against the boy, however, indicated he had a small cache of weapons, including a hatchet, two knives, and two handguns.

He was accused of firing one of the guns multiple times into the ceiling of the classroom after having removed it from the bag. There were no classrooms on the upper floor above the room where he fired the weapon in, reporters learned at the Sept. 10 news conference.

Published reports indicated the most serious of the charges against the boy included three counts of armed violence, a Class X Felony. He also faced six felony counts of unlawful use of a weapon; three counts of unlawful possession of a handgun by a person under the age of 18; and three counts of unlawful restraint for detaining his teacher who stopped him from doing further harm.

Media reports at that time also indicated the 14-year-old also had with him a liquid of an undetermined origin in a canteen. Board members voted to suspend the boy from school for 10 days, the first in a string of measures, which could eventually lead to his being expelled.

“I was president of the School Board at that point, so it occurred on my watch,” Puzauskas said. “I was at the high school hours after the shooting and to go into that classroom and see the bullet holes in the ceiling, and get a second-by-second description of what went on…To stand at the front door of NCHS afterward as students were allowed in to collect their belongings was something else. That’s a day I will never forget.”

“What we learned from that was we thought we were prepared for events like that, and we, surely, found out we weren’t at the time.” Since then, Puzauskas reported, under the guidance of Curt Richardson, the district’s human resources director and attorney, that has changed. Richardson has been working with local law enforcement agencies to put plans in place to address such emergencies in hopes never to have to put them into action.

12 Years Is “A Good Long Stay”: As Puzauskas prepares to exit the Board after new members are selected in the April 4 election and those new members are sworn in, he said his serving on the Board “was a good long stay, and I think, in general, it’s just time to move on. It’s the right time.”

Puzauskas said he hasn’t decided what he’ll do next after exiting the Board, but he said he’s not ready to simply disappear. Clearly, after all the time he has put into Unit 5’s Board, it not likely his input will be forgotten. It’s also a safe bet Puzauskas will emerge to help the community again sometime.

By Steve Robinson | February 10, 2017 - 10:18 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Five students from Unit 5’s two high schools received recognition at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards in January and were formally recognized at the meeting of the Normal-based Unit 5 School Board at district headquarters on Feb. 8. The five students recognized are: Sujith Molakala, Nikitha Mothikuru, Aishwarya Shekara, Oviya Sougoumarane, and Xazavier Pittman. The recognition was part of a “good news” report presented to members of the Normal-based Unit 5 School Board, held at district headquarters on Feb. 8.

Molakala and Shekara were available to attend the meeting and each addressed Board members. “Being able to stand before the Board is a privilege and to be able to strengthen relations within the community is a privilege, too,” Molakala told Board members.

“Receiving this award means a lot to me and it recognizes what I do in our community,” Shekara told Board members. “It’s amazing that my name was in the same sentence with Martin Luther King, Jr.”

The principals of Normal’s two high schools – Dave Bollman from Normal Community High School and Dave Johnson from Normal Community West High School – made the introduction of the students to Board members. For the students to have received the honor, Bollman told Board members, “Speaks highly to the parents and the people who teach these students.”

Among the endeavors the students have undertaken, NCHS student Sujith Molakala has led an effort to help NCHS students in need receive help from The Little Free Pantry. The Little Free Pantry helps neighbors connect with one another while addressing the issue of food insecurity within the community.

NCHS student Nikitha Mothikuru, is an active member of Not In Our School, an offshoot of the Not In Our Town campaign, works with the group to foster mutual cooperation among students and has worked to campaign against discrimination. She also volunteers at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center.

NCHS student Aishwarya Shekara is also a member of Not In Our School and has also launched an initiative called “Operation Beautiful,” as well as help organize an interfaith fair and a culture fair at the school.

Among the reasons NCHS student Oviya Sougoumarane was recognized with an “I Have A Dream” Award were for her many volunteer efforts on behalf of Easter Seals, Special Olympics, the Western Avenue Community Center, YWCA, and Home Sweet Home Mission. She also teaches Math and Language Arts to elementary students at the iExcell after-school enrichment program. Her volunteer efforts within NCHS include assisting with the “Best Buddies” program, a club that promotes the inclusion of all children.

Normal Community West High School student Xazavier Pittman was recognized for his involvement with the school’s Helping Youth Progress and Excel, or HYPE Program. HYPE Program provides students an opportunity to be engaged within the community by being involved with arts and culture programs.

In addition to the five Unit 5 students who were honored, a sixth student, attending University High School, Jordyn Blythe, also was awarded an “I Have A Dream” award.

Unit 5 mapEJHS Principal Chapman To Succeed Retiring Bollman At NCHS: It was formally announced by Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, that Trevor Chapman, currently principal at George L. Evans Junior High School, will become principal at Normal Community High School upon the retirement of the school’s current principal, David Bollman. Bollman is retiring having spent 33 years as a teacher and administrator.

“High schools tend to be lighthouses and with that, we expect great leadership,” Daniel said. “So as Dave has exhibited that, we also see the same fire in Trevor. We look forward to Trevor moving into the position at NCHS.”

In his remarks to the Board after being introduced, Chapman thanked Bollman for his help while he makes the transition to his new position. “I look forward to this opportunity,” he said.

“We wish you the best,” Daniel said as he thanked Bollman for his service to the district.

Chapman has been employed at Unit 5 for 12 years, serving as EJHS’ principal since 2014. Before taking that post, he was associate principal there. Prior to that, he was a business teacher at Normal West. He has a bachelor’s degree in Business Education and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, both from Illinois State University. He will receive his Superintendent’s endorsement from ISU in May. Chapman and his wife, Rita, a consumer science teacher at NCHS, have two small children.

Bonds Refinanced To Help Pay For Construction, Security: Board members unanimously approved issuing general obligation bonds totaling up to $75 million which would be used for two purposes: Refinancing bonds issued in 2008, and district-wide security upgrades. In 2008, the cash from the bonds was used to construct Cedar Ridge and Benjamin elementary schools and EJHS. The district is looking to save slightly over $6 million thanks to a drop in interest rates.

First Draft Of 2017-18 School Year Calendar Revealed: Board members got a peek at a first draft of the district’s school year calendar for the 2017-18 school year. If approved at a future Board meeting, the school year would begin on Aug. 16. Bruce Weldy, human resources coordinator for the district, gave Board members a quick tour of the district calendar which shows, among other things, 12 Late Start Wednesdays; Holiday Break running from Dec. 22 through Jan. 5; Normal Community West High School Homecoming being held Sept. 22 and Normal Community High School Homecoming being held Oct. 6.Spring Break would be held March 26-30. Graduation Day for both schools would be May 28.