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.

By Steve Robinson | June 11, 2017 - 7:17 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonIt was a recipe for the perfect, albeit slightly warmer than some would want spring day: Take seven musical acts comprised of teens and young adults, add the curious and the musicians and their fans and supporters, place in an ideal location that area residents already love, and mix.

That would describe the ingredients for the 4 ½ hour event known as “Young Summer Sounds” which featured seven musical acts mostly consisting of young people from local high schools and some recent high school graduates, which took place on the Roundabout in Uptown on Saturday, June 10.

The groups who performed included: Leah Taylor; Colton Stogner; Adrian and Olivia; Leah Marlene; Vapid Heights; Rose Room; and Sunday Afternoon. These individuals or groups displayed their talents for what looked like a crowd of a couple hundred people at any one time during sections of the event, folks who sat on the hill and its surroundings, with more folks passing through at times. These young people were looking to show their skills to the community.

Stephanie Chow, daughter of Dr. James and Dr. Michelle Chow, is a member of the group Rose Room, and will be a junior at University High School this fall, and was the organizer of this event. She got the job when she was contacted by the Town’s Uptown Manager, Joe Tulley. “Joe approached me with this idea that he had, an idea for a cool event, but said he thought it would be better if a person under-18 managed it.” On Saturday, Tulley was unavailable for further comment.

Chow’s mission clearly stated, was to reach out to contacts she knew in the local music scene to see what interest they would have in participating. She also placed ads on Facebook to spark interest in the event.

“From there, we organized it and made it happen,” Chow said, smiling. “I’m really happy that the bands got exposure because that was one of the motivations for making this event.”

Chow added, “It would be difficult to find gigs if not for the Town of Normal,“ Chow said. She added she began playing with bands when she was in fifth grade, doing so with bands at events like the Town’s Farmer’s Market and the Annual Worldwide Day Of Play event. Through those events, that’s where I saw a lot of other people play as well.”

Singer Has Been “Getting Gigs” Since 4th Grade:
Singer Leah Marlene said she has been playing music gigs, or “giging” as she called it, since 4th grade. She’s now lead singer for the local band called Vapid Heights. She will be a junior this fall at Normal Community West High School, and explained her band is a mix of kids from all the high schools in the Twin Cities and the county. When she hasn’t been in a band, “it’s been just me and my guitar,” she said.

Leah Marlene is the daughter of Derry and Deanne Grehan. Deanna Grehan said she advises parents who see, either that their child has a talent and wants to perform, or requests help in making that a reality to “be in tune with that and try to support them along the way. Starting them on piano is probably the best way to start as it’s the basis of all other instuments.”:00 – 7:30 Sunday Afternoon

“Sunday Afternoon” Played On This Warm Saturday: A band that plays a little rock, a little blues, and anything in-between, Sunday Afternoon, organized by 2017 Calvary Christian Academy graduate Austin Willis, has seven members from different high schools. Sunday Afternoon began last summer, and have had a few changes in membership since it started. The group will need to look for new members after this summer as four members of the group recently graduated and are college-bound this fall.

Illyana Lin, daughter of Leon and Deanne Lin, will be a junior at University High School this fall, and has always been interested in music, she said. She added she’s been “singing for as long as I can remember,” having taken voice lessons in sixth grade.

“I just like the freedom you have with music,” Lin said. “You get to interpret it to your own style, but you can keep the initial beauty of it, making it your own.”

Lin is also thinking ahead to her future career, too, but not as a musician, as it turns out. She’s learning about the world of Information Technology, and is currently interning at State Farm Insurance. She said when she gets to college, she will major in Computer Science. “I have to make money somehow,” she reasoned.

Other members of Sunday Afternoon are: DeMari Fennell, Jacob Labertew, Zack Rainey, Naomi Jacob, and Nick Saathoff.

All of the kids who took part in this event are to be commended for showing the community their skills in this format and kudos, too, to the Town of Normal, through Tulley, for asking young people to help reach out to other young people to find the talent for it using a one-of-a-kind approach.

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 | June 3, 2017 - 10:58 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonA State final of any sport should be an occasion for family to see a loved one participate if they have the opportunity. With their presence at one of the diamonds at Eastside Centre in East Peoria, the family of Heyworth High School Softball freshman pitcher Adyson Slayback – probably between 12 to14 of the family ranging from youngsters to grandparents – made that clear as they readied to cheer on the young lady who took to the pitcher’s circle against Goreville in the first semifinal game of Illinois High School Association Class 1A State Tournament.

“They played a pretty tough conference schedule and made it through to the end, so here we are,” said Ron Slayback, Adyson’s grandfather, who along with wife Luanne, prepared to cheer their granddaughter and her teammates on to a victory in what was the Lady Hornets very first appearance at State.

Adyson plays for Bloomington-Normal Girls Softball Association (BNGSA) Angels in the summer, Ron Slayback said. Adyson’s folks are Jeremiah “J. J.” Slayback and Robin Petersen. “It’s great to have our family all here,” Ron Slayback said. In 2015, Heyworth High’s Softball team made it to Sectional final, but not further. But last year, the team struggled. Getting to State this year under head coach George Van Winkle indicates there was a course correction.

“Last year, they had the bats but struggled in the circle,” Ron Slayback said. “This year, I think it kind of surprised them that a freshman is their number one pitcher.”

For Ron’s son, J. J. Slayback, attending a game his daughter is pitching is not a calm matter. It’s not even one where he can sit to watch. He said he spends most of his time while she’s in the circle pacing. And he probably will have to consider looking into some heavy-duty shoe leather after this past weekend.

It wasn’t just love of family that could be witnessed in the stands at this contest. The boyfriend of Heyworth first baseman and 2017 HHS graduate Somer Marlett, Brett Egan, came to cheer his girlfriend and her teammates on to victory. Their relationship has an interesting twist. You see, Egan is a 2017 graduate of Heart Of Illinois Conference rival LeRoy High School.

In the year and a half Marlett and Egan have dated, he said, it was interesting partly because of all the razzing he took from his friends for having taken up dating a member of conference opponent school. Seeing Marlett and her teammates get to State “Is great,” Egan said. “I’m really happy for her. It’s great for the conference because their team represents the conference very well.”

Egan was a three-sport athlete himself at LHS, playing football, basketball, and baseball. Marlett is also multifaceted as far as sports are concerned, having played basketball and softball. “Having played sports connects us better,” Egan said. “I think we both know when we say anything about a game and when not to.”

Egan and Marlett will both be attending Heartland Community College in Normal this fall, and from there, on to Illinois State University. Egan said the relationship began when a friend on the traveling softball team Marlett was on introduced the two. The parents of these two recent graduates are Joe and Nikki Egan, and Bryan and Tina Marlett.

As it turned out, by the time the semifinal Heyworth got to ended, J. J. Slayback wasn’t the only family member who felt agony. Goreville’s Blackcats blanked Heyworth in the contest on May 2, 11-0. In the third place game, efficient defensive play had both sides scoreless for four innings before Princeville doubled Heyworth’s run production for a 5-3 lead at the end of the fifth inning, adding one more in the sixth inning for a 6-3 win.

“Getting to State, you’ll leave no worse than fourth place,” J. J. Slayback reminded. “We were playing on house money at that point and the cards didn’t get dealt our way. But I’m proud of these girls.”

You get the feeling from what one saw this past weekend that Heyworth shouldn’t be counted out in Softball in the future. I know I’ll make a point of checking how they are doing next season.