By Steve Robinson | June 19, 2017 - 10:35 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – With high speed rail to consider, the Town of Normal has spent the last few years pondering how rail passengers who will need to use both the north and south tracks at Uptown Station will get from one platform to the other.

As a result of a 5-2 vote by Normal Town Council members at their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday night, the question of how was resolved: They gave approval to begin researching construction of an underpass between the two tracks. An underpass was one of seven options presented to residents at a fact-finding session the Town put on with the firm the Town hired to research the matter, New York City-based WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff this spring. Council Members Kathleen Lorenz and Scott Preston cast the dissenting votes.

Town officials narrowed to seven the potential options for a crossing then from those, believed their best option for getting from the north track to the south track was an underpass. At one time, both an overpass and an underpass were among the options being deliberated on.

On April 27, the Town held a public session showing residents options open to the Town and encouraged comments. The majority of those persons who spoke then told Town officials they favored the option of an underpass. Lorenz and Preston were concerned about the fact the number of choices of possible options available to the Town, of which there were seven, were not narrowed down further.

Normal’s 2014 Uptown 2.0 plan which was commissioned by the Town and done by WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff first recommended construction of an underpass which would have a $12.7 million price tag. An overpass, the research showed, would cost Normal $8.6 million. Mayor Chris Koos has said State or Federal funds would be needed in order to pay for such construction.

Among 41 comments Town officials received following the April meeting showed 29 residents who responded favored construction of an underpass.

Bruce Nelson, project manager for WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Wayne Aldrich, the Town’s Director of Public Works, recapped the seven options that Normal officials had to choose from to begin the discussion.

Aldrich and Nelson explained that once the vote was taken to decide which of the seven alternatives would be chosen and pursued, the Town would need to spend the next six to nine months working with the National Railroad Association, after which a Federal government report would be released on the subject.

After that report is released, Aldrich said, “We get down in the weeds to start the design phase.”

“We’re making a 25-year decision here,” Council Member Jeff Fritzen said to start Council dialogue. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like and I can’t decide based on appearance.” He added “funding uncertainty” on the part of the Federal government also has a role in the matter.

Aldrich said an underpass doesn’t create as much of a construction headache as any other option might. He added underpass construction would be “less disruptive” to commuters than an overpass.

Concerning funding, City Manager Mark Peterson said, “When the Federal government is involved in such a project, it means the government pays up to 80 percent and we’d pay 20 percent. Those are the kind of projects they look for.”

Following the session which lasted slightly over two hours, Lorenz said she would have liked to have seen the options the Town had to choose from reduced from the seven that were presented to the public and Council members. “We paid a lot of money for this study and it’s a 25-year decision, so we want to make sure we get it right. The outcome of the study didn’t convince me this was the only path to take.”

Seven residents asked to give public comment and both sides of the issue – in favor and not in favor of the underpass – were presented as a result. Former Normal Mayoral Candidate Marc Tiritilli said he favors a “no build” option. He said what the Town is considering with the underpass option, “isn’t about safety. It’s about (having) a centerpiece.”

But college student Wes Ward told Council members he was in favor of the underpass being proceeded with. “There will be gains from such debt” related to constructing the underpass, he said. He added he believes the Mayor’s contention that Normal can handle such debt related to the project, making it work.

Following the meeting, in response to Lorenz’s concerns, Koos said, “When we went through public review, public support was overwhelmingly in favor of an underpass. When WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff presented this in a public setting, an underpass was preferred.”

Addition To Constitution Trail Centre Approved: Council members unanimously approved a final development plan and conditionally approved a final plat for a fifth addition to Constitution Trail Centre. At that site with approval, a Sky Zone Trampoline Park will be opened on 2.233 acres of the property.

Last Meeting For Retiring Town Clerk Wendy Briggs: She has served three mayors, two city managers, and seen 19 Town Council members sit on the dais in 32 years in the Clerk’s office, 28 of them serving as Town Clerk. But Monday’s meeting was the last one for Wendellyn “Wendy” Briggs. She will retire at the end of June. Town Deputy Clerk Angie Huonker will be promoted to Town Clerk effective July 1.

Briggs worked in the mid-1970s for City Manager David Anderson and in the Town Clerk’s office, leaving to work in a law firm before returning to work for the Town Clerk’s office in 1985, being promoted to the Town Clerk post three years later. She received a proclamation for her dedication presented to her by Koos and given a standing ovation by Koos and Council members.

“I truly appreciate being able to work for all of you and help in any way I can,” Briggs said.

Janessa Williams Appointed To Human Relations Commission: Council members unanimously approved the appointment of Janessa Williams to the Town’s Human Relations Commission. Williams is filling a vacancy left by the recent resignation of Alberto Espinosa. Williams first moved to Normal in 1973 to attend Illinois State University where she received a degree in Accounting. After living in the Chicago area for 16 years, Williams returned to Normal in 2004 to work at her alma mater. Among her endeavors away from her work, Williams has established a Umoja Celebration at ISU, a graduation event which represents African American tradition, heritage, and culture.

Agenda Items Approved: Other omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting on June 5, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures as of June 14, 2017.

• A resolution authorizing an extension to an existing license agreement with Connect Transit for access to Uptown Station.

• A resolution accepting the low bid and awarding a contract to Astoria, Ill.-based K. K. Stevens Publishing Company for printing the Normal Parks & Recreation Department’s seasonal program guides: Fall (48 pages); Winter/Spring (44 pages); and Summer (64 pages) at the cost of $27,154.33 (plus postage).

• A resolution waiving bids and authorizing the renewal of a subscription to Microsoft Office 365 through the State Joint Purchasing Program from CDW-G at an annual cost of $67,984.46.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement for technical planning services with McLean County Regional Planning Commission.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an agreement with the University of Illinois for groundwater lever monitoring.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a three-year extension to the SCADA integration services contract with Normal-based SCADAware, Inc.

Unit 5NORMAL – Teamwork between drivers for Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. and Normal-based Unit 5 School District is improving, explained the bus company’s location manager. Mark Bohl updated School Board members on progress being made to make sure this fall’s busing of students will be improved over difficulties experienced by parents, students, and the district at the start of the school year last year.

“We’ve seen teamwork improved over the past school year,” said Bohl. Bohl, a military veteran, was hired last October to attempt to improve the situation that was experienced at the start of last school year. “Everyone is doing a good job and attendance by drivers changed 100 percent from last fall. About 130 drivers are on First Student’s payroll, and the company, as required by agreement with the school district, is attempting to maintain a substitute driver pool of around 15 percent, he said.

Bohl said two people have been designated to answer phone calls for First Student from parents when the school year starts, explaining “communication is the key.”

Regarding what transpired at the beginning of last school year, Bohl said First Student had a “false calm” about the start of school. He said an increase in drivers last December helped improve the situation.

Having heard this report, Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. suggested to Bohl that “it would be helpful to the Board if you and Dr. Daniel reported to us inf the first few days of school” concerning how matters were progressing. Dr. Mark Daniel is Unit 5 Superintendent.

Unit 5 mapSome Districts In State Considering Not Opening In Fall: But before buses can even begin to roll to a school, the school has to be open, ready to receive students. For some district superintendents, Daniel said after the meeting, there are concerns about and even contemplation of not opening schoolhouse doors if State funding isn’t there. Board members unanimously approved amending the district’s 2016-17 school year budget which closes out at the end of the month. Combined, the district’s Transportation and Education budgets show a $5.5 million deficit, the majority of monies due would be coming from Springfield.

The State owes Unit 5 payments totaling $8.1 million for Transportation and Special Education reimbursement The State has, so far, only provided Unit 5 with one payment toward that debt. The district is hoping to receive another State payment by June 30.

Following the meeting, Daniel told reporters, “We’re facing a difficult year ahead.”

Transportation and Special Education reimbursements from the State are referred to by educators as categoricals. “Without categoricals, we have enough money to get through 75 percent of the school year,” explained Board Member Joe Cleary following the meeting.

Daniel said a State-wide group which addresses issues of large school districts, Springfield-based Large Unit District Association, is encouraging its member district superintendents to get the public to write their legislators to push them to pass a budget in time to begin the 2017-18 school year.

He added parents need to begin writing letters to State Representatives and State Senators with their concerns about the consequences of what a potential third year with no State budget would mean for Unit 5. He said 60 percent of the State’s students go to school in 58 districts in the State.

As of the end of that meeting, Daniel said, “We’re not at the point of saying ‘don’t open.’”

Unit 5 Getting Virtual Classrooms: Board member unanimously approved a $170,880 contract with Normal-based Zdi Audio Visual for a virtual classroom project to be installed for use at both Normal Community West High School and Normal Community High School beginning this fall. Unit 5 will use capital projects fund dollars to pay for project. Zdi will install and maintain high-resolution screens, as well as visual equipment and sound equipment in one classroom per high school. The visual and sound equipment at both schools will have motion-detecting capabilities.

Board Approves Renewal Of Insurance, Workers’ Comp. : Board members unanimously voted to renew district insurance policies through various insurers including AIG;; Allied World National Assurance; ACE; Travelers; and Wright Specialty Insurance. The insurance paid for covers auto; property; general liability; crime; and boiler and machinery. In addition, the District pays for an umbrella policy, and several individual liability policies.

The district’s premium for the policy this coming school year totals $1.2 million, an increase of 7.42 percent, or $83,857, from what the district previously paid.

In addition, a workers’ compensation coverage plan with Safety National Insurance was approved, its premium totaling $92,169 annually. That amount is 1.9 percent less, or $1,765 less being paid by the district from what they paid for coverage last year. Also, Unit 5 will pay Cannon Cochran Management Services to serve as a third party administrator for claims. That firm will receive $13,000 for their services.

Next Board Meeting July 12: There will be no second Board meeting in June. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12 at District headquarters, 1809 W. Hovey Ave.

Town of NormalNORMAL – As part of their omnibus agenda, Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to approve a resolution changing which Town official will handle matters related to Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF). Since he became City Manager in 1998, Mark Peterson has handled the duties associated with representing the Town on IMRF matters.

But after the Council’s unanimous vote during their meeting Monday in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, the responsibilities of handling IMRF matters will become part of Deputy City Manager Pamela Reece’s responsibilities.

IMRF have been part of Reece’s duties previously, but Peterson had final approval. Dealing with such matters now becomes part of Reece’s job scope. A Council resolution in 1998 gave Peterson authority concerning IMRF after he succeeded David Anderson as City Manager when Anderson retired.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting on May 15, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures as of May 31, 2017.

• A motion to approve recommended Harmon Arts Grant Awards.

• A resolution to award the bid for the installation of a standby generator for the North Booster Station located at the intersection of Raab Rd. and School St., to Wm. Masters, Inc. at a total cost of $73,480.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and accepting a proposal from Deer Creek, Ill.-based Municipal Emergency Services for the purchase of replacement self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in the amount of $344,560 and approving an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution authorizing a lease amendment with Subway Real Estate, LLC for premises located at 11 Uptown Circle, Suite 100 in Uptown Station.

• An ordinance establishing prevailing wage rates.

By Steve Robinson | May 25, 2017 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Normal-based Unit 5 School District received an update concerning its financial status and the latest update from a local legislator as the clock continues to tick toward what both educators and legislators hope will not be a third consecutive year without a State budget. State Sen. Jason Barickman (R – 53rd) sat before members of the Board of Education and pointed the finger for why Springfield hasn’t produced a budget currently in the direction of Chicago Public Schools.

“The State is on autopilot,” Barickman told Board members. He said something that most people sitting at kitchen tables know full well: When spending exceeds money coming in, then a payment delay is the result. The State is behind on Transportation and Special Education reimbursements to Unit 5.

Before Barickman spoke to Board members, the Board heard from District Business Manager Marty Hickman, who informed them Springfield owes the district debt totaling $8.1 million for those two kinds of payments, also sometimes referred to as categioricals. Hickman said if the fourth of the five payments due the district were to arrive on or before the June 30 deadline, the last day of the current fiscal year, Unit 5 would have a balanced budget in both transportation and Special Education. If the district were to receive a fifth payment from Springfield, the district would have surplus funds when fiscal year 2017-18 began.

Hickman said there are two variables which the district needs to concern itself as the new fiscal year approaches: If actual property tax payment amounts turn out to be different than anticipated and If categorical payments arrive from the capitol.

Board Member Mike Trask said special needs students, their families, and the staff who work with them are the ones the budget problems have had the most effect on. He said the situation may prompt the district to borrow from its working cash fund, but there isn’t a great amount to work with there. Barickman chimed in on this discussion saying, “We need to help and I don’t know where we go from here.”

Barickman said Chicago Public Schools receive 30 to 40 percent in mandated categoricals because of a block grant.

Multiple “Good News” Items Were Presented: As far as good news reports the Board heard, they were plentiful, starting with the “Not In Our School” initiative and concluding with details on winners of a trip to the nation’s capitol for two students who attend Bloomington Area Career Center.

“Good News” From Not In Our Schools”: Camille Taylor, a retired Unit 5 teacher, now co-chairs the “Not In Our Schools” initiative and presented Board members an update on what the schools involved in the initiative have done as the school year progressed to promote inclusiveness. Currently seven of the 18 schools in the district are involved with “Not In Our School.” Among those items mentioned were: At Cedar Ridge Elementary, fifth grade students have a “Leave A Positive Footprint” program; At Eugene Field Elementary, Principal Jane Collins held an in-service with all staff that centered on diversity, cooperation, and acceptance; Fox Creek Elementary kicked off this school year with an all-school assembly revolving around the subject; At Hudson Elementary, students designed bulletin boards and wrote and made announcements: Glenn Elementary Schools students all took a pledge against bullying; Normal Community West High students held a cultural showcase showing the diversity of the student body; Normal Community High School students held a cultural fair and held a post-election unity discussion.

Fairview Elementary’s “Good News: Board members heard from Amy McKuhen, Youth Market Director for the local office of the American Heart Association, who introduced Joan Everson, a teacher at Fairview Elementary School, who, for the 35 years she has taught there, has tried to keep kids active. Everson has made keeping kids healthy a priority in all her time at the school. AHA, through McKuhen, wanted to make sure Everson was honored as she prepares to retire from teaching after 35 years. McKuhen credited Everson for her efforts in trying to keep kids healthy, which included reinforcing the message to kids they should get 60 minutes of exercise daily, and to make sure they eat a fruit and a vegetable at every meal, and to resist using tobacco.

This year, Fairview students responded by donating $7,500 to the American Heart Association. As a result of doing that, Fairview Elementary received $500 in certificates good for the purchase of physical education equipment from US Games. As a result of Everson’s efforts over the years, McKuhen told Board members, Fairview students are responsible for raising a total of $116,731.87 for AHA in those years. Of Everson, McKuhen said, “Her commitment to our mission has changed the lives of so many. Thank you doesn’t seem like nearly enough.”

Parkside Junior High School’s “Good News”: Jennifer McCoy, athletic director at Parkside Junior High School announced to Board members that 11 girls qualified for the 7th Grade 33rd AA Series Illinois Elementary School Association Track and Field State Championship held on May 19 and 20, 2017. The athletes, their events, and how they finished were:

Averie Hernandez placed 2nd in the High Jump, and 39th in the 100 meter run; as well as participated in both the 4 x 100; and 4 x 400 relays. Lilian Lay finished 40th in the 100 meter dash, and was part of both 4 x 100; and 4 x 400 relays. Taylor Yaklich placed 6th in the 800 meter run, — missing setting a school record by less than two seconds; and placed 5th in the 1600meter run, and served as an alternate for the school’s 4×400 team. Sixth grader Alex Reinhart placed fifth in the 400 meter run, and was part of the school team that ran both the 4 x 100; and 4 x 400.

The school’s relay teams put up a good showing, too, with the school’s 4 x 200 meter team of Carly Donalson, Sophie Kurdys, Miya Webb, Brianna Wright, and alternate, Ashleigh Horton finishing 27th in the event.

In the 4 x 100 meter, PJHS’ team of Averie Hernandez, Lilian Lay, Alex Reinhart, and Naomi Elliott with Sydnee Scott as the alternate) took 2nd Place. This was the same relay team that broke the school record at sectionals two weeks ago with an amazing time of 53:12. While they did not break this time at State, they came close, finishing with a time of 53:23.

In the 4 x 400 relay, PJHS’ team of Hernandez, Lay, Reinhart, and Elliott with Yaklich as the alternate, learned that they would need to shave an additional 6 seconds off of their previous record to contend for first or second place in the event, and they did, with a time of 4:19:03, they shattered their previous record.

PJHS doubled up on good news as the school’s principal, Ryan Weichman, presented a report to Board members concerning a project the school had been working on which finally was dedicated earlier this month. With the help of school parent Ryan Scritchlow and his company, Scritchlow Enterprises, the school now has a walkway which makes the grounds accessible to all of its students. The school had a workday where a number of the school’s parents pitched in complete the job. The pathway around the school will mean increased participation for the school’s disabled students, Weichman explained in his memo to district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel and Board members. Weichman’s report included a slideshow of the parents in action as the walkway came together.

Unit 5 mapKingsley Junior High’s “Good News”: Board members were introduced to Janel Sebeny, who is the English Language Arts building chair at the school. Prinicipal Shelly J. Erickson credited Sebeny for activities she participated in numerous organizations that help students. Sebeny is president-elect of the Illinois Reading Council and is Grants Committee Chair for MID-State Reading Council. “Janel is a valuable resource for other teachers,” Erickson reported. She also mentioned Sebeny is also past president of the Illinois Reading Conference, a function at which 3,500 people were present. “We just want to say thank you for all you do,” Erickson told Sebeny.

Normal Community West High School Doubles “Good News” Items: Like PJHS, Normal Community West High School presented two “good news” items in its presentation to the Board, with Principal Dave Johnson making the presentation. First, senior Ben Zinn, a cross country and track athlete was recognized, as he was recently named the State of Illinois’ male recipient of the National Intercollegiate Athletic Administrators Association’s Scholar Athlete Essay Award at the Illinois Athletic Directors Association state conference on Sunday, May 7, where Zinn read his award-winning essay at the state conference. He also read his essay to Board members and those assembled for the meeting, and it was well-received. Zinn is a three-year letter winner in both cross country and track and a member of the National English, Spanish, Math, and Social Studies Honor Societies. He will be attending the University of Illinois next fall and majoring in computer science.

The school also honored four Biological Engineering students, presenting to the Board Emily Johnson, Madison Miko, John Sherman, and Nick Watson. This quartet, while being in the school’s Biological Engineering Class, participated in EnergizeME Infographic Challenge, sponsored by U. S. Department of Energy. The purpose of the challenge is to enhance knowledge and foundational knowledge of Bioenergy. The Challenge is also designed to encourage creativity and engagement through arts-based learning of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM.

During the program, students conducted a laboratory investigation to study ways to optimize producing biodiesel fuels from algae. A project Sherman and Watson collaborated on, “Hydrothermal Liquidification of Algae” was selected as the competition’s overall winner. Sherman and Watson will make a presentation concerning their project at a conference at the Department of Energy in Washington, D. C. and receive a tour there of various facilities.

Bloomington Area Career Center’s “Good News”: Nikki Meyer, a coordinator at Bloomington Area Career Center, introduced Board members to five students who were among 72 students who competed at the SkillUSA State Competition in April. There were over 2,000 competitors who took part from Illinois. BACC had 11 students who qualified and five of them placed in their specific category. The student, their school, their category, and how they placed are: Cara Logan, Normal Community High School, 1st place in Emergency Medical Technician; Emma Brown, NCHS, 2nd place in Nurse Assisting; Bryce Carlisle, NCHS, 2nd place in Technical Computer Applications; Cheyenne Broquarsd, NCHS, 3rd place in Job Skill Demonstration; and Michaela Goodman, Normal West, 3rd place in Nurse Assisting.

By Steve Robinson | May 21, 2017 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – At a reception in the hall outside the auditorium at Normal Community West High School, Unit 5 School District employees, and current and former Board members got the chance to honor two former Board members for their service.

Gail Ann Briggs and John Puzauskas were honored for their years of service on the Board – 41 years for Briggs, 12 for Puzauskas. Neither of them opted to run for another term in the April election.

Calling Briggs and Puzauskas “servant leaders,” Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. credited the pair with “dedicating countless hours of their livers with their mission of helping students achieve personal excellence.”

Turning to Briggs and Puzauskas as those gathered watched, Hayek said, “Thanks for your legacy, thanks for your example, and for being role models for me and the other Board members.” There were between 60-70 people who came through to wish the duo well during the two-hour event.

Unit 5 mapCurrent and former Board members, and former District Superintendent Dr. Gary Niehaus, and current superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel were on hand, as well.

The pair each received a certificate of recognition from Matt James, representing State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-53rd Dist.), and a certificate of recognition from the Illinois House of Representatives, each presented to them by Rep. Dan Brady (R-105th Dist.).

Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker reminded the gathering that Briggs was the second of 10 women to serve on the Board, and that in 41 years as a Board member, she served with 42 Board members.

“As I’ve said before, I’ve gained much more than I’ve given,” Puzauskas told the gathering.

Briggs admitted, “I almost didn’t run for a second term. The first term was a little awesome.” She credited friends like Peg Kirk for encouraging her to seek that second term which lasted three years until a State law changing the length of service by Board members changed. From 1982 on, Board members went from serving three-year terms to four-year terms.

Puzauskas Nominated For “Those Who Excel” Community Volunteer Award: Mickens-Baker announced to the gathering that Puzauskas has been nominated by the district for an award to be given out by Illinois State Board of Education later this year. He is in the running to receive a “Those Who Excel” Award from ISBE in the category of Community Volunteer. The winner of the award will be announced at ISBE’s annual dinner this fall.

Puzauskas was quick to spread the credit for the honor when asked about it. “It’s an honor to be recognized at the State level for what I’ve done,” he said. “But, really, it’s what all of us on the Board have done. I’m honored. I feel no expectation and will be deeply honored to receive it if I am named.”