By Steve Robinson | February 19, 2018 - 10:42 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – If you are, or know the parent of a child or young person in a sport that doesn’t have its own facility to cater to those who play the sport, such as Soccer, for example, you’ve heard the conversation before. Those parents yearn for a site their kids can play at within the Twin Cities. Up until recently, there was a facility near Central Illinois Regional Airport which catered to young Soccer players until the Federal Aviation Administration took over the land.

At their regularly-scheduled session Monday, Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to authorize funds for and gave the City Manager authority to enter into an agreement with Clearwater, Fla.-based Sports Facilities Advisory, LLC (SFA) to conduct a feasibility study and economic impact analysis of a multi-sport facility being placed in Town.

Simply because the study is being done should not be an indication a facility is in the works, Council members pointed out as they approved spending an amount not to exceed $47,000 for SFA to conduct the study. “Just because the study says ‘your community is prime for a facility like this’ doesn’t mean we’ll do one,” Council Member Jeff Fritzen said.

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz said studying the need for possibly needing such a facility is worth the cost because of all the other events which use area facilities. She cited the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, known by the nickname, “The Classic,” as another event that draws fans from out-of-town when held annually the four days after Christmas.

Council Member Kevin McCarthy called the study a “pricey idea” but worth it for what is being looked into.

Four firms submitted proposal requests to be selected for the assignment. The firms also had to make in-person presentations to a committee made up of Town officials before the final selection was made as to which firm was selected.

SFA, which has been in business since 2003, will send representatives to make three in-person visits to Normal as part of their research for their final report.

There was public comment before the discussion from two citizens – one for and one opposed. Former Town Council candidate Ron Ulmer spoke against the expenditure, saying no investor had shown interest in a Soccer facility. “If they want Soccer,” Ulmer said, referring to parents, players, and fans who have been seeking a facility, “Have them mount a campaign to rescind order” that would help the local Soccer association put pressure on FAA to let them reuse the land. He cited President Donald Trump seems to favor such actions nationwide.

“I would support this because it would be a community amenity,” said Bob Kohlhase with an opposing view. “It would bring in dollars from visitors.”

Tax Levy For Rivian Motors Abated: By a unanimous vote, Council members approved an ordinance abating the 2017 property tax levy for Rivian Automotive. Doing so was in accordance with the 2016 economic incentive agreement the Town signed with the auto manufacturer. To receive the abatement, Rivian successfully completed a couple of stipulations sought by the Town: To complete its purchase of the former Mitsubishi Motors of North America on the Town’s west end; and invest at least $500,000 in project expenses, but did not include the cost of the former MMNA property. The Town estimates the abated property tax for the Rivian land will equal $74,900 for the Town and $32,300 for the Normal Public Library.

Subway Lease Amendment Approved: With the exception of two omnibus items pulled for discussion, the remaining five items on that list were approved unanimously. The first item pulled from the omnibus agenda concerned an amendment to the lease agreement the Town had with Subway restaurants concerning the franchise operated in Uptown Station. Council members unanimously approved a lease agreement concerning rent to be paid to the Town by Subway Real Estate, LLC, the operators of the Station’s Subway restaurant which has been in operation since Uptown Station opened in 2012.

Subway Real Estate LLC, operator of the Subway restaurant in Uptown Station, was seeking to renew its lease with the Town to continue operations but was seeking, among other things, to extend the base term of the agreement so that it would expire in 2027.

In addition, the ownership of the Subway in Uptown Station has changed owners, and they were seeking to change its rent to fixed monthly payments. Currently, the rent, according to a Town Staff report “is greater of 10% of gross profit or $1,400 per square foot.” Currently, Subway is paying a monthly rent of $1,927.33. The Town has another concern in that the restaurant can only take in a certain amount of money from the restaurant because Uptown Station was constructed in part with the use of tax exempt bonds.

The other item removed from the omnibus agenda concerned an ordinance amending the Town’s liquor code giving restaurant and bar owners the opportunity to serve as early as 9a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Currently, those establishments must not open until 11a.m.

Only the following establishments with the following types of licenses would be affected by the change: Class B (Consumption on premises-Beer only); Class C (Consumption on premises-Beer and Wine); Class D (Consumption on premises-all liquor); Class D (Consumption on premises-all liquor); Class E-Hotels, and Class M-Brewpubs

Under the proposed ordinance, establishment in these categories can now begin sales on Saturday and Sunday at 9a.m. But Fritzen objected to the hours in the amendment and asked if it could not be altered so that the hour serving could begin would be changed to 10a.m. The Council voted down that change by a 5-2 count with Fritzen and Council Member Kathleen Lorenz casting opposing votes. When it came to the original amendment, to begin serving at 9a.m., Council members approved the start time change by a 6-1 vote, with Fritzen voting against it.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Feb. 5, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Feb. 14, 2018

• A motion approving hourly rates and direct costs for 2018 with Clark-Dietz, Inc.: Crawford, Murphy, & Tilly, Inc.; Farnsworth Group; Lewis, Yockey and Brown, Inc.; Maurer-Stutz, Inc.; and Wight and Company to provide engineering services for various Town departments.

• A resolution authorizing an agreement for construction materials testing services for the 2018 construction season with Bloomington-based Ramsey Geotechnical Engineering LLC (RGE).

• A resolution approving a salary schedule adjustment for classified employees to reflect the cost of living adjustment.

By Steve Robinson | February 14, 2018 - 10:38 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – The current school year isn’t quite three-quarters done and members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board got a sneak peek at the school year calendar for the next school year during their regularly-scheduled meeting Feb. 14 at district headquarters.

For openers, the next school year is tentatively scheduled to begin with a full day of classes on Thursday, Aug. 16. Before their students arrive for that first day, the teachers will spend the two days prior in Teacher Institute sessions.

Thanksgiving break for students and staff will be Wednesday through Friday, Nov. 21-23. The last day before Christmas Break will be Friday, Dec. 21, with the break running from Monday, Dec. 24 through Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. After a teacher institute day set for Monday, Jan. 7, students return to class Tuesday, Jan. 8 to start the spring semester.

Ray Epperson, deputy superintendent, and Dr. James Hardin, executive director of human resources and student services for the district, jointly chaired the committee which put the calendar together. Epperson told Board members the coming year’s calendar “most closely mirrors” the calendar used to put assemble the schedule Unit 5 used this school year.

Epperson explained that the district took a survey of teachers and staff finding that two-thirds of those polled wanted to have a full-day of teacher conferences in November without having to also have classes on the same day. That will take place on Oct. 19. Epperson said doing conferences in that matter, according to teacher responses, “helps with concerns needing to be addressed sooner rather than later.”

Board member David W. Fortner asked administrators if the district could look into trying to have Unit 5 align its yearly calendar with other school districts in the area. Fortner said that was a request he has been asked about by constituents. Epperson said that can be put forth in the form of a resolution which the Board would need to vote on at a future meeting.

Valentine’s Day Bus-Car Crash Injures 3 Students: Three students and the drivers of a McLean County Unit 5 school bus and a car were injured when a bus collided with a car and overturned the afternoon of Feb. 14 on U.S. 150 at Abraham Road between Bloomington and Downs. Published reports indicated Unit 5 school bus carrying 47 students from Evans Junior High School collided with the car about 4 p.m. traveling in thick fog. The bus rolled on its side as a result of the collision. Three students and the bus driver were taken to a local hospital for treatment.

Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, told reporters following the meeting students who were uninjured in the crash were transported by a second bus back to EJHS where their parents were requested to pick them up.

Published reports indicated the driver of the car also was injured, according to initial reports from police at the scene, but additional information was not available.

State police handled the accident because it happened on a U.S. highway, and was under investigation as of that night.

Published reports also indicated Unit 5 officials said their initial report of the crash indicated the bus driver was not at fault.

As a matter of procedure, Daniel said, both Unit 5 and First Student Bus Co., the district’s busing provider, send administrators to the scene to conduct a formal investigation. Police officials are asked to help the district and First Student do their research into the accident, as well.

Lamboley Tapped To Become Director of Secondary Education: Daniel announced that Dan Lamboley, Principal at Parkside Junior High School, will be moving into the administration office as director of secondary education. Lamboley succeeds Laura O’Donnell, who is leaving Unit 5 to take a position in the administration of the Olympia School District in Stanford.

Kingsley And Parkside Junior High Have Three Students With “Good News”: Three PJHS students qualified for All-State Music. These students auditioned and were selected as the top musicians in the State. A total 82 students in the entire state were selected for this honor. This is the highest honor that junior high musicians can achieve. Auditions were open to anyone in the state of Illinois, and they were selected based upon their own individual talent, not as part of the larger band talent. Four of them from Unit 5, with three from PJHS and one from KJHS. They were the only musicians to be selected from the Twin Cities.

The three students from PJHS are Ernst Kangu, Anna Poncin, and Jonah Techmanski. The KJHS student who qualified is Froylan Racey.

Normal Community West High’s “Good News”: While at Normal Community West High School, Xavier Higgins has volunteered with the Best Buddies Program, working his way to serving on the group’s Board. According to the group’s website, the organization was founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver which has grown from one original chapter at Georgetown University to more than 2,300 chapters worldwide, positively impacting the lives of over 1.1 million people with and without intellectual disabilities. Higgins works with other students involved in the program to help foster meaningful friendships between students and assist students who have physical and intellectual disabilities.

In doing so, the program helps those students Best Buddies benefit from by being able to develop life skills. As a leader within the program, Higgins has dedicated himself to increasing student participation and volunteerism in the program among the students at Normal West. Higgins was recognized by Board members for his efforts at the meeting in another “good news” presentation.

Eugene Field School’s “Good News”: Jane M. Collins, administrator for Eugene Field School, which currently services students with, among other things, vocational training, presented a report about how a team of parents have worked together to create a sensory room which helps students afflicted with Aspurger’s Syndrome maintain calm and concentration. Aspurger’s Syndrome is a form of Autism.

A Unit 5 student named Jon Miskulin was the inspiration for the creation of a local support and advocacy group for parents of Aspurger’s Syndrome. Miskulin’s maternal grandparents, Richard and Bernadine Ploch, founded HEAL Foundation, Inc. to honor their grandson. HEAL is an acronym for Heroes Embracing Autistic Lives.

In her memo to Board members and Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, Collins explained a team effort has been employed to turn the former storage room into the space where students can feel calm.

Among the efforts put into the project, Collins explained in her memo, were Valerie Leichtenberg and her brother, Eric Leichtenberg came in during the evenings and weekends last spring “to paint the former storage room with beautiful pastel colors of blue and green.” As an added bonus, additional shelving for the room has been provided.

One of the school’s teachers, Kacy Stark, shopped with her students and donated several items of her own for the room such as lighting, pillows, mirrors, toys and various fidget spinners. Collins said Angie Mier donated several stress balls which come in handy throughout the day. Collins pointed out Jennifer Pearl, the school’s Health Care Provider and her husband, Loren Pearl, donated and installed carpet squares during after school hours. Jennifer Pearl, Collins wrote in her memo to the superintendent, has also donated additional furniture and paint touch-ups for the room.

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members voted to approve a resolution moving forward a 20-year materials recovery and solid waste management plan along with the City of Bloomington and McLean County. The governing body’s decision seemed to agree with everyone, but one provision within the document led Council Member Scott Preston to cast a lone dissention leading to a 6-1 vote.

While the entire group appeared favorable toward the long-term plan, the issue which prompted Preston to oppose it was a set of clauses concerning recycling for multi-family housing, commercial operations, and recycling of construction and demolition materials recycling was included.

In each of those clauses, an ordinance mandating the communities and the county set certain recycling benchmarks if voluntary participation doesn’t help residents contribute in the program. That one item prompted Preston to disagree.

“I was not in favor of language that took a stance and advocated for ordinances by the Town as well as the City if certain benchmarks are not met,” Preston said afterward. Preston said had the mandated benchmarks come with an explanation of why they were being considered, Preston said he would still have voted down the resolution.

“I didn’t like the plan has a recommendation of mandating,” Preston added. “The rest of the plan is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people for the past two years. It’s an ambitious goal to be looking 20 years out.”

Preston said he commended Michael Brown, executive director of the Ecology Action Center among those who put the 26-page report together over the last couple of years. There are a lot of great things in the plan,” Preston added. “The recommended ordinances were the sticking point for me and that was why I couldn’t vote for this.”

Brown explained after the meeting that some small companies and renters do offer recycling but the percentage of companies that do that “isn’t as high as it could be. That means there’s a significant room for improvement.” He added rental companies told him that if they were mandated to provide recycling to help the community, to do so would “actually level the playing field” for those companies compared to complexes or companies who have recycling provided.

Wayne Aldrich, director of public works for the Town, said he has been contacting private companies which provide recycling services to apartments and multi-family dwelling operators.

City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members during the session the McLean County Landfill “is pretty much done. They are beginning a closure process. He added the plan “tries to move the needle on the Town’s recycling option.”

Council Member R. C. McBride told Brown and Aldrich during the meeting that establishing a 20-year plan “is a good thing.”

Jay Tummula Gets Human Rights Commission Appointment: Council members unanimously approved the appointment of Jay Tummula to the Town’s Human Rights Commission. Tummula is filling a vacancy left by the resignation of Mandava Rao, the result of Rao moving from the community. Tummula will serve a full four-year term which will expire March 31, 2022.

Tummula moved to the U. S. 17 years ago to take a job with IBM. From there, he joined State Farm as an analyst in the field of information technology, his current job. He is co-chair of the Minority and Police Partnership, and a volunteer with Ecology Action Center and Community Health Care Clinic. Tummula is married and has two children.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Jan.16, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Jan. 31, 2018

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with McLean County for centralized booking services.

• A resolution approving a lease amendment for the Heartland Theatre Company at the Community Activity Center.

• An ordinance abating the levy of 2017 property taxes for Special Service Area Number One.

By Steve Robinson | January 25, 2018 - 8:01 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board voted unanimously to extend the district’s contract with Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. at the Board’s regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday at district headquarters. The current contract, due to expire at the end of the current school year, was signed in 2015 and was amended in 2016. The contract extension would see First Student providing services to the district for the next two school years, expiring on June 30, 2020. Unit 5 originally began its contract with First Student in 2012.

In addition to providing timely service getting students to and from their school “in a timely manner,” First Student agreed to a contract which has within it “penalties for non-performance.”

Among the infractions which could bring on those penalties: Not having bus service on any scheduled route; Drivers failing to show for a charter route; and failure to provide a “properly licensed/trained driver.” Those last two come with penalties of $250 per occurrence and $150 per occurrence, respectfully.

As a few Board members spoke after the vote, Mark Bohl, location manager, and Chris Coyle, area general manager for the transportation company, sat and listened. “I want to say that with regard to the services they have provided this year, particularly, their accuracy, their timeliness, Mark Bohl and his crew and the drivers did a heck of a job,” said Mark Daniel, district superintendent, referred to the days when below freezing temperatures were the norm earlier in the new semester.

Coyle will be replacing Bob Rutkowski, who had been dealing with the district’s issues previously and is retiring at the end of the school year.

“I think there’s a new culture with us with First Student with the services they are providing Unit 5,” Daniel said, adding it was a culture “that was saying they wanted to know how do we help our kids first and foremost.” Communication between the district and the busing provider has been improved, Daniel said, including establishing a committee made up of both district and bus company officials.

After the vote, Board Member Mike Trask said that after the issues that arose on Aug. 17, 2016 with late buses among the problems experienced that first day of that school year, he didn’t think the two sides would be sitting together to pass the extension at this meeting. He credited Bohl with turning the situation around in terms of helping get dependable drivers and working on routes among the items the district insisted First Student fix if the contract was to continue at that time.

“Doing this re-instilled my faith in your organization,” Trask told Bohl and Coyle. “There’s been a lot of understanding and a lot of change on the part of people,” Trask added.” I appreciate where we are today.”

Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker thanked Bohl and Coyle for the efforts employed in training drivers because she said the Board has not heard of as many issues as they had at the time of the problems a year and a half ago.

Board Member David W. Fortner suggested that First Student continue working to tighten its ties with the district’s Skyward information system to be able to keep information about bus routes as current as possible.

“We’ve come a long way, and to be able to be sitting here looking at an extension is a result of your hard work and, hopefully, that will continue within your organization,” Board Member Joe Cleary told the men.

Unit 5 mapAgreement Nearly Terminated In 2016: At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, parents and students alike experienced frustration with late buses among other issues. The end result was the resignation of First Student’s location manager within days of the school year starting. He was replaced roughly a month later by Bohl, a former military man and former Caterpillar employee. When the current school year began, Bohl and his team made sure routes were covered and there were enough drivers for the roughly 128 routes the company started with.

In addition, in September 2016 after the problems emerged and the district saw little improvement, Board members gave First Student a Nov. 1 deadline to correct the issues that resulted or risk the Board voting to terminate the contract ahead of the anticipated expiration date.

Summer School, Autism Camp Get Approval: Among the items on the meeting’s consent agenda which was unanimously approved, was a summer session which will run Mondays through Thursdays, as will a camp session for autistic students. Both programs will run June 18-July 12, with no sessions on July 4 and 5 for the Independence Day holiday.

Unit 5 Withdrawing From CIRBN: Also as part of the omnibus agenda, Board members approved the district withdrawing from participation as members of the board of the Central Illinois Regional Broadband Network, also known as CIRBN. The district’s reason for withdrawing is because E-Rate, a telecommunication service, and CIRBN are both vendors which service the district. Marty Hickman, business manager for the district, explained Unit 5 was withdrawing from CIRBN to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest resulting from the district currently receiving partial reimbursement for internet costs from E-Rate. E-Rate provides internet use at district schools, Hickman explained.

“We thought people could perceive a conflict,” Hickman said. “We felt if other vendors were to see that relationship, they might not feel the bidding process would be fair and competitive.” He said eliminating Unit 5 being perceived as having an advantage over other groups in bidding for services was the main cause for the withdrawal. Hickman said Unit 5 doesn’t benefit from the relationship with CIRBN and withdrawing from the group would cement that notion.

Hickman said Unit 5 receives roughly $100,000 from E-Rate.

Closed Session Followed Meeting: The Board’s meeting began at 5:30p.m.and lasted 14 minutes and was followed by a closed door session permitted by law to discuss, as stated in the agenda, “Self evaluation, practices and procedures or professional ethics, when meeting with a representative of a statewide association of which the public body is a member.”

By Steve Robinson | January 16, 2018 - 10:02 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – The notion that the Town of Normal will, thanks to an unanimous Normal Town Council vote at Tuesday’s scheduled session, begin negotiations for a development agreement for a building on the east side of Constitution Trail brought out people who were opposed to the idea.

Currently, the site houses The Pod art studio, 104 E. Beaufort St.; Windy City Wieners restaurant, 106 E. Beaufort St.; and Slingshot Co-Work computer center, 108 E. Beaufort St. The Town has owned the building those three businesses have been in since 2001.

The Town is seeking a development plan for the property and to that end, put out requests for proposal, or RFPs, from developers to see what interest they would generate in the 1.28 acre site on the northeast arc of Uptown Circle. Development of that part of the arc was not considered originally when the Town put plans into effect in 2000.

Normal Town Council members unanimously passed a resolution authorizing negotiation of a development agreement with Davenport, Iowa-based Bush Construction for the proposed Trail East project.

Bush Construction proposes building a five-story, 115,000 sq. ft. building with its frontage facing Uptown Circle, Constitution Trail, and College Ave. The way Bush Construction has the building designed, its cost is estimated at $29.2 million. A variety of sources would provide funding, explained the report to Council members written by Sally Heffernan, the Town’s Economic Development Director.

But the notion of constructing a building while sacrificing a building that has been in, first, Downtown, and now, Uptown Normal, for years didn’t sit well with some residents who addressed Council members.

Wearing a T-shirt that said, “This Place Matters,” Andy Streenz represented a group of about 10 people who attended the meeting who were opposed to the development plan. “It’s in the heart of your community,” Streenz said of the site of the proposed project. He said by going forward with the project, if Normal chooses to, the Town “is setting out to destroy the character of Uptown.” He said he was concerned with the loss of such buildings.

Christopher Myers also belongs to the same group concerned with Uptown losing something if such buildings are lost. “They deserve to see another century,” he said.

In discussion following the public comments, Council Member Chemberly Cummings said, “We won’t do anything that changes our community. Change is always difficult. Be patient with us. Know that we have heard you.”

“This is just stage one,” Council Member R. C. McBride told an audience of about 40 people who sat through the Council discussion in Council Chambers.

Council Member Jeff Fritzen said the Council “needed to be careful not to have a negative tone about the prospects involved with this project. “We need to be careful not to fear new development.”

The Council session began at 5p.m. to discuss a personnel matter. Council members also met in their capacity as the Normal Local Liquor Commission prior to the start of the regular meeting. The only business on the agenda for Commissioners was to unanimously approve minutes of two prior meetings – a regular meeting held Oct. 16, and a special meeting held Dec. 18. The Council session was held Tuesday because of Monday’s Federal Holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Jan. 2, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Jan. 10, 2018.

• A motion to initiate a zoning map amendment – 602=604 N. Adelaide, Sudduth Road right of way, parking lot at the southeast corner of W. Beaufort St, and the School St. underpass, 404 W. Locust St., 404 Normal St., 507 Osage (ISU properties), and 305 Pine St. (Town of Normal).

• A resolution authorizing the quotes for installation of new water heaters in the total amount of $47,233 for Anderson Aquatic Center and approval of an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution approving the executive session meeting minutes of January 8, 2018 and considering the public release of executive session minutes from meetings held on the following dates in 2017: July 17, Aug. 11, Aug. 21, Sept. 18, and Oct. 2, and from Jan. 2, 2018.