By Steve Robinson | September 17, 2018 - 10:50 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – At their regularly-scheduled session Monday night in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Normal Town Council members heard the Town has won an award for historic preservation, specifically for work done concerning Broadview Mansion. Specifically, the award was earned by the Town in the category of stewardship.

The Town received a 2018 Preservation Award from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation for efforts in preserving the Edwardian-style home built in 1906 which sits at the corner of Fell and Highland Avenues and is operated by the Immanuel Bible Foundation.

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz attended a function hosted by Landmarks Illinois in Chicago on Saturday to accept the award. Lorenz said the collaboration between the Town and Immanuel Bible Foundation needs to be credited with the success of preserving the building and for which the award was received.

Planned Unit Development, Rezoning On Lincoln College Property Approved: Council members unanimously approved a trio of resolutions related to the Lincoln College property at 715-755 W. Raab Rd. College officials are wanting to change how the nearly 9.2 acres are used. First, the College, which is in three buildings, sought to scale back to one academic building adjacent to Raab Rd. and to sell off portions of the remainder of the property.

Doing what the college wants accomplished would require rezoning the property and then create a Planned Unit Development, or PUD, so the properties could be divided into new lots and rezoned. Parts of the land will be rezoned from S-2 Public Land and Institutions to B-1 General Business.

Normal Planning Commission members held a public hearing on the proposed re-subdivision on Sept 6 where no members of the public addressed the issue and only Lincoln College representatives were in attendance. The Planning Commission voted 6-0 on the re-subdivision. That vote on the measure sent it on to Normal Town Council.

Council members first unanimously approved a resolution for the final plat for the fourth re-subdivision of the property. The second measure they approved unanimously related to the property was its rezoning

Finally, Council members unanimously passed a resolution conditionally approving a final development plan for the Lincoln Colleges residences, located at 717-731 W. Raab Rd., the area to be referred to now as Fairlawn Capital PUD. That PUD can now be zoned R-3A Medium Density Multi-Family Residence.

The PUD was needed to be established on this property, according to the memo prepared for Council members by Town Planner Mercy Davison, because Town Code limits the number of such buildings to one per lot unless a PUD is in place.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Sept. 4, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Sept.12, 2018.

• A resolution accepting base bid Alternatives 1, 3, and 4 and awarding a contract to Springfield-based Henson-Robinson Co. for replacement of roofing systems at the water treatment plant in the amount of $156,200 and an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution accepting base bid and Alternative 1 and awarding a contract to Chenoa-based Union Roofing Co., Inc. for the replacement of low slope roofing systems at the Community Activity Center in the amount of $67,390.

• A resolution authorizing a contract with Watseka, Ill.-based Freehill Asphalt, Inc. for the 2018 Towanda Ave. concrete pavement crack and joint sealing contract in the amount of $66,223.

• A resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter into a Small Government Enterprise License Agreement with Redlands, Calif.-based Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. for software licensing and related services for the Town’s Geographic Information System

By Steve Robinson | September 16, 2018 - 10:06 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – Wars tend to make some children into orphans. World War I was no exception. And yet, for young people already orphaned at that time and having the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School as their home, it sometimes meant the children, who already missed a parent for one reason or another having to relive anguish of possibly losing a parental figure again possibly to the ravages of battle.

To commemorate and honor those who worked at ISSCS at the time America joined the war effort in WWI in 1917, Normal Public Library and Normal Township presented a tour of the ISSCS grounds called, “Voice From The Home: Stories Of The Great War From Normal, Illinois.” The program was created by local historian Ruth Cobb. The tour of the grounds of ISSCS grounds, which was known by the name Illinois Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home from its founding in 1869 until 1931, debuted Saturday with two initial trips conducted by Cobb and John Fischer, Manager, Normal Public Library.

Eagle Monument Restored To The Property: Each tour was limited to 12 patrons each. There were six key points on the tour which were introduced by Cobb and Fischer as each of the two tours that day circled the grounds both by van and on foot, starting with the school’s administration building. Today, there is an exhibit on the impact of “The Great War” on the School in the inside of the building, which is now used as a community center, part of what is known now as One Normal Plaza .

Just outside of that former administration building is a cast iron eagle monument atop the brick plinth indicating where an earlier monument had been erected. When the State closed the school – which was known as Illinois Soldier’s and Sailor’s Children’s Home, or ISSCS – in 1979, Cobb explained, the eagle monument wound up at the McLean County Museum of History thanks to the Town of Normal . The ISSCS Historical Preservation Society and the Town restored the monument and returned it to the property in 2008.

In December 1917, a Service Flag was dedicated to the Home to honor 58 boys from the Home who went to serve their country in WWI. When overcrowding became an issue for the Home, Cobb explained, some of the children were placed in good homes throughout the community or went to live with relatives in the area.

Boys’ Row Cottages Honor Pres. Wilson, War Generals: The next stop of the tour was to the Boys’ Cottages which are now on Oglesby Ave. off of Douglas St . Now, private residences sit on that part of the property, but as a result of the war, five of the eight foursquare brick cottages were named for people either associated with or lost as a result of the war, Cobb said. The cottages were built over a seven year span in the 1920s and could accommodate up to 30 boys. Each cottage had a living room, bedrooms, a dining room, and a basement playroom. A cottage each in this area was named for key figures at the time of the war: Wilson Cottage, named for President Woodrow Wilson; Pershing Cottage, named for Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, the American commander during WWI; and Chateau Thierry Cottage, named to recognize a significant battle directed by Gen. James Harbord which halted the progress of German troops heading in the direction of Paris. Harbord’s men headed the Germans off in the French capitol mounting a fierce counterattack.

The cottages on Boys’ Row were completed in 1928 and now are private homes. “The cottages are in good condition despite their age,” Cobb informed the tour group.

Girls’ cottages, Cobb explained, each had living, dining, and a sitting room, and laundry. Six of the eight girls’ cottages were demolished in 1969, she explained, adding the remaining two were made into private residences.

“Kids would graduate from cottage to cottage once they got older,” Cobb told the tour. The property even had a burial plot for children who passed away while at the school. But in later years, she said, children who died there would be buried at Bloomington ’s Evergreen Cemetery .

Illinois State Normal Univ. Student Teachers Taught Here: Where the children attended school on the grounds was the third site on the tour – Felmley School . It was the last school built on the grounds in 1921, just after WWI ended, and was the first school in the State to abide by new regulations from Springfield to improve safety for students and staff. The Baby Fold’s Hammitt Junior-Senior High School at 612 Oglesby Ave. , is also part of this section of the property. It had 10 rooms on one floor, and had an addition to it which included an auditorium which was constructed in the early 1930s.

The on-site school became a formal training site for student teachers from Illinois State Normal University in 1916, something urged by Dr. David Felmley, President of ISNU, which dropped using Normal as part of its moniker in 1959, according to the booklet Cobb wrote in the tour’s program. One of the students at the school, Clara Kepner, arrived there in 1914 and went on to teach at the school as a young woman.

“Refuge Garden” Helped Grow Food During The War: The property also had a farm and a garden which, as part of the war effort, allowed the School to grow their own vegetables. The garden is still in use today. At the time of the war, these were known as Refuge Food Forest , explained Bill Davidson, extension educator with University of Illinois Extension Service , who showed the visitors that the garden is still functioning today.

During the war, storing and preserving additional food was an essential part of being at the home, Davidson said. Carrots, turnips, onions, and cabbages, once picked, were stored for winter. He said that when the garden was restarted on the property in 2016, after an acre of turnips had been planted east of the garden 99 years ago, it was discovered that those dormant turnips seeds, amazingly, did produce turnips once again years after their planting.

The Children’s Village: West of the Refuge Food Forest garden and along Lincoln St. at its south edge, visitors will find The Children’s Village, Fischer pointed out. The Children’s Village was not yet part of the Home during WWI but a number of the cottages commemorate people who had roles of significance during that time. A total of WWI veterans’ children residing at the home numbered 433 by 1930. The eight Tudor Revival cottages were designed for housing children ages 3-12. Up to 15 youngsters in that age range, grouped by age and gender, along with a supervising matron, lived in those cottages.

Bloomington native A. L. Bowen was appointed to the post of superintendent of charities for the State’s Department of Public Welfare, and he oversaw the project which designed and constructed The Children’s Village.

A “Homer” Becomes A Homecoming King: For the years that youngsters and older students lived at the facility, they became known as “homers,” a term used by the community to identify them, Cobb said. She added as the older kids pushed toward young adulthood and began attending high school, “homer” was a term many bristled at being identified as. But one “homer” managed to go from being that to being a king – a homecoming king at University High School in 1965, Cobb said. That young man’s name was Bob Hayden.

Tour Concludes At “The Circle Of Friendship”: The tour’s last stop was the Gymnasium and the “Circle Of Friendship.” The gymnasium first used by the children at the home was newly built in 1922 for a cost of $25,000 and had modern direct lighting and heat. It served as both recreational facility and assembly hall for important gatherings and events, Cobb said. It sat 250 people and had a motion picture booth. It was used often for 60 years but once the State closed ISSCS in 1979, it has been shuttered.

A “Circle Of Friendship” memorial, depicting six children gathering and greeting each other around a working light pole stands nearby.

The facility had seen its ranks of children swell to 505 kids (referred to by those supervising them as “inmates” by May 1918, but every effort was made to place kids with family members to reduce that. Two months later, as a result, that stat dropped to roughly 400 in a facility that had a capacity for 400. The war’s continuing, however, made trying to find foster homes for children a reality, as well.

By Steve Robinson | September 13, 2018 - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Officials for Normal-based Unit 5 School District informed constituents the district will assemble a working group which will tackle matters which concern substitute teachers employed by the district. A pay increase is among the matters the district’s substitute teachers would like Unit 5 to look into.

Currently, substitute teachers are paid $80 per day Monday through Thursday, and $90 for every Friday they work. Two substitute teachers who work in the district, Martha Arjona and Duane Malany, presented their concerns during the meeting’s public comments section.

“I’m a long-term sub here and this is my 13th year, but I do know the sub pay has not increased in 18 to 20 years,” Arjona told Board members. She told Board members she researched and found Peoria School District 150 pays subs $130 per day, with that amount going up after a sub has taught for 15 straight days to $180 per day. “That’s significantly higher than what we have here,” she told the Board.

She suggested Unit 5 should consider paying certified teachers who have teaching degrees more than what they pay someone who does not hold that distinction. Responsibility for substitutes has been increased to manage a classroom, stated fellow substitute Dawn Leman, but the money subs get for that increased duty has not.

Fellow substitute teacher Duane Malany made the point that a substitute teacher ought to be considered an employee of the district and receive a means of being able to communicate with teachers they sub for to make the teachers aware of any issues they may have encountered in the class they worked in. He said he would like to see the district provide substitutes with an email address through Unit 5’s email system.

“I think substitutes are professionals and should be treated that way,” Malany told Board members. He said his training from the district before being put in a classroom consisted of a course in first aid and an overview regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Outside of that, I was given no guidance on what to expect,” Malany said, adding that during his time at Unit 5, he had only had three instances where a school principal made contact or introduced themselves to him. He said because of the contact principals made, he has become “loyal to those schools” while not as much toward schools where he wasn’t shown that approach.

He called the feeling of not being known at some schools “uncomfortable” because of not knowing the staff at some schools he goes in to.

A discussion of how to rectify the issues brought by substitutes followed, led by Dr. James Harden, executive director of human resources and student services, and Marty Hickman, business manager for the district. The concerns surrounding substitute teachers pay and other concerns found a spark during the public comments section of the Board’s Aug. 22 meeting. There, Pam Etcheson, a substitute teacher in the district, asked Board members to consider a raise in pay for fill-in teachers.

During the latest meeting, Harden said, since the August meeting, Unit 5 has been looking into the concerns which were brought to their attention. “It’s important to say we appreciate and value what you do when you come into our classrooms,” he told those subs present at the meeting. There were about 6-8 fill-in teachers on hand for the meeting.

Pay for substitutes comes out of the district’s education fund, where in the last few school years, between $1.2 million and $1.5 million has been earmarked to give them their keep. Substitutes say they need to use what they are paid to buy gas and purchase teaching licenses if they are certified for them.

Board Member Alan J. Kalitzky asked Hickman to consider keeping track of how many classes were not filled by a substitute teacher in the district, which Hickman agreed to look into. When no substitute is available, a school administrator, such as a principal or vice principal must step in to oversee a class, Harden explained.

The next step in addressing the issue substitutes want to see addressed will come when the district forms a work group which will includes substitutes, classroom teachers, and administrators. That work group will be tasked with researching the situations substitutes have brought to the district’s attention, including finding a way to speed up how often subs are paid. Currently, depending on when a sub works, about 45 days passes before they are paid by the district.

Board Member Taunia Leffler asked Harden how long before the work group would be put together. Harden answered it would take about a month. He told Board members he hoped to have members of the substitutes work group in place by the Board’s first meeting next month, and that its hopes the work group’s first meeting will have already taken place by the Board’s second meeting in October.

Following the session, Hickman said the district will look into a way to add substitutes to the district’s email system. After the meeting, he said putting substitutes into the district email system is not difficult, but making sure to completely take them off the system should they leave the district is not as immediate a process to complete.

Board Approves Issuing Bonds: Board members unanimously approved a resolution to issue $21.5 million in general obligation bonds for refunding purposes and another $16.5 million in general obligation bonds for use in the district’s working cash fund. There was no discussion prior to the vote being taken.

By Steve Robinson | September 10, 2018 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

If I mentioned a company or an organization to you and asked you to tell me how the public identifies it by sight, I’m willing to bet you could tell me what logo the company or group uses to identify itself. The lower case yellow M of McDonald’s, for example; or Maxwell House Coffee’s tilting cup with the last drop leaving the cup, or the American Red Cross in a circle of white in the background most.

At Normal-based Unit 5 School District’s recent 70th anniversary celebration, those in attendance were the first to see an updated logo for the district. It has been many years since such a change has been seen in the emblem used to identify the district.

As part of the celebration which took place in the cafeteria of Chiddix Junior High School prior to the Board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 8, those who gathered for the celebration, numbering roughly 40 or so, were the first to see the district’s new logo, the emblem by which even residents of Normal and the county who didn’t have kids in school in the district could recognize it.

The logo retains orange as its primary color, and has double semi circles at its sides. Those meet bold black letters at the top and bottom. At the top reads, “ McLEAN COUNTY ” and at the bottom reads “UNIT 5.” A mortarboard sits in front of an open book in its lower third.

From that mortarboard, 70 white straight lines, or beams, one for each of the 70 years Unit 5 has been in operation, extend upward.

“We have been talking about updating the logo for several years,” explained Dayna Brown, director of communications and community relations for the district, in reviewing why the district sought the change. In describing the redesign, she explained, “We knew we wanted to keep the circle as in the prior logo, we knew we wanted to keep the orange color, we wanted to give it a more modern feel. We wanted to make it more applicable to what Unit 5 is today and what it will be in the future.”

The district turned to Ben Matthews who operates as a sideline BAM Design to create the new logo. When he’s not putting such creativity to use, Matthews is employed by Illinois Education Association. Matthews said Brown knew about his graphics design work when he’s not on duty with IEA and “she let me know Unit 5 was looking at redoing their logo, partly because of the 70th anniversary.” He added Brown asked him if he’d be interested in creating the new design.

After talking to Brown, Matthews set to work on a trio of logo designs which he presented to the district for consideration. Unit 5 then used its Facebook page to show off Matthews’ work and asked residents to vote on the social media site to determine the winner.

“This was challenging for me because the district did want to maintain a lot of elements from the previous logo,” Matthews said. “They wanted all the elements to be balanced.” It also had to be simple enough to be duplicated in various media, he added, including so it could be embroidered on clothing.

“I needed to take their history and give it a fresh look,” Matthews said. He provided Brown with three designs for the district to consider putting before residents. Once district officials approved the three designs and posted them onto the social networking website, voting began. Because he has a full-time job, Unit 5’s assignment was one of around 10 to 12 he takes on annually, he said.

Matthews said he sketches out on paper what he wants to create before using a computer design program to make the final product.

Of the assignment, 42-year-old Matthews said it was an honor to be asked by the school district he grew up in, attended classes in and once taught in to create the design. In his youth, he attended both Colene Hoose and Oakdale Elementary Schools and Parkside Junior High School. Students attending Prairieland Elementary School saw him at the front of their classrooms from 1999 through 2007. But his secondary education finished outside Unit 5, said, as he graduated from University High.

The previous logo was around for a number of decades. Here’s hoping Matthews’ creation helps carry out the message of the district going into the future for decades to come.

U-High’s Jackson To Suit Up At Jacksonville: On another subject, University High School head football coach John Johnson told me this week sophomore wide receiver Savion Jackson will suit up when the 0-3 Pioneers visit Central State Eight foe Jacksonville Friday. Jackson was knocked unconscious during a kickoff return against Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin during the season opener between the two sides Aug. 24 at Hancock Stadium.

Both trainers and paramedics worked on Jackson, finally transporting to a hospital. He did wake a couple of times while being worked on, Johnson told reporters after the contest. The game was ended with 9:16 left in the contest with the Cyclones up 42-0.

I’m hoping to get readers a column in the future on Savion’s experience.

By Steve Robinson | September 2, 2018 - 7:09 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Nic Kearfoot took over as Athletic Director at Normal Community High School from Mike Clark who retired in July. Kearfoot said he considers himself “very lucky” to be introduced into the business of being an administrator.

“I broke into it at a very young age and I’ve been lucky enough to be at some good schools and stay in the profession,” he explained.

The 38-year-old Kearfoot came to NCHS and Unit 5 from Dekalb High School. NCHS is his third high school as an athletic administrator having sought to go into the profession 15 years ago. His other job as an administrator was at Okaw Valley High School.

Kearfoot replaced Mike Clark who, after what was his second stint as AD at NCHS, retired in July. Kearfoot admits he was considering applying for the post just as Clark’s predecessor, Andy Turner, was going to exit Unit 5 for the AD job at Maine South High School in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge.

“Two years ago, when Mr. Turner left – I knew he was leaving –, I inquired about the position then,” Kearfoot explained. “But once I heard about it opening again, I was interested in it.” And with good reason because although he has spent time elsewhere doing the job, coming to NCHS would put Kearfoot and his family – wife Stephanie and three sons ages 13, 10, and 7 – closer to where he and his wife grew up in El Paso. He and his wife graduated from high school there in 1998. During his high school days, he was a three-sport athlete.

In high school, Kearfoot played football, basketball, and baseball. He received his bachelor’s degree in something that doesn’t touch athletics, however – Agricultural Education from Illinois State University. He later earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Eastern Illinois University.

“I knew how great and rich the athletic tradition and programs are here, so, I knew the district was sound and academically successful,” Kearfoot said of Unit 5. “My wife and I always had talked about that, if we had the chance to come back to the Bloomington-Normal area, we would try to.”

Kearfoot was hired in mid-February. That allowed him to take part in interviews for the Ironmen head football coaching job which was vacant when he arrived, seeking a replacement for Wes Temples who resigned in December. Of that search, Kearfoot said, “We knew we had a huge task at hand just because the tradition Normal Community football has had over the last 20 or 30 years.” The committee recommended and Unit 5 School Board members unanimously voted to approve Jason Drengwitz to be the Ironmen’s next coach.

Once he knew he had the AD job, Kearfoot took a few days in the spring to set up interviews with each of his coaches. “That gave me a chance to know a little about them and their programs,” the veteran AD explained. He labeled those conversations as “very beneficial.”

Here’s to hoping that under Kearfoot, NCHS’ tradition in their sports teams’ accomplishments will continue just as they have and just as he was mindful of.