NORMAL – In recent months, the Town of Normal sought input at public forums concerning how the Town should spend Community Block Development Block Grant dollars. There were a wide range of ideas proposed by citizens in those events. On Monday night, at their regularly-scheduled session Tuesday in Council Chambers, Normal Town Council members unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the filing of the Town’s CDBG for 2020 through 2024 and the action plan for 2020 and 2021. The meeting was held Tuesday as a result of Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.

Town Associate Planner Taylor Long informed Council members explained the CDBG is a five-year plan and that the funds anticipated for the Town should start coming in during the summer. He further explained that over the next five years, the Council will be consulted how they desire to spend CDBG dollars. In addition, most likely every January, the Council will receive an update on how CDBG money has been spent by the Town and will be asked for input concerning other needs the grant money could be used for.

In a memo Long wrote to Council members regarding CDBG, Long explained the grant is based on a formula from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and requires the Town to develop a five-year consolidation plan which acts as a guide for how the money would be spent.

Based on feedback from residents, Town Staff proposed the following objectives for the Consolidation Plan include, among other things: Youth education activities, down payment assistance, sidewalk and ADA ramp improvements, and job training/workforce development.

Long explained that Illinois State University students living off-campus in town will be counted as part of the 2020 census, which will help the Town in terms of counting residents and contribute to funds the Town can receive as a result.

Council Hears Presentation From Climate Action Campaign: A group seeking the Town’s help as well as help of other government entities in preparing for what they see as weather extremes which could affect the area in the future gave a brief presentation before Council adjourned. Members of the group Climate Action Campaign included retired Illinois State University Professor Bill Rau, who addressed Council members saying concerns about changes in extreme temperatures affecting the area are a direct result of climate change. Rau had support from four citizens who spoke in the meeting’s public comments section.

While Council members took no action on the matter, Council Member Stan Nord told the gathering the matter needs to be looked into by the Town.

Lawsuit Over Uptown Mural Dismissed: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by artists who created the Uptown mural the artists filed against the Town and the developer of the Trail East project. City Manager Pam Reece said following Monday’s meeting that the judge did that, essentially because the judge ruled the artists have no case because the mural still exists and the Town has shown a willingness to move it from its current location at 104 E. Beaufort St.

A group of artists filed a lawsuit last spring concerned the mural would be demolished when construction begins on the $30 million Trail East project in Uptown. Normal officials have given reassurances to the artists the mural will be moved and not destroyed. Normal and Trail East developer Bush Construction sought a halt to the lawsuit asking the judge to end the suit in November. The future location of the mural is still unknown.

It’s still unclear where the mural will be moved. That delicate process will cost around $100,000.

The mural has served as the centerpiece in a larger discussion concerning the project versus preserving buildings which are part of the Town’s history.

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

• Approval of minutes of the rescheduled regular meeting held Jan. 6, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Jan. 15, 2020.

• A resolution authorizing an agreement for construction materials testing services for the 2020 construction season with Bloomington-based Ramsey Geotechnical Engineering, LLC (RGE).

• A resolution to appropriate $1,550,000 of Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds for resurfacing of various streets for the 2020 MFT Street Resurfacing Project.

• An ordinance accepting permanent easements in connection with the Glenn Ave. Bridge Reconstruction Project.

By Steve Robinson | January 18, 2020 - 10:53 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – At one point or another in our high school careers, we might have groused about grades we received in certain classes. While such things are all part of what adults label as teenage angst, students from Normal Community High School believe there is something more problematic in the grading system used by the school and brought their complaints to members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board during the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting at district headquarters Jan. 15.

Students and parents, numbering around 30, filled the gallery in the school board meeting area of the building on Hovey Ave. In describing their concerns with the grading system, the students who spoke labeled the grading system using words like “inconsistent,” and “confusing.”

Standards-Based Grading uses a system which evaluates the student using a model that evaluates the student using a scale based on proficiency, and ranges from 1-to-4. The students who spoke to Board members argue the scale does not fit for all classes and teachers do not use it consistently across the board regardless of the subject.

“Standards-Based Grading does not affect students’ lives,” argued Conner McClellan in his comments to Board members, adding grades drop if there are two or more errors noticed by teachers.

“It’s a major problem of inconsistency from class to class,” explained Swetha Veluvolu. “We’re not learning. We’re just suffering.” Veluvolu asked Board members to reconsider the district’s use of this style of grading.

Another student, Emily Dusin, said there is another concern for some students where this testing system is concerned – test anxiety. “Students who have test anxiety suffer as a result of this system. How does this help us in college or in life?” She stated there are no “re-do’s” under this system.

District Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ray Epperson told the gathering he was of the belief the Standards-Based System was what was concerning to the students, but rather, the format upon which the students are graded which was at issue for the students’ grievances. He said such matters are continuing to be looked at in discussions between the district office and NCHS teachers.

Parkside Junior High Introduces Board To Four “Good News” Items: Parkside Junior High School was able to demonstrate three times the pride when they were spotlighted in three “good news” items presented to Board members. PJHS Principal Suzi Hesser introduced Board members to five students who won “Judge’s Choice Awards at the Illinois Elementary School Association Area Speech Contest on Nov. 9. The students are: Isaiah Eeten, Will Marvel, Gabrielle Montgomery, Katie Van Heuklon, and Corinna Thomas.

Hesser said students worked throughout September and October memorizing a solo, a duet, or small group skit and performed those before judges at the contest. They also practiced stage blocking and working to perform their pieces within a specified time period. Students were prohibited from using props or wearing costumes for performances, leaving them to use facial and vocal expressions to show conflicts. Eleven PJHS students participated in the event where students from a total of 124 schools took.

That was followed by a Congratulatory recognition for PJHS Band Director Jennifer Bolton for receiving IESA’s Distinguished Service Award. The award was created as a way to recognize, preserve and promote interscholastic fine arts. Directors are chosen for this honor by IESA Board of Directors and the association’s Music Advisory Committee. Selection is based upon director contributions, enthusiasm, and positive effect on students.

Concerning PJHS’ next bit of good news, junior high school band students in the state of Illinois are encouraged to audition for the state band. This is the highest accomplishment that any junior high band member can achieve with 84 of the top band musicians in the-state selected to participate. Hesser was smiling as she announced PJHS has had five students were chosen for the State band. Those students are Ethan Snyder, Rolen Schlipmann, Tori Tackett, Leah Renollet, and Ava Eames. Hesser told the gathering those students were the only ones from the entire Bloomington/Normal area for such recognition, with two of the students being selected as first chair. Those students were Schlipmann, who places the euphonium and Ethan Snyder who plays the trombone.

Lastly, Hesser spoke about an improvement made to the school building itself. She expressed excitement as she spoke on behalf of her school to thank the district for its support regarding energy management at her building. As of January 1, 2020, PJHS earned an Energy Star Rating of 87. That turns out to be a turnaround for the building because it had an Energy Star Rating of 10 four years ago. The rating is an 88 percent improvement in performance. Hesser said that improvement translates to a savings of $444,533.

In 2016, PJHS proved to be the worst performing school related to energy consumption. The building’s equipment had a heating and cooling system that was 42 years old equipment and was performing poorly, only earning an Energy Star Rating of 10. Board approval to sell bonds made paying for improvements possible, Adelman said. That included implementation of a geo-thermal ground heating and cooling source.

Currently, Adelman added, the district is working on Normal Community High School and Kingsley Junior High School and those improvements will lead toward those buildings to be able to earn energy star certification in the future. PJHS is the 3rd of Unit 5’s six largest buildings to achieve energy star, he said, adding EJHS and Normal Community West High School are energy star certified as well.

Board Unanimously Approves Money For Working Cash Fund: Board members unanimously approved issuance of an amount not to exceed $29 million in working cash bonds for use by the district to help the district maintain operations for the school years 2020-21 and 2021-22. The purpose for this was to increase the amount of working cash for the district. A public hearing was required by law to be held prior to the Board vote. At that hearing, no members of the public spoke. Interest rate assumptions based upon market conditions as of December 2, 2019 plus 0.25 percent for working cash bonds and 0.5 percent for life safety bonds.

In an item related to finance for the district, Board members also heard from Robert Lewis III, managing director, PMA Securities LLC, who informed Board members in discussing a financing plan for the district that included the proposed timeline related to the bonds. That timeline included the Board approving a resolution of the selling of the bonds at their Feb. 26 meeting; the bonds being sold as early as June 16 and bonds closing, allowing the district to receive the cash as early as July 14.

Busing Consultant Leaves District With Decision To Make: In recent years, although the district has outsourced its busing services, Unit 5 has pondered keeping that service as one done in-house. At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, a number of reports of late bus arrivals at both ends of the school day had Board members pondering whether to continue its association with Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. Once matters were corrected to the Board’s satisfaction, the relationship between the two, which has existed since 2012, continued. Prior to the agreement with First Student, Unit 5 had been doing busing on its own for several years.

But in October, Board members approved hiring of Charleston, S. C.-based School Bus Consultants, an affiliate of TransPar Group, to learn what the possibility would be if the district considered making the bus service workable in-house.

Phil McConnell, a consultant with School Bus Consultants, told Board members depending on the decision the district chooses, be it continuing with First Student, contracting with another company, or going ahead with independently operating a busing service, documented and enforced procedures and policies must be in place from the beginning of the arrangement.

Calendar For School Year 2020-21 Approved: As part of the Board’s omnibus agenda, which Board members unanimously passed, among other items, the school year 2020-21 calendar. That school year is slated to begin with a full-day of classes on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

Next Board Meeting Feb. 12: This is the only Board meeting scheduled for this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, Feb. 12 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | January 13, 2020 - 10:23 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – After two rounds of interviews with candidates in December to find a successor to District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel, Normal-based Unit 5 School Board introduced Dr. Kristen Kendrick-Weikle as the person who will become the district’s 13th superintendent since the district was founded in 1948. By being approved by a 6-1 vote during a special School Board session Monday at district headquarters, Dr. Kendrick-Weikle also makes history by becoming the second female superintendent in the district’s history.

Dr. Kendrick-Weikle will assume her duties as superintendent on July 1, succeeding Dr. Daniel, who has served as superintendent since July 1, 2014. Dr. Daniel announced in September that he and his wife had just become first-time grandparents, and were desiring to move to the Chicago area to be closer to family. The Board began a search for Dr. Daniel’s successor shortly afterward.

While Board President Barry Hitchins, joined by Board Members Mike Trask, Meta Mickens-Baker, Taunia Leffler, Alan Kalitzky, and Amy Roser by voting in the affirmative for Dr. Kendrick-Weikle, Board Member Dr. Kelly Pyle cast the lone opposing vote.

Following the vote, Dr. Kendrick-Weikle told the gathering, “I’ve always held Unit 5 in high regard and I’m happy at where I’m at but when Unit 5 became open, it was just too intriguing to pass up. I’m excited to get know you better and work with you, and really do great things for our kids.”

Dr. Kendrick-Weikle is currently superintendent at Warrensburg Latham District 11, which is smaller than Unit 5, with just an elementary school, junior high, and high school, the combined K-12 population within the three schools is 973 students, according to the website niche.com.

Dr. Kendrick-Weikle will start at Unit 5 with a three-year contract with a salary of $185,000. She has previously served as director of special education for Special Education Association of Adams County and was a principal in Quincy Public Schools. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Special Education and Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, both from Quincy University. She earned her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Western Illinois University.

Dr. Kendrick-Weikle and her husband, Skip, are parents to six children ranging from a junior in high school to a 26-year-old and have one grandchild.

Media were informed by Hitchins there were 32 applicants for the position which Oak Park-based search firm School Exec Connect narrowed to six candidates to start. After a first round of interviews with Board members, that number was reduced to three before the Board selected Dr. Kendrick-Weikle during sessions that covered five days in December.

Before the vote was taken at Monday’s meeting, Trask told the gathering of around 40 people present for the process for selecting a new superintendent involved each member not having tunnel vision toward their own views and listening to the viewpoints of the other six Board members.

Selecting a new superintendent “is not a process to take lightly,” added Mickens-Baker, who reminded the gathering this was her third time to experience it. “Please know we took the process seriously in the process of deciding which candidate was the best fit given the profile that our community, Board, and staff had developed,” she added. “I look forward to working with you.”

Mickens-Baker the search firm which brought candidates to Unit 5, Oak Park-based School Exec Connect, “did a really good job of preparing us for the challenge of finding superintendents.” She added each of the other superintendent candidates could have brought something to Unit 5.

In explaining her opposing vote to the gathering, and addressing Dr. Kendrick-Weikle directly, Dr. Pyle said she had “tremendous respect for the work you have done at Warrensburg-Latham.”

“It was a very difficult decision, and trying to match them up with a profile of who we thought would be the best person for Unit 5 was a difficult time,” Leffler admitted. “We tried to bring you the best candidate for Unit 5 and we think we’ve done that.”

“This wasn’t just a seven-person responsibility to find a new leader for our school district,” Kalitzky said. “This was an entire community’s responsibility.”

Hitchins, following the meeting, said he was impressed by Dr. Kendrick-Weikle opinions concerning “communication and relationship building. That’s what I think she will bring to this table.”

Second Woman Superintendent in Unit 5 History: Some may be wondering if Dr. Kendrick-Weikle is the first woman to serve as superintendent for the district. Fact is, she is not. Dr. Carol Struck served as interim superintendent for Unit 5 from August 1, 1989 until June 11, 1990.

NORMAL – The officials who help keep a community running often pay for the community to belong to certain civic organizations. At the regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal Town Council on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Council Member Stan Nord challenged the need for such memberships. To Nord’s way of thinking, for a community to formally belong to groups such as the McLean County Chamber of Commerce could be seen as a conflict of interest on the part of the Chamber and other such groups.

In a discussion concerning expenditures for payment by the Town, specifically to McLean County Chamber of Commerce, Nord was able to point out to Council members the Town of Normal had given the Chamber over $43,000 in memberships in 2018. That amount of donation cash dropped to $35,000 in 2019, he said.

He also cited Normal’s Uptown Business Association had received over $10,000 in the form of in-kind donations in 2019. Nord said this bothered him, in part, because the Chamber endorses local political candidates, which he said he sees as a conflict of interest.

Responding to Nord’s summation of the situation, City Manager Pam Reece said to him, “We can cancel our membership.”

But Town Corporation Counsel clarified the matter by explaining to Council members, “There is no conflict of interest because money given to the Chamber, depending on what it given for, either goes into a general fund or a political action committee.”

Nord responded he believed such donations, although separated, don’t cause some people to accept how the money is separated between the funds. He also said the business he operates is a Chamber member and the Chamber had endorsed him in political campaigns.

The meeting agenda had neither any items classified general orders or new business, and Mayor Chris Koos was absent from the session. The only other business for the Council to tend to was to unanimously approve a final development plan of the third phase of the J & M planned unit development near 1000 S. Cottage Ave.

Liquor Commission Imposes Fines, Approves Applications: Prior to the Council session, Council members, serving in their capacity as members of Normal Local Liquor Commission to resolve a set of issues. First, commissioners unanimously approved a fine of $500 for Schnuck’s Markets, Inc., doing business as Schnuck’s, 1750 Bradford Lane for furnishing liquor to a person under age 21 during a liquor audit held Oct. 10. The amount of the fine is the result of this violation being the second offense for this store in two years.

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy, conducting the meeting in place of Liquor Commissioner and Mayor Chris Koos, informed Commissioners the Town continues to be in negotiations with 35 Years, LLC, operators of three Marie’s Place gaming parlors located in town. The three Marie’s Place locations are at 1520 E. College Ave., 115 Susan Dr., Suite H; and 1702 W. College Ave.

Although the W. College Ave. facility has never been open and operating, gaming parlor audits of the other operating facilities by the Town, conducted last February, indicated neither operating business had been selling food nor had they been have adequate food available for sale. The facilities that are open operate by holding a Class O – Limited Hours Liquor License in addition to holding a gaming license.

Commissioners approved a pair of individual liquor licenses during this session, as well. The first going to MHI-Bloomington-Normal Osco, LLC, doing business as Hyatt Place Bloomington-Normal, 200 Broadway for a Class E (Hotel) license. The ownership of the hotel has changed, necessitating the need for a new license.

Another new liquor license was granted unanimously by commissioners to American Multi-Cinema, Inc., Doing business as AMC Normal 14, 201 McKnight St. The license this facility received is a Class R – Theater license.

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

• Approval of minutes of the work session held Dec.6, 2019.

• Approval of the regular Council meeting held Dec. 16, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Jan. 1, 2020.

By Steve Robinson | December 16, 2019 - 10:02 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – An omnibus item on Normal Town Council’s agenda at the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting Monday drew comments after being pulled by one council member. It also was the subject of public comment, as well.

A resolution approving financial support of the COMPACT Workforce Development Program in the amount of $25,000 to help the program continue operating in 2020 drew questions from Council member Stan Nord who asked the item be pulled for discussion as well as from two residents who spoke during public comments.

Up until this resolution, the Town had not contributed funds toward this program since February 2018. Following the discussion concerning this matter, Council members unanimously voted to approve it.

During public comments regarding COMPACT, Normal resident Doug Fansler said he wanted to know how the Town found $25,000 to contribute to the program. Another resident, and former write-in Council candidate, Karl Sila, took issue with not being allowed to discuss items not on the evening’s agenda before making comment on the contribution to COMPACT.

Nord asked City Manager Pam Reece about the amount of money the Town keeps in reserve for items that crop up. Reece said she could not give him the exact dollar amount right then, but reminded the first term Council member the Town tries to maintain a 15 percent reserve of cash for expenditures.

Charlie Moore, Chief Executive Officer of McLean County Chamber of Commerce, told Council members the Chamber receives 42 percent of funding from the Town of Normal and 58 percent of it from the City of Bloomington.

Council Member Kevin McCarthy said the amount the Town provides “is amazingly small to charge for workforce development.”

Moore told Council members the Chamber has “an untapped number of potential employees and we use best practices to help keep students and the community engaged.”

A description of the COMPACT program put together by Town Staff explains COMPACT helps prepare individuals to obtain employment in careers currently and into the future so that individuals in McLean County can help “to have individuals and businesses in McLean County prosper.”

In 2018, Council approved funding of the COMPACT program by giving funding to the BN Advantage initiative in the amount of $67,000. Of that total, $25,000 was to be applied to workforce development, $10,000 to quality of life, and $32,000 applied for marketing. In February that year, Council applied $25,000 to McLean County Chamber of Commerce in support of the COMPACT workforce development program.

Moore added the COMPACT program “has an untapped number of potential employees and uses best practices to help keep students and the community engaged.”

Ordinance Amending Prompts Question From Nord: Another item on the omnibus agenda prompted Nord to ask a question concerning Town involvement. The ordinance in question amended a section of Town Code regarding prohibiting possession and use of cannabis, cannabis paraphernalia, and drug paraphernalia.

Nord inquired as to how preventing sale to minors was handled. Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day informed Nord regulation of cannabis is done through Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation, which oversees the licensing of such operations. Council members voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.

Community Investment Plan Approved: Council members next heard about the Community Investment Plan from for fiscal year 2019-20 to FY 2024-25. Town officials say they use this document to prioritize major capital investments. Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn told Council members he and his staff were very proud of the document and that it involved spending of $95 million over a five year period.

Public Works Director Wayne Aldridge responded to a question from Council Member Kathleen Lorenz concerning funding for the proposed underpass project at Uptown Station which would be used to make going from one rail line to another easier for passengers. Aldrich reminded the Town received a $13 million grant from U.S. Department of Transportation for the project and that the Town itself would be spending a total of $650,000 of its own funds over a two-year period on the project.

On the subject of road repairs, Town Engineer Ryan Otto informed Council members the Town Public Works department coordinates such work with his department to determine repairs needed depending on severity found. Typically, he added, his staff does such repairs from mid-March through mid-November.

When it comes to pothole repair, Aldrich explained the Town tries to take care of major arteries first so as to try to head off needing to do a major repair later on. Council’s vote on CIP at this session was so it could be added to the Town’s overall budget when it comes up for a vote from the Council in January.

The vote on CIP was 6-1 approving with Nord as the lone opposing vote. Following the session, Nord said he didn’t want his vote on CIP to appear to indicate he was agreeing to spend money on, among other items proposed for the Town’s next budget, the Trail East Project. The Trail East Project is a proposed five-story mixed use building the Council approved in January which will be constructed on the east side of the Uptown Roundabout. Nord was not a Council member until his election in April.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting held Dec. 2, 2019.

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

• A motion extending the Diabetes Disease Management Program for one year.