By Steve Robinson | December 14, 2017 - 10:19 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – After no public comments were made to Board members of Normal-based Unit 5 School District during a public hearing at the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting on Dec. 13, Board members unanimously approved levying taxes and authorizing a certificate for a tax levy for 2017. The amount the levy will bring in is nearly $113 million, taxes residents will pay next spring upon receiving their annual tax bills. The amount to come in is up from taxes due last spring by 2.97 percent. The tax levy for 2016 brought in around $109 million.

Board Members Approve Settlement With Apartment Owners: Board members unanimously approved a settlement agreement with owners of student apartment building owners which would establish the earned assessed valuation of certain buildings to be set for tax years 2015 through 2022. Under the agreement, Unit 5 will see an increase in the amount of money from property taxes received by building owners. That total increase in revenue means Unit 5 will take in roughly $141,000 more than in past years.

Both High Schools’ “Good News” From State Swimming: Representatives from both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School took a deep dive to inform Board members of their individual school’s athletes’ successes at Illinois High School Association State Swimming and Diving Competition held Nov. 17 and 18 in Winnetka.

Unit 5 mapNCHS high school reported the following results: Grace Ariola placed 1st in both the 50 meter freestyle and 100 meter backstroke; Julia Heimstead finished 2nd in the 100 meter butterfly and 9th in the 200 Individual Medley; Claire Koh placed 9th in the 500 meter freestyle while Julia Oostman finished 12th in the same event.

As a team, NCHS’ quartet of Ariola, Koh, Heimstead, and Ashley Bengtson placed 2nd in their heat of the 400 meter freestyle relay. In the 200 meter relay, Ariola, Oostman, Heimstead, and Bengtson came in 3rd.

Their crosstown counterparts from Normal West were able to glow over the successes Melissa Pish accomplished in a pair of freestyle events she participated in.

George L. Evans Junior High School’s “Good News”: Whenever Board members hear a “good news” item from administrators, it has to do with events that have already taken place. But in the case of the presentation brought before Board members at the meeting by Christopher McGraw, principal at the school located at Bloomington’s south end, it had to do with students preparing for an upcoming event.

McGraw introduced Board members to seventh graders, Anne Dameron and Megan Siegrist, both of Bloomington, who will compete in a National Leadership Competition in Atlanta, Ga. Feb. 9-11. The competition Dameron and Siegrist will participate in is the American called the Amazing Shake, a competition which puts an emphasis on student leadership skills, manners, and professional conduct. Before the competition, the pair were educated in skills related to professional human interaction, and practiced these skills.

The skills included giving a proper handshake, how to “work a room,” and how to give a successful interview, with the goal of this competition to prepare students to present themselves for future opportunities. Dameron is the daughter of Jeffrey and Jennifer Dameron, of Towanda, and Siegrist, daughter of Dave and Sarah Siegrist, of Bloomington.

By Steve Robinson | December 10, 2017 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonWalking home the short distance from the bus stop in front of Gold’s Gym Express last week was, literally, a bitter experience – bitterly cold, that is. The chill had me longing for warm weather, such as what we experienced the second week of the high school football season. Even those slightly unseasonably warm temps would be preferred to the chill we have had of late.

The picture accompanying this column – kids wearing shorts, grass skirts fashioned out of shredded garbage bags, t-shirts, and shades — was all part of an orchestrated effort on the part of a group of Normal Community High School seniors given the task of getting the senior class cheering section into the game. They do this always hoping for victory but they stay throughout the game, win or lose, and add spirit to the contests.

Nikki Maurer, associate principal at NCHS, explained that, each year, a group of seniors are selected to act as leaders who will organize the student cheering section at Ironmen football, boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball, and other sports as a means of getting the kids enthused and ready to root on the team, primarily at home games.

Maurer said, sometimes, which students get chosen to head the student section are recommended to her by other students, mainly seniors, who want to see certain juniors step into the role the next year. In other cases, Maurer makes the selections.

Whoever gets selected for the role of cheer section leader, “we try to make sure they are upstanding role models and kids who get the rest of the kids going,” Maurer said. She further explained that “the kids who lead this definitely have to be outgoing because they need to come up with creative themes for scheduled games and they have to be able to get the rest of the crowd going, to get them to follow along, dress up, and do the cheers with them.”

Maurer has been overseeing the student section leaders for the 12 years she has been at NCHS. But she said the group has been organized for longer than that.

“Hawaiian Night,” for example, is always against Bloomington High School, one member of the squad, J. D. Thiele, told me. He and his buddies Joey Schroeder and Nick Leming were kind enough amidst the enthusiastic activity at the time before that game to explain their role to me.

The guys said they are aware they are expected to serve as role models for their fellow students. They said they run every theme idea by Maurer for approval, and she helps them pass the word about themes for those games through school announcements.

Maurer said if a cheer section leader is involved in other sports, it helps that there are nine kids total in the group who rotate when needed. That is handy because Leming is a member of the Ironmen Soccer team, Thiele is a members of NCHS’ baseball team, and Schroeder is a member of the school’s competitive bass fishing team.

In addition to Thiele, Schroeder, and Leming, other student section leaders include: Logan Woodrum, Justin Schwaberger, Quentin Wetzel, Brady Fletcher, Eric Morrissette, and Lucas Li.

These kids have responsibilities that relate to this group, Maurer said, including making her aware of any materials they need to make a planned theme a success.

Whether the kids realize immediately what this experience teaches them – leadership, responsibility, and communication skills – may not jump out at them right away, but this group and others like it go a long way to helping these kids become leaders later in life. That’s definitely a positive for them and for those they work with. I realize each school has such a group and in future columns, I will introduce them to you.

And as for that photo, looking at that picture in this weather is a hopeful sign the chill can’t last forever.

By Steve Robinson | December 4, 2017 - 10:05 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – With a unanimous vote, Normal Town Council members approved an ordinance authorizing the 2017 property tax levy. The 2017 levy totals $12,958,494, which is an increase of $783,694 from the 2016 levy, an increase of 6.44 percent. Council members reviewed the levy at their Nov. 6 meeting and directed Town Staff to prepare the ordinance. A public hearing was required to be held prior to the vote because the increase in the property tax was over five percent.

General fund operations and Normal Public Library operations funding were the only two of the levy’s six components that have no dollar increases mentioned. They are the only funds that have local control, as well.

The other four components do have increases and break down this way: The police pension contribution was increased by 13.64 percent, or $275,600, to $2,296,600; Fire pension contribution was increased by 21.17 percent, or $364,200, to $2,084,200; and Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund contribution was increased by 8.71 percent, to $1,721,930. The Town’s annual Medicare/Social Security contribution registered the smallest increase of less than less than one-half percent, to $1,351,964. The Town, by State law, must maintain contributions to these four funds.

The measure passed but not before local residents had their say during the public hearing. Eleven residents spoke before Council members, most of them opposed to the increase. Craig Stimpert told Council members that he has “the utmost respect for police and fire service employees, and Town employees but he pointed out the Town has increased property taxes each year for the past 11 years.

Ed Neaves, treasurer for Illinois Realtors Group, which represents realtors Statewide, told Council members, “We’re asking government to do no harm to realtors trying to sell a house. Quit going back to property owners every time you need money.” Stimpert and Neaves were among 11 residents who addressed Council members about the proposed increase, the majority of them opposed to it.

During the Council discussion following the public hearing, Council Member Chemberly Cummings told the gathering of between 40-50 residents present about the statute which the Town operates behind which allows for consideration of raising property taxes. She also credited the audience members who spoke for having “trust in a roomful of people to share your heart, and we appreciate that.”

Council Member Kevin McCarthy told the gathering the Town’s general fund has not had an increase to its coffer in 12 years, belaying concerns about how the new money coming in would be used.

The Town of Normal only has control of roughly 17.3 percent of a resident’s tax bill, a report prepared for Council members by Andrew Huhn, the Town’s director of finance. The remaining governing bodies controlling the tax bill (and their percentage of control in 2016) include: Unit 5 School District (60.8 percent); McLean County (10.6 percent); Heartland Community College (6.8 percent); Normal Township (2.7 percent); Normal Water Reclamation District (2.1 percent); and Central Illinois Airport Authority (1.4 percent).

Property Taxes From Certain Bonds Approved For Abatement: Council members unanimously approved 11 ordinances authorizing abating of 2017 Property Taxes for debt service. The ordinances abated over $5.7 million in property taxes for the following bonds: 2008 bonds issued in August 2008; 2009 bonds issued in July that year to refund the 2003 bond; 2009(A) bonds issued in July that year; 2010(A) bonds issued November that year; 2012 bonds issued September that year to refund 2004 bonds; 2013 bonds issued November that year to refund 2005 bonds; 2014 bonds issued November that year; 2016(A) bonds issued March that year to refund 2006 bonds; 2016(B) bonds issued March that year; 2017(A) bonds issued March that year to refund 2007 bonds; and 2017(B) bonds issued March that year to refund 2007 bonds. The total amount of the bonds was $6,543,152. But there were Supranational/Sovereign/Agency bonds, or SSA bonds, totaling $796,899 that was not abated. As a result, the total of the bonds abated was $5,746,253.

Latest Community Investment Plan Approved: Before Council members finished out the roughly 2 ½ session, they received an update from Andrew Huhn, Town Finance Director, concerning the Community Investment Plan for the Town for Fiscal year 2017-18 through FY 2022-23. The proposed plan for that calendar period includes a total of 183 capital projects that are to be completed over a six-year period beginning with this fiscal year. Those projects, Huhn explained, total roughly $94.6 million.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Nov. 20, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Nov. 29, 2017.

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

• A resolution requesting permission to close a portion of U. S. Highway 51 for the annual Jaycees Christmas Parade.

• A resolution authorizing the renewal of a joint agreement with the City of Bloomington and the Ecology Action Center for an energy efficiency program.

• A motion to authorize an amendment to the FY 2017-18 Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) budget for the general fund.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. in the amount of $59,799 for the Adelaide Street sanitary extension project along West College Ave.

• A resolution authorizing the City Manager to accept a bid in the amount of $904,063.06 from New York-based Presidio Networked Solutions Group, LLC for the purchase of network infrastructure.

• A resolution to conditionally approve a final plat for the Miller Storage Subdivision (2717 N. Main ).

• A resolution approving a property tax settlement agreement.

• An ordinance approving a redevelopment agreement for the property located at 1404 Fort Jesse Rd.

ray regalYou never know just who you might encounter on vacation, even when you’re trying to get away from the Twin Cities for a while.

On the way to my vacation to watch Illinois State University’s Men’s Basketball team take on host Nevada-Reno, I had to take a flight that made connections at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. That meant changing terminals. Once I got to the terminal to meet up with the connecting flight, I passed a kiosk manned by folks the airport calls their “Ambassadors,” – folks who volunteer to give help such as directions to restrooms and other needs, to the travelers they see pass by them, some of those travelers needing assistance, every day.

I wore a baseball cap with ISU’s Reggie Redbird mascot as I went through the airport, and as I passed one kiosk, the gentleman manning it saw what I was wearing and called out, “Go You Redbirds!” The fact he called out the current battle cry of this hometown team that far from home caught my attention because it was exact. He didn’t just say “Go Redbirds” or “Go Cardinals” as some folks mistakenly are prone to do if they aren’t familiar with the area, but specifically, “Go You Redbirds!”

That caught my attention enough that I pulled out my cell phone and asked if I could interview him. Meet Ray Regal, ISU Class of 1972, who has lived in Dallas for a number of years and for about the last 10 had worked in a clothing store at DFW International before retiring a year ago. Once he retired, Regal joined a corps of 643 Airport Ambassadors who offer assistance to travelers to help them get through to their destination while they are at the 18,500 sq. acre facility. DFW International’s Ambassador Program will turn 20 years old next year, according to Mehdi Mowstowfi, a shift supervisor for the program.

Regal, 67, majored in Speech Communication/Radio-Television and minored in History during his time at ISU. He did radio work on campus at ISU’s National Public Radio affiliate, WGLT FM. Once he graduated from ISU, he worked at radio stations in Taylorville, Springfield, and Princeton, getting as far hitting the airwaves as Kansas City, Mo. before needing to make a career switch.

“Kansas City is basically where my radio career ended,” Regal said. “I did sportscasting and other things at the time and had a lot of fun doing it.”

A number of Regal’s memories of ISU centered around the protests on campus against the Vietnam war, he explained. “There were interesting happenings on the quad by the Old Main Bell then,” he said.

He said one of his most memorable WGLT interviews he conducted was with athlete Joanie Weston, who went on to fame as a star of roller derby in the 1950s and 1960s.

Regal said the last time he visited Normal and the campus was “about 10 years ago and I couldn’t believe how much the campus had changed.”

By Steve Robinson | December 3, 2017 - 10:36 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonTo Pavani Nukala, life is expressed through song. Anyone who attended the Illinois High School Association State Volleyball Tournament at Redbird Arena last month got to hear the Normal Community High School senior sing the National Anthem twice on Championship day.

“I started singing 12 years ago,” Pavani said. The songs she first sang probably wouldn’t be found topping American charts though. “I started singing North Indian classical music, something I started learning in 7th grade.”

From there, Pavani said, “I started learning choral music. And more recently, I’ve been in a pop group at school.” If you didn’t know kids at NCHS had formed a pop group, don’t feel bad. Neither did I. The group’s name is Key Of She. Being an all-female group, they sing primarily female-oriented tunes, Pavani said. Key Of She travels to area churches to perform, she added. In addition, Key Of She also tours nursing homes during the holidays bringing lyrical cheer to residents and staff, Pavani said.

To be allowed to sing the National Anthem at State Volleyball, Pavani, whose father and mother are Prasad and Lakshmi Nukala, said she auditioned last year for a district level choir overseen by Illinois Music Educators Association (ILMEA). Pavani was ranked first among sopranos who tested for the opportunity to sing the anthem when she went before the judges, and getting her past that moved her on to an all-State competition. From there, she was selected to perform. Her instructor through this process was NCHS Music teacher Ben Luginbuhl.

“Doing this was a big deal for me since I was selected at district level,” Pavani said. “I then worked hard for it at the State level.”

Pavani said she hasn’t made a decision about which college she will attend yet, but said she does have a career goal in mind. She wants to be a pediatrician. “Singing for me has been a kind of a stress reliever,” Pavani said. “Once I go to Pre-Med or Med School, I can use music as a stress reliever.” Pavani said she also believes she can use music to calm her patients when the time comes.

Matt Troha, assistant executive director for Volleyball at IHSA, said after IHSA gets the list of IMEA’s top singers, “IHSA tries to make the singers work out for our events based on geography and try to get some of the top kids to sing at State events.”

With a few State Championship events in town every year, working it out so that local kids like Pavani can perform before local crowds like she did at Redbird Arena last month works out to everyone’s benefit.

Here’s hoping this young lady can achieve her dreams to help treat sick kids while she continues to carry a song in her heart.