NORMAL – By a 6-1 count at their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday night, Normal Town Council members approved amending two sections of the Town Code which would help pave the way for an Uptown business to have outdoor seating in an on-the-street parking space.

The request was made by owners of Stave, a beer and wine establishment at 111 W. North St. To permit sales and consumption of food and alcoholic beverages in an on-street parking space, amendments needed to be made to the Town Public Code concerning liquor and public ways.

Town Staff researched to discover what other communities had to see if it would even be possible to allow this in Normal. The on-street cafes are referred to as parklets. What Town Staff discovered is that parklets are becoming very popular and common in central business districts nationally. The Town’s research found them in Iowa City, Iowa, and in Illinois in Urbana and Yorkville.

The Town has drafted an ordinance which would allow for a pilot program for parklets to be allowed in Normal. Among the pilot program’s stipulations: It would only be in effect for 2018, expiring Oct. 15, would only apply to Stave, and the Town’s public works director would have to approve the seating layout.

Also, the seating would need to be on a platform, and the platform could not interfere with the flow of vehicle traffic. Also under the conditions of the program, the Town also retains the right to discontinue the program at any time, including for temporary circumstances.

“More communities are doing this all the time,” Town Planner Mercy Davison told Council members, adding the move amounted to an investment in infrastructure for the establishment.

But Council Member Jeff Fritzen said he had concerns about vehicles coming around the round-about off of Beaufort St., saying that turn “is fairly tight.”

“I have a safety concern with this,” Fritzen added. “Once you do a pilot program, others want it and I would rather see where this winds up” before making a determination whether it should be continued.

Fritzen said parking in Uptown also plays a role. Davison said parking blocks at one end of the outdoor café for safety are part of the plan. She said a block of that type is there already. Before the vote was taken, Council Member Kevin McCarthy expressed the opinion the Town should at least give it a try.

Children’s Discovery Museum, Normal Theater Named “Two Greatest Places” In Illinois: Before the 45-minute meeting closed, City Manager Pam Reece announced Children’s Discovery Museum and Normal Theater had been named two of “Illinois’ 200 Great Places” by American Institute of Architects, honoring what the organization calls “built environments.”

AIA Illinois will present both locations with individual plaques to recognize the honor, Reece told Council members. All 200 locations AIA Illinois honored are featured on a website,

Planned Unit Development Gets Conditional Approval: Council members unanimously approved a resolution which conditionally approved a preliminary planned unit development east of 201 McKnight, to become known as “The Park.”

The property owner plans to develop the land east of the Starplex Cinemas on 4.76 acres of land. The plan includes construction of 13 buildings which will house 85 units which will allow for 294 beds. Townhomes on the property will be 2 ½ stories with varying exteriors and porch styles. The complex will meet Town Code by making sure it has 170 spaces.

The development received unanimous approval by a 7-0 vote of the McLean County Regional Planning Commission. That vote followed a public hearing on May 10.

Proclamation Honors Local Students: Prior to the start of the meeting, two local high school students were honored with a proclamation for successfully completing an innovation award program which is co-sponsored by Millikin University, Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, and Pontiac Township High School.

Normal Community High School student Lexi Showalter and Normal Community West High School student Becca Nalley were honored with a proclamation read by Normal Mayor Chris Koos honoring them for receiving an innovators award from the universities and the high school for their creating what they call Cybercitizens, a program where senior citizens learn how to use a smartphone during a face-to-face class. So far, the girls say, they have taught older folks at Bible study classes with the seniors wanting to learn about the new technology.

Retiring Town Engineer Attends Final Council Meeting: Gene Brown wrapped up 33 years with the Town of Normal when the Council session ended. Brown retires as Town Engineer. He, too, received a proclamation from the Town, read by Koos, surrounded by Council members.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular Council meeting of May 7, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of May 16, 2018.

• A resolution approving the final plat of the Normal Main Street Fire Station subdivision (606 S. Main St.) by expedited process and initiating a zoning map amendment from B-1 General Business to S-2 Public Lands & Institutions.

• A resolution conditionally and partially approving a final plat within one and one-half miles of corporate limits by expedited process – A. Ziebarth (south of 19203 N. 1500 East Rd.).

• An ordinance vacating a portion of an alley in the subdivision of Block 6 in the 9th addition to Normal (Off of Fell St. between Mulberry St. and Locust St.). A public hearing was held on this matter prior to the start of the Council session. No one addressed Council members at the hearing.

On Thursday, May 17, a ceremony was held to remember two students who attended Normal Community West High School, both of whom, sadly, had their lives cut short in accidents.

One of those students, Michael Collins, had graduated and was a member of Heartland Community College’s baseball team when he was killed by a drunk driver in an event that occurred March 29, 2014. He died at age 22 from his injuries a few days later, April 2. The other student, Olivia “Livi” Sonetz, was killed in a car accident on March 8 this year. Charges are being filed against the driver of the car who hit Sonetz’s vehicle. Sonetz was a 17-year-old senior at West.

Both Collins and Sonetz had signed organ donor cards prior to their deaths, their donations giving hope to other families going through crises themselves, needing a miracle. Michael and Livi provided some unknown families that needed miracle.

During the ceremony, a bench was placed near the front entrance to Normal West. It has Michael’s and Livi’s names inscribed on it. Jim and Kelly Collins, Michael’s parents, and Paul and Laura Sonetz, Livi’s parents, attended the ceremony.

The bench was given to the school by Gift Of Hope, an organ and tissue donation network, based in Itasca, Ill., explained the woman who serves as their manager for donor services, Stefanie Dziedzic.

“We started our bench program six months ago, and Michael’s and Livi’s were some of the first families we selected,” Dziedzic explained. “We identified Michael’s might be a great story to share with the school. Tragically, Livi passed away during that time period. “

Dziedzic said Normal West officials “felt it was important to show the donation being so much bigger than one person or one family, that it would be a community opportunity for remembrance.” Thus, the group dedicated the bench to both Michael and Livi.

Historically, Gift Of Hope has been in the business of creating memorials for donor families, Dziedzic said. She added creating such memorials helps grieving donor families “to rewrite the ending to their tragedy, to help surviving family members through their grief and bereavement.

The group has two large scale memorial events – one in the Chicago area and one in southern Illinois, at which Gift Of Hope invites between 200-400 people – folks who touched by such tragedies and made the decision to donate a loved one’s organs during the previous 18 months – just as the Collins and Sonetz families had been.

Dziedzic said without organ donation, when there is a sudden loss of a family member, that person’s personal story ends right there. But, she said, when the person decides to be part of organ donation before something happens, when that something happens, the end result is not only does the donation help someone else live on, but the donor often lives on, too, in the memory of the family to whom the donation was received.

As a result of their decision, Michael and Livi have “managed to enhance the lives of others,” Dziedzic said. A total of six bench ceremonies are slated for this year, she added.

Gift Of Hope is a Federally designated non-profit organ procurement group which employs 325 people and been in operation for three decades, Dziedzic explained. It handles organ procurement and donation in Illinois and Indiana, serving 186 hospitals. Dziedzic said there are roughly 12 million people in the organization’s service territory that stretches from Chicago north, south to Springfield, and over to four counties on the Illinois-Indiana border.

“It’s never one and done,” Dziedzic said about the contact the group has with families they deal with. Gift Of Hope also provides things like counseling, and letter exchanges among donor families and recipients.

In Gift Of Hope’s philosophy, the donor may be gone, but “their memory and their legacy still live on, and so there’s the opportunity to have a different relationship with them moving forward.”

Moving forward from something like that helps families in that situation, Dziedzic said. And moving forward is what becomes essential for their families.

By Steve Robinson | May 13, 2018 - 10:35 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

The restaurant in Uptown Normal built with a tree growing inside turns 10 years old this weekend, and owners of Medici Restaurant, 120 W. North St., are throwing a street party to celebrate.

The celebration, to be held Saturday in the block the restaurant occupies will run from 4p.m.-10p.m., explained Joe Slane, general manager of the restaurant. Two bands – Pork Bellies, and 90s Daughter – will take to the stage near the restaurant in Uptown shortly after the event begins.

Food, beer, and live entertainment will all be part of the celebration, Slane pointed out.

“We want to get out and enjoy the weather and thank everybody for supporting us over the last 10 years,” Slane said.

The restaurant is owned by the Moorsbach family, based in Chicago, who own a smaller restaurant by the same Medici name near the campus of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, explained Slane. He is one of the few employees of the restaurant who have been with it almost from the time it opened.

For the Moorsbach family, opening the Normal location meant “opening a little bit bigger property than they did in Chicago,” Slane said. “It was a little more extravagant with the tree in the middle of the restaurant, and the open staircase.”

Slane said Normal’s restaurant was something that involved larger plans than what the owners had compared to their original Chicago location. “This restaurant is a little more of the expansion of their dream” compared to their Chicago location, Slane pointed out.

He admitted that, like any new dining venture, Medici, at first, struggled to build its reputation when it opened. But with varying beer and beverage and food selections, varying types of seating, and a second floor which can be used for private events, as well as outdoor dining upstairs when weather permits, Medici quickly grew its reputation with locals and visitors alike.

“We’ve built up a clientele, and I think we’ve grown really strong in the area,” Slane said. “We have a lot of regular guests who visit us quite often.” He said many of Medici’s patrons are often from out-of-town.

“With the development of Uptown over the years, the restaurant has become even more of a draw, and a strong anchor for Uptown,” Slane observed. He said Medici and Uptown have “made for a good team which helps promote ‘the walking, shopping, eating’ kind of entertainment area,” Slane said.

In speaking about events the restaurant has had previously over the years similar to what will take place Saturday, Slane said, “Really, I enjoy that our events kind of focus on all the businesses in Uptown. We’re always supportive of all of those businesses joining us for such events.”

Such street celebrations in recent years have featured, not just Medici, but a supporting cast of Uptown shops such as Sugar Mama’s Bakery, Stave Pub, and other businesses which have joined in and benefitted from the crowds also wanting their business.

Medici has roughly 90 employees, mostly college students, Slane said. There are only five staffers who have been with the restaurant during its entire decade. Slane himself has been employed there for seven years.

Slane said while he can’t point to a specific reason the restaurant has held on to local employees, he said he believes it’s “because many of them enjoy their work. We have a great atmosphere here for them.”

Slane said out-of-towners staying in the Uptown area often tell him Medici is frequently recommended by the staffs of Uptown’s two hotels – Bloomington-Normal Marriott, and Hyatt Place Hotel. The two hotels face each other along Broadway St. in Uptown, and are a quick walk from the lodgings.

“People walk in and get a feeling of it being a somewhat more metropolitan area,” Slane said. He added everybody from business people to families with kids make up the mix in the restaurant’s clientele.

By Steve Robinson | May 12, 2018 - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Hud Venerable is back in the Twin Cities after having spent from 2009 until last summer at Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox. Prior to leaving for Lincoln-Way Central, Venerable was the familiar face as head football coach at Normal Community High School. He returned to the Twin Cities last summer to take the Athletic Director post at Bloomington Central Catholic.

When I caught up with him, Venerable was in the midst of a celebration at the end of Illinois High School Association Class 2A boys’ basketball tourney where the Saints finished in third place having beaten Pinckneyville.

“I remember when I got hired, they told me we were pretty good at boys’ basketball and we had the makings of a good team last year,” Venerable said about what he had heard about the team he celebrated with on the Carver Arena floor in Peoria in March.

As the Saints were hoisting their trophy in March, Venerable, who had been head football coach at NCHS before moving on to Lincoln-Way Central in 2008, was looking forward to BCC’s spring sports season.

During his first season at BCC as athletic director, “First, you observe a lot,” Venerable explained. “You’re trying to get to know people. You’re trying to get to know coaches. I’ve just been doing a lot of observing, watching, and just learning the ins and outs of the school.”

Any new incoming AD knows “you don’t want to make changes year one,” Venerable said. “You’re just trying to get your feet settled and look ahead to the second year.” He said being hired last July, considered late the way schools and their sports calendars are concerned, pushed him to meet quickly with fall and winter sports coaches and had him bracing to turn his attention to spring sports when I caught up with him in Peoria.

In 14 seasons patrolling the Ironmen sidelines, Venerable’s teams won over 90 games and had one undefeated season, in 2006, going 14-0. In addition to showing his players the way to victory and maturity, he also appears to have inspired his players.

Case in point would be Derek Logue, who played for Venerable’s Class 6A championship squad during his junior year. Logue became a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, and had been part of the coaching staff at Effingham High School the past three years. Logue will take the helm at Heyworth High School this summer.

“I’m very proud of Derek,” Venerable said. “He’ll do a good job. That’s awesome.”

Venerable also had glowing things to say about BCC’s administration in the time he’s been there. “John Foster’s a wonderful principal,” Venerable said. “The people of Central Catholic have been great. It’s been a really enjoyable experience.”

Being a smaller school compared to when he worked in public education, Venerable explained, “We’ve got so many good programs at Central, so many strong programs, there’s a lot of tradition, a lot of history, so I want to continue to build on those things.”

“He’s a great guy,” said Father Joseph Baker, head chaplain at BCC, of Venerable. “He’s doing a lot of good stuff for our program. He’s very popular and supports everything we’re about.”

Standing on the Carver Arena court not far from his new AD, Baker added, “He wants our kids to grow in every way, not just as athletes.”

All teachers, administrators, and coaches join parents in wanting that, and it appears BCC has hired the right man to help in that effort with Saints players from what I heard. Venerable said when he moved back into town, he wound up not too far from where he lived when he coached at NCHS.

From what I learned, it sounds like what he learned the first time he was here never left him and as a result, Venerable was able to inspire kids and staff and parents in New Lenox, and return to the Twin Cities to continue providing that inspiration.

By Steve Robinson | May 10, 2018 - 10:20 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board voted unanimously at their regularly-scheduled meeting on May 9 to approve a two-year contract with the union which represents its teaching staff. The pact with Unit Five Education Association (UFEA) members increases salaries for beginning teachers to $37,000 annually. That boosts their pay from the prior starting salary of just over $34,000, explained Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, in explaining what prompted the increase. Salaries for second year teachers will start at $37,600.

Explaining the decision to make the increase, Daniel said, “We want to be competitive. We know that with the national teacher shortage, we have to be competitive, and if we’re going to bring young educators to Unit 5 and Bloomington-Normal.”

Daniel said this increase moves where the district stands on paying teachers to “at about mid-range. We’d love to do more, but, again, we do have budget constraints.” He thanked UFEA members for what he called “one of the most amicable negotiations I’ve ever been a part of.” He said that was because both sides were “like-minded and had a common goal.”

Newly-elected UFEA President Lindsey Dickenson said the teachers’ union vote on the contract “passed with flying colors.”

Hoose Expansion To Be On Docket: At their lone meeting in July, Board members will vote to decide whether to approve construction at Colene Hoose Elementary School which would expand the space used by the school’s Behavioral Emotion Support Team, or BEST. BEST provides intensive behavioral and emotional support for students who have such difficulties. The school has sought to expand the building at its eastern end to accommodate students and concentrate services toward one end of the building.

The school would hope to put a bus lane near that end once the expansion is complete so that BEST students and teachers would have of an individual entrance and exit to serve those students’ needs, explained Hoose Principal Dr. Adam Zbrozek. Colene Hoose Elementary is Unit 5’s hub for students who have such difficulties. The program was started over 30 years ago and originally served 2nd through 5th grade students. In 2011, Kindergarten and 1st grade students were added to the program.

The BEST program has grown to need to service 30 students by the beginning of next school year without there having been any changes in the size of the original space for which it was established when the program began, Zbrozek explained.

The proposed addition for the program would be at the building’s east end and be 5,200-square-foot. That would allow the school to add a quartet of 900-square-foot classrooms and a common learning area. The current space used by the BEST program will get redesigned to provide a larger student calming room, and a sensory room which offers interactive equipment. A conference room would also be added.

A current playground area outside the east side of the building would need to be moved as a result of the expansion. The total cost of the project would be $1.2 million, $725,000 of which will come from school land dedication fees developers pay when plats are recorded by the county. The remainder would come from the district’s working cash fund.

School Bus Acquisitions Approved: As part of the Board’s omnibus agenda, the governing body approved the bus replacement cost schedule, which includes purchase of 11 new 2019 model year 42-seat vehicles at a cost of $806,761. Also as part of the group of vehicles the district will purchase are 10 77-passenger buses, either 2017 or 2018 model year, and four transit vans. In all, a total of 32 vehicles will cost Unit 5 over $2.3 million.

Another omnibus agenda item approved was a five-year agreement for the lease and purchase of additional transportation vehicles in an amount not to exceed $2,325,000 at an interest rate not to exceed 3.5 percent.

New Administrators Coming To Schools In Fall: When school resumes in August, some Unit 5 schools will have new administrators in the corner office. The announcements concerning these changes were announced during the meeting. Cari Oester, a 13-year veteran educator, will be the new principal at Glenn Elementary. She taught in Naperville for two years and eight years in the Olympia School District in Stanford before joining Unit 5 in 2015. She has been an Assistant Principal with Pepper Ridge Elementary and Cedar Ridge Elementary. This summer she will be completing her Superintendent Certificate through ISU.

At Oakdale Elementary this fall, Elizabeth Holtz will become that school’s principal after having served as assistant principal there. She has also had experience as an assistant principal at Parkside Elementary.

Leslie Davenport will become principal at Fox Creek Elementary this fall. She is currently that school’s assistant principal. She spent nine years teaching Science and Language Arts at Parkside Junior High School along with coaching girls’ basketball. Previously, she taught for two years in Chicago Public Schools and three at a private school in Hinsdale, IL.

Terry Gliege will be a new assistant principal at Normal Community West High School this fall. He’s currently teaching there. Gliege has been an educator for 14 years, 10 of those in Unit 5. He started his career in the Chicago Public Schools and has served on building and district leadership teams in Unit 5, and has worked as n Academic Assistance Program Co-coordinator, Credit Recovery Teacher, Assistant Speech Team Coach, and previously served as the JV Soccer coach at West.

Glenn Elementary’s “Good News”: Maureen Backe, principal of Glenn Elementary School, reported to Board members that The students of the 3W Unit at Glenn held an all-school talent show on the evening of April 4 to support St. Jude Children’s Hospital, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and Home Sweet Home Ministries. In total, the talent show raised over $280 for the charities, Backe reported.

The idea for the talent show began when their teacher challenged a small group of the kids to come up with an idea for a community service project in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Earlier in the year, the class read an article in their Scholastic News magazines explaining that events would be held across the country in recognition of the 50th anniversary of King’s death. The team began organizing tryouts and developing a rubric that the adult judges could use to select the talent for the show. Soon the entire class was involved planning various activities for each of the selected charity organizations. The activities the children took part in included a clothing/food/book drive which was organized for Home Sweet Home Ministries. Also, Origami and drawing lessons were planned to support PETA, and friendship bracelets were crafted to be sold in support St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Students also spent time publicizing the event by making posters and writing announcements. Members of the school’s third grade hosts for the event developed the order of the acts and wrote their own scripts. Students also made up the stage crew for the show. A total of 20 acts ranging from dancers to roller skaters to instrumentalists performed for a crowd of well over 200 people.

District’s “Good News”: Academic Cultural Technological Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) Program is a yearlong enrichment program designed to recruit, stimulate, improve and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among high school students. It was developed in 1978 to enhance and showcase the academic and artistic achievement of primarily African-American high school students by mobilizing the adult community to serve as mentors and coaches for students in the areas of the STEM, humanities, performing arts, visual arts and business.

The 8th Annual Bloomington-Normal ACT-SO “Olympics of the Mind” Competition was on Saturday, April 28 consisting of 19 students. A total of 25 medals were awarded during the awards ceremony Sunday, April 29, at Illinois State University’s Bone Student Center. All medalists also receive a small scholarship. The gold medalists will travel to San Antonio, Texas, to compete in the National NAACP ACT-SO Competition on July 12 – 15 for national medals and scholarship awards. Unit 5’s gold medalists and their school and event they qualified in are: Jessica Bynum, Normal Community High School – Filmmaking (2017 National Gold Medalist – Filmmaking); Keajia “Keke” Hardin – NCHS and Bloomington Area Career Center, Culinary Arts; Alexis Starks, NCHS – Photography (2017 National Gold Medalist – Photography). Silver Medalists named are: Ambria Maddox, NCHS and BACC – Sculpture. Bronze Medalists and their category: Faith Jones, NCHS – Dramatics; and Rebekah Nielsen, Normal Community West High School and, BACC – Culinary.

Bloomington Area Career Center’s “Good News”: SkillsUSA is a national partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. SkillsUSA helps each student excel. We provide educational programs, events and competitions that support career and technical education (CTE) in the nation’s classrooms.

Each year SkillsUSA Illinois heads to Springfield, IL in April for the annual State Leadership and Skills Conference (SLSC), a showcase of career and technical education students. More than 2,000 people — including students, teachers, and business partners — attended the multi-day event. At the event students compete hands-on in 100 different trade, technical and leadership fields. Students work against the clock and each other, proving their expertise in occupations such as electronics, computer-aided drafting, precision machining, medical assisting and culinary arts.

This year’s winners from within Unit 5 include: From NCHS, Health Knowledge Bowl participants Taylor Whetsell, Chloe Wright, Jade Carlock who finished with a silver medal;·in Job Interview Skills, Chloe Wright, who earned a Silver medal; In Nurse Assisting, Elizabeth Richards who finished with a silver medal; In Job Demo, Bailey Branham, who finished with a Silver medal. From Normal Community West High School, Matthew Manzella earned a gold medal in TeamWorks competition; Kayla Jones earned a gold medal in Medical Terminology competition; and Rebekah Hagberg earned a gold medal in the Cosmetology competition.

In addition, the district’s speech language pathologists were recognized for the work they do with students at all grade levels throughout the year.