NORMAL – Normal Town Council members were observed at their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday, not just by community members wanting to witness government in action, but also by 10 members of the local branch of the international group known as Friends Forever. Local Rotary Clubs helped facilitate Normal becoming one of the American communities where five Israeli high school students and five Arab students meet to work on joint community projects in communities throughout the United States. This was the seventh visit made to the Twin Cities by students from Friends Forever. the group sent students here on their first visit to the Twin Cities in 2013.

At Monday’s session, Council members heard from two Israeli citizens – an Israeli young woman and an Arab young man – as they informed Council members about the experiences they have been having in the program. The teens will be in this country, and the community for two weeks, observing and becoming involved in community projects.

Council members heard from a teenage Israeli young woman named Hod Malka and a teenage Arab young man named Sari Okal. The pair spoke of their lifestyles in their homeland to the gathering among other subjects.

Council members also heard from a young man who is an alumni of the program, identified as Yoav. “I am here tonight to help out the program,” Yoav said. “I am helping draw up the schedule for this year’s group.” He said since his involvement a few years ago as a participant, “I decided to step up and take a big role in this moment and decided to be a leader.” He added being in the program gave him the confidence to decide to become a leader. He said he has been working with 10th graders helping them “understand their place and help them work out their differences.”

Operating And Capital Investment Budget Approved: Council members unanimously approved the Town’s Operating and Capital Investment Budget for fiscal year 2018-2019. The Town adjusted its budget upward by over $3.3 million over the previous fiscal year. The Operating and Capital Investment Budget for the current fiscal year stands at $128,996,652. The upward change in the total of the budget relates to a change in spending for vehicle and equipment needs, and refinancing some of the Town’s debt to a lower interest rate, according to a report submitted to the Council by Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn.

Amended Final Development Plan For One Normal Plaza PUD Approved: Council members unanimously approved a resolution approving an amended final development plan for the Planned Unit Development at One Normal Plaza, located at 613 Oglesby. According to the report given Council members by Town Planner Mercy Davison, a potential new owner for the property seeks to open an event rental business at that address. To complete the process, it was required the development plan for One Normal Plaza be amended. The proposed business would rent tents, tables, and chairs, among other items, and either make deliveries as needed or have customers pick up goods at the location.

Normal Planning Commission held a hearing on the request to amend the development plan at their July 3 meeting. The applicant’s attorney was the only person who spoke at the hearing, where commissioners voted 4-0 in favor of amending the plan for it to be returned to the Council.

Resolution Supporting Connect Transit Working Group Approved: Council members unanimously passed a resolution which showed the Council to be in support of the mission of a working group being established by Connect Transit, the in-town public transportation provider.

The working group is examining transit in the community and the future of transit here, but part of the evening included criticism from a former Mayoral candidate concerning one of Connect Transit recent actions – to seat the son of a transit board member onto the working group panel. Former Normal Mayoral Candidate Marc Tiritilli criticized Connect Transit for placing the son of Connect Board Member Julie Hile on the working group. Hile’s son is disabled and relies on Connect Transit’s service.

Tiritilli also criticized Connect Transit’s decision to employ a facilitator for the working group at a cost of over $53,000. Tiritilli argued that cash could have put to better use by every full-fare Connect Mobility rider free rides for a year. Connect Transit’s website indicates the cost for using the mobility service ranges from $2 to $4 each way depending on the length of the trip.

Luis Figueroa Appointed To Normal’x Human Relations Commission: Luis Figueroa was introduced as being recently appointed to the Town’s Human Relations Commission. An employee of Country Financial, Figueroa is a graduate of Illinois State University currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling at Lincoln Christian University. He will be filling an open seat on the Commission which is set to expire March 31. After that, Figueroa will be eligible for reappointment to a full four year term on the Commission. Figueroa’s wife, Amanda, teaches at Colene Hoose Elementary School. The Figueroas are expecting their first child.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held July 1, 2019.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of July 10, 2019.

• A resolution authorizing a contract with Peoria-based Hoerr Construction, Inc. for the 2019 sanitary and storm sewer cleaning and televising contract in the amount of $354,070.80.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing a project change order from Bloomington-based George Gildner, Inc. in the amount of $31,112.67 for the Ridgemont Area Water Main Replacement Project, add three additional days to time of contract and authorize an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the Children’s Discovery Museum Executive Director to execute an agreement with Lincolnwood, Ill.-based Luci Creative, LLC to design/build the new “Healthy Me!” exhibit in an amount not to exceed $350,000.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat of the Fiala Brothers Subdivision (119, 121, 123, and 127 E. Beaufort).

• Supplemental resolution for Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) project closeout in the amount of $506,062 for the Raab Rd. – NCHS to Towanda Barnes Rd. Project and final Town payment.

• A resolution retaining confidentiality of executive session minutes from June 19, 2017, and Feb. 18 and Apr. 15, both 2019.

Normal CornBelters first baseman Michael Nielsen admits “a lot of people I know mix where I’m from up with Bloomington.” The truth is Nielsen is from Bloomingdale, a suburb of Chicago about 20 minutes outside the Windy City. But the Quincy University student said he’s happy to be playing in the Prospect League again this season.

Fact is, the CornBelters is the third team Nielsen, a junior, has been part of in this league. His freshman season two years ago was spent with the Quincy Gems after his freshman summer and he suited up for the Hannibal Hoots last summer.

A graduate of Lake Park High School in Roselle, Ill., Nielsen said playing in the Prospect League is “pretty cool because you get to play in places like The Corn Crib. This place has the feel of a minor league field, stadium-wise, and you get to play in good parks in front of good crowds,” he explained. “That’s something you don’t always get when you play at school.”

Nielsen is majoring in Criminal Justice with a minor in Business Education. As a result, 21-year-old Nielsen explained, “I’d like to play baseball as long as possible, then after that have something to do with police.” Law enforcement has been part of his family, having had a grandfather who carried a gold shield as a Chicago Police Department detective. His grandfather wore or carried a badge for 35 years, he said. He also had an uncle who was with Chicago P.D., while another uncle of his is a Bloomington Fire Department lieutenant.

His being on three teams in three seasons started when his high school coach during his senior year knew then Quincy Gems head coach Rick Fraire. That got Nielsen his first college team experience. He “was 18 and had no idea I was playing with 22-year-olds, but it was the best decision I ever made to play there.”

After his sophomore school year, an opportunity to play in the Northwoods College League fell through, prompting Nielsen to rejoin the Prospect League playing for Hannibal. But his playing time there last season was short due to injury.

He had planned on playing for a Northwoods League team in Rockford this season, but one of his high school coaches was hired to coach in Rockford before he could play. The Northwoods League prohibits players who had been on a high school team coached by a Northwoods Coach from playing in the league again for that coach. That led to Nielsen finding the CornBelters.

“This league is great, and it’s kind of unique being the older guy in the locker room,” Nielsen said. “I think the cool part of me is getting to see those young guys and be able to give the younger guys some of the information I have learned along the way. You see yourself in the young kids, even though I’m not that much older. That’s the best part of this.”

“Mike is a good all-round player,” CornBelters Head Coach Rick White said of Nielsen. White said neither Quincy nor Hannibal had any room for Nielsen this year but recommended him as someone they thought Normal could benefit from having on the roster.

Corn Crib Hosting Prospect League All-Star Game Events July 22 & 23: On Monday, July 22, the CornBelters are hosting the 2019 Prospect League All-Star Game at the Corn Crib, an event being sponsored by State Farm Insurance, the Town of Normal and Ameren. The league’s All-Star Game will be played on Tuesday, July 23 at 6:30p.m.

All-Star activities begin Monday with an on-field meet and greet autograph session starting at 5:00 p.m. with the Home Run Derby following at 7:00 p.m. Former Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson and former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel will captain the Home Run Derby and are joined by Cubs infielder Bill Madlock and former Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog for the autograph session.

The Home Run Derby with the pregame autograph session takes place Monday and the Prospect League All-Star Game is Tuesday. Ticket packages are just $50 and include the Home Run Derby, with the pregame autograph session on July 22, as well as the All-Star Game on July 23. Individual tickets for each event can be purchased separately at $10 each but do not include participating in the autographed session.

Fans will be limited to one autograph per legend. Ticket packages may be purchased at the Corn Crib Box Office or by calling 309-454-2255.

Gates and doors will open at 4:30 on July 22 with on-field activities starting at 5 p.m. Event overflow parking will be available at Heartland Community College next to the Corn Crib Stadium.

By Steve Robinson | July 10, 2019 - 10:36 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – At what will be the only meeting scheduled this month for members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board, and five weeks until the start of the new school year, District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel had some reminders for parents during his “Superintendent’s Comments” segment of the session. The meeting was held July 10 at district headquarters on Hovey Ave.

“I just want to remind everyone that the first day of school is Friday, Aug. 16, and it will be here before we know it,” Daniel said. “Parents should make sure their children have their necessary immunizations and physicals to start the school year on time.”

In addition, Daniel informed Board members student registration started on July 9 giving parents the opportunity to use the Infinite Campus system. In December, Board members approved paying $393,000 in installments for the new system which would replace the Skyward Computer System which the district had been using for over a decade and a half. Board members unanimously approved spending the money on a new information system known as Infinite Campus, manufacturer by Greeley, Colo.-based Computer Information Concepts, Inc.

Unit 5’s first payment of $206,000 was made a few days before Christmas, according to the copy of the agreement between the company and the district provided to the media. A second payment of $88,883 was made by the district in March, and was followed by a third payment of $64,326 made July 1. Unit 5 has a fourth and final payment of $34,550 due by mid-August.

“I want to thank the team that is working to make the transition to Infinite Campus as seamless as possible,” Daniel said.

Jeff Miner, a programmer for Unit 5, told Board members that as of that meeting, the number of students registered for fall classes was ahead of the number of students registered under the previous system at this time last year.

Marty Hickman, business manager for the district, reported to Board members the district recently tested the newly-installed Tyler Vision accounting system checking its capability to produce checks. He reported the recent dry run was successful.

Update On Summer School And Autism Camp Given: Board members heard from Ashley Gibler and Chris Ellis who have been among the teachers overseeing the Summer School and Autism Camp, both taking place this summer at Parkside Junior High School. Gibler and Ellis reported a total of 327 students from both inside and outside of Unit 5 have attended summer school this year. Some of the students from outside the district were from El Paso Gridley, they explained. A total of 140 employees were on staff for the sessions.

The Autism Camp, Gibler explained, is introduced to the students prior to the camp date using an open house format to prepare the students, allowing them to understand what will take place at the camp.

Suzi Hesser Introduced As New Principal At Parkside Junior High School: Suzzette “Suzi” Hesser was introduced to Board members as the new principal at Parkside Junior High School. The introduction was made by Dr. Ray Epperson, assistant superintendent. Hesser and her husband, Scott attended Illinois State University 30 years ago and lived in Cardinal Court while starting a family. That family now includes a five-month-old grandson, providing the Hessers to return to the community.

An educator for 24 years, Hesser has taught fifth grade, and been both a principal and an administrator at the junior high level. Her most recent assignment was as superintendent for the Hoopeston Area School District. Her career as a principal and an administrator placed her in the Sterling School District. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Eastern Illinois University. Her undergraduate major was elementary education. Her Master’s field of study was Educational Leadership. She currently is working toward obtaining a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Aurora University. Hesser has experience as a district administrator because she is the former superintendent of a Vermillion County school system. Unit 5 will pay Hesser $92,500.

With her hiring, Hesser becomes PJHS’ principal on July 1. Hesser replaces Darrin Cooper, who was recently promoted to be Unit 5’s new Director of Teaching and Learning.

Rachael Hernandez Promoted For Double-Duty At Kingsley And Evans Junior High Schools: Rachael Hernandez was introduced to Board members by Epperson as the assistant principal at not one, but two of the district’s four junior high schools. Hernandez will split her time between Kingsley Junior High School and George L. Evans Junior High School. Hernandez graduated from Olivet Nazarene University with a Bachelor of Science degree having majored in Spanish Education in December 2006.

Her Unit 5 career began as a teacher’s assistant at Cedar Ridge Elementary in 2011. From there, in 2012, she moved to Normal Community West High School where she helped establish the school’s Collaborative Learning Services Room. In 2013, Normal West hired Hernandez as a Spanish teacher. She earned a Master’s degree in teaching Reading from ISU in 2015. Prior to her new assignment, Hernandez has served as Foreign Language Department Chair at Normal West for the past five years.

Hernandez recently completed her Administrative Internship at Normal Community High School and earned a Master’s Degree from ISU in Educational Leadership. Hernandez’s husband, Shawn, attended the meeting to see his wife introduced.

UFEA President Dickinson Recognized As YWCA “Women Of Distinction” Nominee: Daniel recognized Lindsey Dickinson, president of Unit Five Education Association (UFEA) for being nominated among 30 nominees for the 2019 YWCA “Women Of Distinction” Award, an annual honor bestowed on nominated women in the community.

Next Board Meeting On Aug. 14: There is no second Unit 5 Board meeting slated for July. The Board’s next meeting will be on Wednesday, Aug. 14 at District headquarters, starting at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | July 1, 2019 - 10:42 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – With Rivian Motors now operating at the former Mitsubishi Motors North America plant in west Normal, officials for the electric car manufacturer thought changing the name of the street where the plant resides ought to reflect that.

At Monday’s Normal Town Council meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, there was considerable discussion centering on how the name change potentially could affect travelers trying to find the plant through Global Positioning Software and other means before Council members cast votes deciding in favor of the change.

With Mayor Chris Koos away on business, Council members voted 4-2 to approve Rivian’s request. Council Members Stan Nord and Karyn Smith cast the opposing votes while Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy, and Council Members Kathleen Lorenz, Scott Preston, and Chemberly Cummings voted in favor of the measure.

Currently, the plant is located on Mitsubishi Motorway along Rt. 150 on Normal’s west end. Receiving first local, national, and now a global business presence prompted Rivian to make the request of the Town. But Nord pointed out his concerns for making such a change, stating such changes have a “ripple effect” on motorists – everything from needing to make sure the change is updated in GPS to changing signage in and around town for travelers requiring neighboring businesses to change the address on their paperwork.

A local business owner himself, Nord said it takes time for the change to get on the minds of residents. He called making such a change a “daunting task which takes years to adjust to.”

City Manager Pam Reece said businesses in the vicinity of the Rivian facility had been sent certified mail from the Town asking representatives to attend a meeting so that the owners of the businesses could address any concerns about the change. The meeting took place in May, and of the dozen businesses surrounding the plant who were notified of the session, Reece said, only representatives from two businesses attended, but gave no input.

The Town researches for such changes thoroughly, explained Ryan Otto, Town Engineer, when he addressed Council members during the session. He said while there is a four-digit cost figure to change signs from one name to another, the Town also consults with the Normal Post Office concerning matters related to mail going to a location where the street name gets a new moniker. In addition, Otto explained, the Town also works to make sure the changes of this kind are directed toward emergency medical personnel to help them arrive at locations after a change takes effect.

Smith wondered if having the meeting with the local businesses in the shadow of Memorial Day might have meant the meeting’s timing was related to how many showed for it.

“It’s a small thing to show our support of a business within our community,” McCarthy said. Cummings added, “We are not a backwards community. We have technology which will get people to these locations. We have issues we can be talking about, but in no way do those include a discussion over a street name.” She added people who use smartphones for directions would receive data updates on their devices.

Prior to the discussion that ensued, Nord first moved Council members consider postponing voting on the name change until a future meeting but withdrew the motion, opting for more discussion.

In addition, Council members unanimously voted to change the name of another street close to the plant, Sakura Lane, an access road. As a result of the vote, that street will now be known as Electric Avenue.

Liquor Commission Approves Licenses: Prior to the Council session, Council members, meeting in their capacity as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, approved a pair of liquor license applications – one for a new establishment and one for a business experiencing a change of ownership. The new business which was unanimously granted a license is Reynoso Corporation, doing business as Mexa-Maya Mexican and Central American Restaurant, 1113 N. Main St. As a result, the restaurant sought a Class D –All liquor, on premises consumption license.

Commission members also unanimously approved a liquor license for H.T. Trading, Inc., doing business as Kochi Sushi, 1540 E. College Ave. That business sought and received a Class C – Beer & Wine only, on premises consumption license.

Commissioners also approved setting a hearing date for businesses found to be in violation of Town Liquor Code. 35 Years, LLC Landmark, doing business as Marie’s Place, 1520 E. College Ave.; 35 Years, LLC Patriot Center, doing business as Marie’s Place, 115 Susan Dr.; and 35 Years, LLC University Park, doing business as Marie’s Place, 1702 W. College Ave.

The locations were found to be in violation of liquor code and a hearing will take place on July 15, prior to the scheduled Normal Town Council session. Once the Town Hearing Officer makes recommendations, the Liquor Commission could receive the case for considering license approval.

During a Normal Local Liquor Commission meeting on March 18, Town Deputy Corporation Counsel Jason Querciagrossa summarized for Commissioners an audit conducted by Normal Police on those establishments which related to Class O liquor license requirements, and the food permits issued to the locations by McLean County Health Department.

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

• Approval of the Leadership and Governance Workshop of June 7, ‘2019.

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of June 17, 2019.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of June 26, 2019.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing a contract with Champaign Signal and Lighting Company for maintenance of traffic signal control equipment, highway lighting, and utility locate services. The contract expires July 31, 2020.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat for the Ohlendorf Subdivision by expedited process (301-303 E. Stewart Place).

By Steve Robinson | June 29, 2019 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

Looking at the roster for the Prospect League version of the Normal CornBelters, you see guys whose hometowns stretch from West Columbia, S.C. east to two players who are from Castle Rock, Colo. the west, and as far north as Rapid City, S.D. to south being from Kearney, Neb. And because these players are still in college, the season at this point has just a little more than a month left.

That means I need to get you as many locals covered as I can in the short amount of time the season grants. So this week, I thought I would start by introducing you to CornBelters outfielder, Bloomington resident, and Tri-Valley High grad Jack Butler. Jack, son of John and Linda Butler of Bloomington, is in his junior year at Illinois State University, who helped his Redbirds team get as far as a regional final game of the NCAA Baseball playoffs this past season.

Jack Butler Is Majoring In Ag At ISU: Southpaw outfielder Jack Butler is one of a trio of players on the CornBelters roster who hail from the Twin Cities. The others are Butler’s ISU teammate, Jackson Bronke, a junior; and redshirt freshman infielder Billy Mote.

Living on a farm and a redshirt junior, Butler is majoring in agriculture at ISU. Butler said since he lives on a farm which produces corn and soybeans, he wanted to continue the family business. “I talked to Billy Mote after I found out he was going to the CornBelters, and after finding that out, I looked into the team because I wanted to stay here for the summer,” Butler explained.

Butler said being home and “all the stuff we deal with outside of baseball is so much easier because I’m in town,” Butler said. He adds that helps him concentrate on the task ahead of winning games. Last summer, he spent his summer playing time with the Muskegon Clippers of the Great Lakes Collegiate League.

Being in that league, Butler said, allowed him to see what the competition is that exists at the Division I level, and added to playing for ISU has helped him, he said, to know how to perform on the field to keep pace with guys on other teams. ISU got as far as and lost in the regional final to the University of Louisville at the end of the current season. ISU got to the NCAAs by being co-champions in the Missouri Valley Conference along with Dallas Baptist. Once ISU was done at NCAAs, Butler reported for duty to the CornBelters.

Statistically, before this week started, it looks as though the CornBelters have Butler’s undivided attention thus far. He has had 58 at-bats in 18 games, where he had 17 hits, including two doubles and 9 home runs knocking in 16 runs. He has walked 11 times, struck out 11 times, and all that adds up to a .293 batting average. His best game to date was against the Quincy Gems on June 26. That night at The Corn Crib, the CornBelters beat the Gems, 14-6, and Butler had two home runs driving in four runs, and walked once.

While 21-year-old Butler said the game is the main reason he’s here, he said he likes also seeing all the activity at the ball park surrounding the games and watching youngsters run the bases after games. And from his perspective, it sounds like he’s enjoying all aspects of being with the CornBelters this season. In turn, he has given the fans reason to enjoy the season, as well.

At the time I did the interviews last Friday, Butler had hit five home runs in the previous four games. “He’s hitting the ball well right now and playing good defense,” said CornBelters Manager Rick White. “His average is steadily climbing. He’s just a great kid all around.”

White explained he saw Butler play in both the MVC and NCAA tourneys. ISU’s coaching staff recommended Butler when White asked about players who would be considered a good fit for the team, he explained. “It’s nice to have local guys here where you play. That’s because fans know and have heard of them.”

Still Trying To Put “Right Lineup Together”: Going into this week, the CornBelters were in fourth place 7 ½ games out of first place Cape Girardeau in the Prospect League’s Western Division. White said that’s partly because the team is still playing different guys in different positions to see what works. “We’re getting ready to start putting out a more consistent lineup now, based on who we think is going to help us win that day,” he explained.

Schedule Has Home & Away Games Around The July 4 Holiday: By the time you read this, the CornBelters will have hosted the Hannibal Hoots Monday and played an away game at Cape Girardeau Tuesday before returning home to continue playing Cape Girardeau Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday being the fourth of July, the game starts at 6:30p.m. Friday, the Lafayette Aviators are in town for one game, and the West Virginia Miners visit The Corn Crib for two games on Saturday and Sunday, July 6 and 7. Games on July 5 and 6 start at 7:05p.m. The team gets two days off on July 8 and 9 before playing two home games against DuPage Wednesday