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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Steve Robinson | January 18, 2021 - 3:00 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Following a public hearing required by the State, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board discussed considering a motion to submit a request to Illinois State Board of Education to renew a waiver allowing the district to maintain the fee the district charges for driver’s education courses. The hearing was part of the regularly-scheduled meeting of school board members who met in the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School on Jan. 13.

The Board’s vote on the waiver renewal will take place at a future meeting. If approved by the Board at that time, it would be sent on to Illinois General Assembly for approval, and should that governing body approve it, would last five years, expiring in spring 2026.

During discussion regarding the waiver, Board President Amy Roser explained the district wished to maintain the fee the district charges for those courses to stay at a rate not to exceed $450. By State law, Illinois school districts can charge a “reasonable fee” not to exceed $50, which can be increased to up to $250 after a public hearing. Unit 5 charges $250.

The district originally applied for the waiver five years ago, said Curt Richardson, attorney for the district, in his explanation to Board members. He said this request is different because the earlier request involved asking for a modification to the application whereas the current request was for a waiver. He said once the waiver request is received by ISBE, that body forwards such requests on to Illinois General Assembly which will vote whether or not to approve it.

The waiver, Richardson said, if passed, would allow Unit 5 to maintain the increased fee. State Statute 27-24.2 of the State School Code, allows districts to charge “a reasonable fee of up to $250” after a public hearing is held. “We don’t, actually, right now charge the total $450,” Richardson explained. “It just gives us a little room if we need to.”

In fact, Richardson said, personnel costs to operate it is what takes up 90 percent of the program’s cost. He added the requested increase “allows us to provide a quality program.” As a result, he said, the district can provide more in-car training. Without it, he said, students would have to wait longer for such training and the district would have to pay an outside firm for such training.

He said if the district had to pay extra money for the training, which might affect other courses the district could offer students. Richardson added once the five-year period ends, the district wants to be able to end it with a goal of telling the State that 85 percent of students who took the course came away with a grade of “B” or better. There were no public comments, either written or in person, before Board members voted.

Available COVID Testing Among Items In Superintendent’s Comments: District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weichel reported to Board members students returned to school buildings on Jan.11. Dr. Weikle said she “was pleased with how well our students have acclimated getting back into the buildings and into a routine with their teachers” after months of remote learning from home via computer.

She added Unit 5 schools will receive $1 million in on-site COVID testing, thanks to two local businesses. Rivian Automotive and Reditus Laboratories have partnered to provide the service to the district. Rivian donated $500,000 to Pekin-based Reditus Laboratories for COVID testing and Reditus matched that amount. That will provide for 9,000 tests. The tests will be available specifically for Unit 5 students and staff at no cost to the district.

The logistics of the testing will be determined in the coming weeks and will be shared with district families when finalized. Dr. Weikle explained no one will be required to take a test. Testing will be done on a completely voluntary basis for students and district staff. “Such convenience and timeliness of providing on-site testing for our staff and students will help the district better monitor and control the spread of COVID in the schools,” she said.

Board Gets First Look At 2021-22 School Year Calendar: Michelle Lamboley, assistant superintendent, provided Board members with a first glance at the district’s 2021-22 school year calendar. She added the committee forming the next school year’s calendar tried to model the upcoming calendar after the one the district would have had this school year had the COVID-19 pandemic not disrupted matters. Wednesday, Aug. 18 is scheduled as the first full day of classes for the new school year.

Lamboley said, typically, a school improvement day would be scheduled for a Friday in April at the end of the month. But for the coming year, the committee opted to move it up to mid-April. Other than that, she explained, there are no major changes to the coming year.

Board Member Barry Hitchins asked that the upcoming calendar include a note that late start dates, those used by district teachers for in-service events, not apply to the district’s early learning program participants.

Board Member Alan Kalitzky said news about an upcoming calendar “is a great sign of progress that the district is planning to move forward with, what is hopefully, a traditional school year. And I am hopeful that we will see it to fruition.”

Next Board Meeting Scheduled For Feb. 10 At Normal Community West High School: This was the only meeting scheduled for the Board this month. The next Board meeting is slated for Wednesday, Feb. 10 in the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School starting at 6:30p.m.

NORMAL – A 4-3 vote by Normal Town Council members during the governing body’s remote meeting Monday night resulted in Council members approving a resolution for entering into an agreement with Midwest Fiber Recycling so the company can operate drop box recycling in town.

Normal’s decision to approve the resolution now hinges on whether Bloomington City Council and McLean County Board members will agree to join the three-year intergovernmental agreement Town Council approved with the Normal-based company. Mayor Chris Koos and council members Chemberly Cummings, Kevin McCarthy and Karyn Smith voted in favor of the resolution with Council Members Stan Nord, Scott Preston, and Kathleen Lorenz voting to oppose the measure.

When all three sides agree to the intergovernmental agreement, it would last for three years beginning Jan. 1 and running through Dec. 31, 2023. It would mean 7-day pick-up service at four sites in the Twin Cities, with site locations modified by agreement. There would be base processing fees charged by the ton and depending on material type, either paper, cardboard, or mixed containers.

Using drop boxes from 2013-2018, the Town collected recycling, delivering the materials to Midwest Fiber Recycling for processing, according to the report on the matter for the Council by Wayne Aldrich, Town Public Works Director.

In response to a question from Preston, City Manager Pam Reece said language in the agreement was being finalized by parties from each of the three sides. The contract presented to Council Monday, she said, was so Town residents could continue to take advantage of the service.

Council Member Kevin McCarthy explained he saw only positives in wanting to enter into the agreement with Bloomington and the county. First, the Town has a clause that will allow it to opt out of the agreement if there are issues which distress the Town; the Town now is not shouldering the cost alone once the City and County Board vote to approve the measure; and citizens’ desire to continue to use the drop boxes is still in demand. He added the fact that sharing the expense of the program with the City and County is “a win” for Normal.

Preston said he would prefer the Town continue the current agreement where the Midwest Fiber maintains charging the Town $7,500 monthly for the services rendered. He also said he would favor extending the Town’s current arrangement with the recycler.

Nord pointed out an ordinance passed by the Council in 2018 allowed for apartment dwellers to take advantage of recycling services provided by the Town. He then pivoted to the current action, saying, “All of our residents have the ability to recycle. If they have Town trash pick-up, they can recycle at the curb. If they live in an apartment, it’s mandated they have recycling there. That leads me to say this drop box service is not offering something that our constituents don’t already have.”

One resident who addressed Council members on this resolution during public comments urged its rejection. Karl Sila, a former write-in candidate for a Council seat in the general election held in April 2019, said the Council was “asking taxpayers to fund another ‘want,’ not ‘need,’ recycling. He went on to say information in the packet Council members received on the matter indicated over 70 percent of our recycling is not cost effective, and thus isn’t cost effective and uses resources.

“If the Council cares about Normal in these tough financial times, and cares about the environment as well, you should not rubber stamp this proposal spending more taxpayer money on something that sounds good, and you should do something that is good” Sila concluded, finishing by suggesting Town Staff should continue looking for a “more streamlined approach” to recycling considering the community’s present economic situation.

Koos Praises Town Staff Over Response To “Generational” Ice Storm: Town crews went into action to clear streets after the ice storm Koos described as “generational.” “The storm did do a lot of devastation in this community,” he added. “It’s a generational storm. It’s been a long time since I have seen damage like this. And I wanted to acknowledge Town Staff has been on it from day one. They were on the spot quick about getting ice off the streets so you could move about.

“I wanted to give kudos to Town Staff,” the Mayor added. “They always step up when they’re needed, and when they’re needed, they do exceptional work.”

By Steve Robinson | December 22, 2020 - 10:37 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – The Town of Normal has always taken pride in the fact that, even when there were daunting construction projects such as the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and the Hyatt Hotel in progress, the Town’s bond rating remained at a high level for creditors to make note of and residents to have some pride in. Toward the end of Dec. 21’s Normal Town Council session, City Manager Pam Reece let Council members know the Town was notified by Fitch Ratings, a top credit rating company with offices worldwide, has reaffirmed the Town’s triple-A bond rating.

“I cannot tell you how excited we are to hear that news,” Reece told Council members during the Council session held remotely as a result of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. “We did not ask them to do a review. It was just one of their standard reviews.” She thanked Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn and the Town Finance staff for their efforts. She also thanked “all the Town departments who worked very hard to be fiscally responsible, also to the elected officials.”

Reece said receiving the Triple-A bond rating “is an affirmation that supports that we have ample reserves, and what the credit bureau calls superior budgetary flexibility.” She said the credit bureau noted “the Town takes an active role in economic development.” She thanked all those involved in helping to achieve the rating.

All Council members offered Reece and the staff congratulations on the achievement. Fitch first assigned a Triple-A rating to the Town in April 2010.

Capital Investment Plan Presented: Huhn presented Council members with the Town’s annual report concerning its Capital Investment Plan (CIP) for Fiscal Years 2021 through 2025. Huhn explained to Council members the Town has about 130 projects the Town would like to see addressed totaling $100,008,233 in cost. The largest item to be addressed with those funds, roughly 47 percent, will address needs concerning water and sewer utility service. Council members voted 6-1 to approve the plan with Council Member Stan Nord casting the lone opposing vote.

The second biggest concern which will be addressed, taking up roughly 30 percent of the funds is transportation development. Huhn said that will include maintaining roads, bridges, sidewalks, and curbs. The next category of items to be addressed using 18 percent of funds is capital assets which primarily includes all types of vehicles used by varying Town departments including police, fire, and facilities management. Parks and open space development will receive 3 percent of the funding, while public facilities will be addressed using 2 percent of the money.

Children’s Museum Update: Council members heard from Beth Whisman, Town Cultural Director and director of Children’s Discovery Museum concerning what CDM and the Normal Theater, both of which have been shuttered since the pandemic began in March have been doing despite those closings. Whisman said CDM has given away 8,000 Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math – or STEAM – activity kits to keep students engaged.

She said STEAM kits have been provided to a number of local agencies which children benefit from including: Unit 5 and Bloomington School District 87; Unity Community Center; Bloomington Day Care; YWCA; Bloomington-Normal Boys & Girls Club; Heartland Head Start; and Scott Early Learning Center.

Whisman said the closure has given CDM staff time to work on protocols necessary for when the Museum can open its doors again to visitors per Restore Illinois guidelines. She said CDM has received over $28,000 in grants for education outreach. She added that “when you have 140,000 visitors on a regular basis coming through your building, it’s rare that you have a few months to do big projects all at once.”

She informed Council members CDM staffers have used time while the museum was closed to the public to making improvements to both exhibits and to the building itself. She added the Museum store “has been vital to the Museum, keep a front door the public, providing access to our take-home kits and curbside service as well as our in-store sales opportunities.”

CDM has managed to maintain their revenue streams through its annual Halloween event and sales of its “Camp In A Box” kits, Whisman added. She said CDM will continue to offer its “Daily Dose Of Play” online as a means of keeping kids active once the weather gets colder once playtime is forced indoors.

One Committee Appointment, Two Committee Reappointments Announced: Before the Council session closed, Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy announced the names of new members to two separate public boards and the reappointment of another individual to the McLean County Regional Planning Commission.

Michael Pettorini has been reappointed to the McLean County Regional Planning Commission. He was originally appointed to the Commission to fill a vacancy in March and as a result of this reappointment will now be serving a full term which expires Dec. 31, 2023. A 30-year resident of McLean County now residing in Normal, Pettorini is employed by State Farm with expertise in matters centering on facilities management, project management, and property management.

Rachel Lund has been appointed to serve on the Normal Planning Commission. Lund will fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Dave Shields, who resigned from the Commission due to relocating out of Normal. Lund’s term on NPC expires March 31, 2023.

Through her employment at State Farm Insurance, Lund is involved with the Women’s Networking Group as well as the User Experience Research Group. She has previously worked as an Engineer of Human Systems Integration at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, VA. Her accomplishments while at NSWC Dahlgren included serving as Department Chair of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Social Media Manager of the Human Factors Engineering Technical Advisory Group.

Mandava Rao has been appointed to serve on the Board of The Twin Cities’ public transit system, Connect Transit. Rao will fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Mike McCurdy, who resigned from the Board due to a job-created relocation out of Normal. Rao’s term on the Board expires June 30.

Rao was named Normal’s Citizen Of The Year in 2016, and a year later, was also recognized by Telugu Association of North America (TANA) with a prestigious service award at their 21st national convention for rendering services at national level.

Rao has numerous civic activities to his credit including being a founding member of the Minority and Police Partnership, an active leader within Not In Our Town, past president of the McLean County Indian Association, and has served as chairperson of the Town of Normal’s Human Relation’s Commission.