By Steve Robinson | September 29, 2016 - 11:55 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – As far as members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board were concerned, an apology, added to assurances to do better on the part of Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. weren’t enough. At their regular meeting on Sept. 28 held for the second straight meeting in the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School, Board members voted to give First Student a one-month extension to correct problems which have been a headache to parents and administrators since school began in August.

Should no progress in transporting children be achieved by a deadline set by Board members – Nov. 1 – Unit 5 will terminate its contract with First Student voiding it for the 2017-18 school year. First Student would, should the contract be voided, continue as the transportation provider for the remainder of this school year regardless.

An earlier motion to kill the contract now went nowhere among Board members.

At the Board’s last meeting at Normal West two weeks before, Bob Rutkowski, area general manager, and Roger Moore, senior vice president of operations for Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co., formally apologized to Board members and the families affected by the results of what has been a difficult period for students trying to get to and from school, and their parents, for whom frustration has continued to mount as a result of issues that resulted when school began in mid-August At this session, First Student representatives sat and listened as Board members aired their concerns and their disappointment in how they perceive the service has been from First Student since classes began over a month ago.

Unit 5 mapBoard Member Mike Trask told the men he “hasn’t been able to get past Aug. 17.” Aug. 17 was the first day of school for Unit 5 and a day that proved to be the start of difficulties ranging from late buses to being temporarily unable to locate students. Because he is a parent of students in Unit 5, Trask said he’s torn between his “emotional side and his non-emotional side” on the busing issue. “I’m struggling,” Trask told the men. “I’m struggling a lot.”

He wasn’t alone in wrestling with the issue, as roughly 100 parents sat in the gallery of the meeting, six of whom addressed Board members.

“The thought of kids standing and waiting for buses for 45 minutes concerns me,” Board Member Joseph Cleary told the men. Moore responded by saying First Student would understand if Unit 5 opts not to renew the contract which would have one more school year on it after this year if Board Members decide to keep First Student.

“The negatives weigh heavily on us in terms of your credibility,” Board Member Jim Hayek, Jr. told Rutkowski and Moore. “I’m not hearing anything about customer service in relation to First Student’s communications with parents.”

Rutkowski said the service shown thus far by First Student “has worn on parents’ tolerance and worn on parents’ patience.”

Board Member John Puzauskas told the men he wanted to see “sustainable service day in and day out. If we do see that kind of service by the end of October, I would consider not canceling the contract.”

“We have to see concrete results,” Trask added. “We cannot put our parents through this. I’m willing to go 30 days before considering canceling the contract.”

Rutkowski admitted First Student has been seeking a replacement for the person who was their permanent site manager, Jim Stoneciper. Stoneciper resigned Aug. 22 as a result of how things developed in the first few days of the new school year.

Cleary told the men he has been struggling with how the last six weeks have gone with First Student’s performance.

During the public comments section of the four-hour meeting, parent David Dennis was one of six parents who addressed Board members, saying Unit 5 needed to go back to a three-tier busing system. “Unit 5 and First Student are failing because you aren’t getting kids to school.”

Other Actions Approved: In addition to the discussion surrounding the busing issue, Board members unanimously approved a 2016-17 budget, as well as contracts with the members of both Unit Five Education Association, which represents its teachers, and Unit Five Support Professionals Association (UFSPA), the union that represents teaching assistants and office personnel.

By Steve Robinson | September 26, 2016 - 10:40 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

FootballNORMAL – University High Pioneers defenders could not stop the run game Corn Belt Conference rival Prairie Central employed when the Hawks visited Hancock Stadium on Sept. 22, as the visitors rushed for a total of 360 yards en route to a 24-7 victory. The engine that powered that ground game was led by Hawks senior running back Ethan Kinkade, who had 17 carries for 123 yards and one score.

Prairie Central (2-3 overall, 2-2 Corn Belt) scored with 1:57 left in the first quarter on a 58 yard sprint by Kinkade, capping a 4-play, 81 yard drive, putting the Hawks up, 7-0, following senior kicker Francis Strong’s extra point.

U-High Pioneers footballThe Hawks’ lead increased to 14-0 with 26 seconds left in the second quarter, as the Pioneers defense found themselves unable to contain a sustained rushing drive of 70 yards in 13 plays which concluded with junior quarterback Billy Printz’s three yard touchdown run, followed by Strong’s extra point.

U-High (1-4, 1-2 Corn Belt) got on the scoreboard at 9:28 in the third quarter thanks to a 54 yard pass from junior quarterback Doug Holmes to junior tight end Mark Widdel, followed by sophomore kicker Nathan Clay’s extra point. That reduced the Hawks lead, 14-7.

The Hawks’ defense provided their next score while continuing to blockade the Pioneers’ efforts to get out front of their guests. With 1:28 left in the third quarter, the Hawks were forced to turn over the ball on downs having pushed a drive 63 yards before giving the ball back to the Pioneers at U-High’s 17.

But once the Pioneers got the ball back, an incomplete pass, a penalty, and a quarterback sack of Holmes had U-High pushed back to its own 3 yard line. One play later, Hawks’ senior defensive lineman Jaccob Karnes sacked Holmes in the end zone for a safety, pushing Prairie Central further in front, 16-7.

Prairie Central Hawks footballA Pioneers possession ended in the fourth quarter when U-High junior running back Trey Heffner fumbled at his own 38 yard line and Prairie Central junior linebacker Drew Hoselton recovered the ball allowing the Hawks to start a drive at U-High’s 41 yard line with 7:47 left in the contest. The Hawks’ offense chewed up yardage and the clock, scoring 11 plays later on a one yard run by Printz, increasing the Hawks’ lead, 24-7, following a 2-Point conversion run by Kinkade.

“We had over 360 yards of rushing the ball and our offensive line did a good job today,” Prairie Central head coach kirk Brandenburg said afterward. “Billy Printz had another good game. I liked the way we used the clock. You have the advantage if you can run clock like that. It just shortens the game.”

The loss prompted U-High head coach Trevor Von Bruenchenhein to call for a team meeting Saturday to look for ways to turn the season around. “We just weren’t doing things to the best of our ability,” he said. “It wasn’t anything that we weren’t prepared for or nothing we shouldn’t be able to handle in terms of scheme. Our opportunities were there. We just didn’t convert.”

By Steve Robinson | September 24, 2016 - 10:55 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

Steve RobinsonDuring last year’s annual homecoming celebration at University High, as the school marked its 50th anniversary of being moved from what is now Moulton Hall on the Illinois State University campus to its present Gregory St. location, the school spent part of the occasion looking back at its past by uncovering and displaying the contents of a time capsule which was sealed behind the building’s cornerstone. The treasures found there last year were publicly displayed for us to all see.

This past weekend was homecoming weekend for the Pioneers, and the school repeated the process as it considered the possibilities of what those students who will be attending U-High in a half-century from now will think when they open the 12 x 15 capsule again in 2065.

On Friday, Sept. 23, about 40 guests attended a reception in University High’s library prior to the formal resealing of the time capsule for the next 50 years.

The box, made from copper about the size of a small safe deposit box, was re-encased in the wall of the building’s north end, behind the school’s cornerstone as part of a formal ceremony to help kick off the big two-days’ worth of Homecoming festivities. When the box was let out from behind the building’s date marker last year, school officials discovered that, in 1965, it had been welded shut and had been placed there shortly after the school moved from ISU campus to the current location.

In a column I wrote on this subject last year, Dr. Jeff Hill, superintendent of ISU’s Lab School system, explained existence of the time capsule was made known to the school from U-High alum John Stowe, now a successful local contractor. “We just thought it would be a nice thing for us to open it up and, ISU’s archivist at Milner Library would be interested in what we found,” Dr. Hill told me at the time.

And what was preserved in the box was a treasure trove of what life was like for students of that initial era: Among other things, copies of the school newspaper, The Clarionette, from October 9, and Nov. 13, 1964; Two annual editions of the school’s yearbook, The Clarion, from 1963 and 1964; A pamphlet from 1957 titled, “University High School: Past And Present; A pamphlet on the school written by members of the school’s Civics Club; A University High School Handbook; A copy of Illinois English Bulletin, An Approach to the of Poetry, Edited by Ruth Stroud, 1962, which includes poetry written by University High School students. The school’s Stroud Auditorium is named for her. Also included were items such as a copy of “‘The Democratic Idea, It’s Challenges and Future,” a 1964 essay written by Everett W. Lueck, one of 22 finalists from Illinois in a competitive examination on American Government sponsored by The Hearst Foundation, as well as a copy of a play,”Judgement Morning,” written by Robert Brome, at th
at time, a member of English Department.

There is also a letter to the Class of 2065 from the Class of 1965. A letter to a class of students whose parents won’t be conceived for at least another 25 years from a class of students by then will themselves be long departed but in their youthful enthusiasm, probably expressed hopefulness and maybe share a little fun in their message.

With a few exceptions, the majority of the contents of the box that was filled by the Class of ’65 have been moved to the archives of ISU, housed in Milner Library.

“When the capsule was opened last year, there was a letter from the Class of 1965 addressed to the Class of 2065,” Dr. Andrea Markert, U-High principal, told the gathering. She added there was the temptation to want to open the letter. “But we didn’t,” she said, a comment that elicited laughter from those attending.

“When the Class of 2065 opens this, they will enjoy these items as much as we’ve enjoyed looking at the items from the Class of 1965,” Markert said.

After 50 additional years, what does one add to such treasures? Among the items the Class of 2065 will find courtesy of the Class of 2016 are both what you would expect mixed with some things you might not expect, including newspaper clippings highlighting U-High events and games; programs from Pioneers sports events from the 2015-16 school year; Alumni newsletters; Class Night event, holiday concert, and graduation night programs; A letter from members of the student senate; lapel pins with the school logo and school track and field logo, among other items.

U-High Librarian Gretchen Zaitzeff said there were a few things the committee of students and teachers who were assembling the box’s contents were considering adding, such as a Pokemon Go game and Pokemon card, a copy of Rolling Stone magazine which profiled the musical “Hamilton,” and a newly-redesigned $10 bill and its predecessor. She said the group wanted to include metal campaign buttons from this year’s election which is pitting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton against New York-based billionaire Donald Trump, but that such campaign paraphernalia hasn’t been readily available.

John Wroan, a member of U-High’s Class of 1945, now 89, who made his living as owner of Wroan And Sons Construction, went to U-High when it was still on campus in a building now known as Moulton Hall and is a proud graduate. His company built the high school’s current building. He and Mia Gilbert, a senior and the current student body president at the school, had the honor of placing the time capsule back behind the cornerstone where it will rest for the next 50 years until the Pioneers’ Class of 2065 decides to check out what will be, by then, historical artifacts from today.

“It’s difficult to explain, but it’s unbelievable to be able to take out artifacts from years ago, and then putting our own touch on what people will find 50 years from now,” Gilbert told me.

Wroan, whose construction company bore his name, said he‘s proudest about having attended and graduated from U-High. For the Wroan family, having had members graduate from here “makes it a special place,” he said.

“Every time capsule is different,” explained April Andersen, University Archivist at ISU’s Milner Library. She ought to know because in the past year, she has archived the contents of not just U-High, but of time capsules unearthed while two sets of ISU residence halls – Hamilton-Whitten and Atkin-Colby – were being demolished in the spring. Each of those sets of residence halls had a time capsule buried underneath them. Through the fall, the contents of the time capsules from the residence halls and U-High will be on display at Milner Library.

Andersen said it’s not uncommon to find “a little special something” that holds special meaning for those who assembled and packaged the capsule. In the case of the U-High Class of 1965’s capsule, for Andersen, that “something special” she detected had “just been snuck into the capsule at the last minute” was a very tiny “The Beatles” button.

By Steve Robinson | September 20, 2016 - 7:37 am
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – By a 5-2 vote, Normal Town Council members approved a resolution authorizing a redevelopment agreement between the Town and the current owner of the former Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School. Under the agreement, the buildings’ current owner would have one of ISSCS’ former buildings, the administration building, demolished. A second building that housed ISSCS’ infirmary, would be renovated.

But a cautionary clause in the agreement between the Town and the owner of the property which currently includes 11 buildings, Nicholas Africano, has Africano asking the Town not to proceed with any development agreements with other parties for two years while Africano attempts to raise funds in an effort to purchase the property back from the Town. The Town, in turn, would have complete discretion to either accept or reject any offer Africano put forth. It was that stipulation in the clause that prompted two Council members – Kathleen Lorenz and Scott Preston — to vote against the deal.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Town would reimburse Africano the cost of the demolition of the three-story, 20,000 sq. ft. ISSCS administration building, which would include asbestos removal — a project totaling an estimated $500,000 – using Town General Fund money. Under the agreement, Africano would deed the property to the Town. That would include the Administration Building’s footprint and additional land to the north and south of that building.

Lorenz labeled the clause “rather open ended,” asking, “We demolish it, then what? The two-year period in the clause is rather concerning.” Preston said he wondered if Africano could have done what he was seeking to do with the property once the building was demolished without involving the Town.

City Manager Mark Peterson stated at the outset of the discussion the Town’s hope is to market the property and find someone who will put something compatible with the other ISSCS buildings and their surroundings. He said the Town would receive revenue as well as some tax dollars from the sale of the land the remaining ISSCS buildings sit on.

Council Member Jeff Fritzen questioned Peterson about what the Town’s options would be if no agreement with Africano were approved. Peterson said there would be two avenues the Town could take. One would be to invoke a vacant buildings ordinance which would require Africano to remove the three-story structure, and the other option would be for the building to be secured and boarded up and wait for an interested party to approach the Town about purchasing it.

Upon hearing of those options, Fritzen said he would rather see the property “generate some Tax Increment Financing dollars.” Mayor Chris Koos told Fritzen developers do not always seek out TIF projects.

The Town anticipates recovering its initial financial contribution using real estate revenue brought in through Tax Increment Financing district money. A Tax Increment Financing district was created for the former ISSCS property in 2009.

Before Council members adjourned to go into executive session for an annual performance review by Council of Peterson, Preston and Peterson answered reporters’ questions concerning the decision made on the ISSCS property matter.

Africano’s cautionary clause “is one I have a little more hesitation on. Agreeing to this limits any interest in the property from other potential developers,” Preston said during an impromptu interview with reporters.

Peterson said the Town took into consideration concerns Lorenz and Preston brought up, adding, “frankly, we thought it was a reasonable request, and certainly, if Mr. Africano is able to mobilize the resources to reimburse the Town within the two-year period, I think that would be a good outcome.” Otherwise, Peterson said it could be “a number of years for us to recoup our investment.

To Fritzen’s wondering what would happen if the Town had taken no action, Peterson said owners of “neighboring properties have been waiting to get this resolved. I hear from them frequently and I don’t blame them for their concerns. The administration building is not in good shape and has a blighting influence on all of the neighboring properties. I think we owe it to them to get this resolved.”

Peterson added he would hate waiting for another two years for what he called “an uncertain outcome.” “I’m pleased the Council decided to move forward for the benefit of owners of surrounding properties.” Peterson said he estimated for someone to renovate the building which he said was built for a specific purpose at the time of its construction would probably cost between $10 million-$15 million.

Preliminary Plan Approved For The Lofts PUD: In addition to the matter concerning the ISSCS matter, Council also unanimously approved three resolutions regarding the Lofts Northend Planned Unit Development located southeast of the intersection of Parkside Rd. and Raab Rd. In consecutive unanimous decisions, Council members approved the preliminary plan for the development, as well as the final development plan. Council member also unanimously approved a resolution conditionally and partially giving approval for the final plat of the property. There was no Council discussion concerning any of the related resolutions.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting on Sept. 6, 2016.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures as of Sept.14, 2016.

• A resolution to accept a bid and award a contract to Bloomington-based Rowe Construction Co., a division of United Contractors Midwest, Inc., in the amount of $1,181,915.91 for the 2016 Motor Fuel Tax/Community Development Block Grant Street Resurfacing Project.

• A resolution to accept a proposal for auditing services by Warrenville, Ill.-based Lauterbach and Amen, LLP, a CPA firm.

• A conditional resolution partially approving the final plat of the 11th addition to the Pheasant Ridge subdivision.

• A resolution partially approving an amended final development plan for the Linden Trails PUD at 808 S. Linden Ave.

• An ordinance accepting permanent and temporary easements required for the Ironwood force main project and approval of compensation of $16,242.50 for the easements.

Archie HarrisNORMAL – Archie Harris was remembered with stories that were not just filled with lessons passed on as a coach to his students as Swimming and Diving Coach for all or parts of three decades for Illinois State University, but also as a mentor and friend during a memorial service held Saturday, Sept. 17 at First United Methodist Church in Normal.

“How he lived his years had a powerful effect on each of us,” explained Florida resident George Brenco, a former ISU Swim Team member under Harris in the early to mid-1970s. Brenco and his family remained friends with Harris and his family for years following Brenco’s graduation from ISU.

“Our time on Earth is certainly filled with purpose,” Brenco told the gathering. “Archie’s life was filled with purpose.”

In addition to his coaching career which lasted at ISU from 1957 until he retired in 1982, Harris served as co-director of Easter Seals Camp, which began under the moniker McLean County Crippled Children’s Camp, at Camp Heffernan on Lake Bloomington near Hudson from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. Harris had been associated with the camp for years though before being tapped as co-director.

Harris died April 11 at age 93, in Willowbrook, Ill., where he had been living with his daughter’s family.

“In his 93 years, what a difference he made and how he enriched the people who crossed his path,” Brenco stated, adding his own first encounter with Harris came in 1972 when Harris offered him a scholarship to attend ISU as a member of the Swim and Diving Team. “He believed in me and let me know it. I wanted to swim fast and be the best student I could be because I didn’t want to let him down.”

Brenco became a Special Education teacher – the result of Harris’ encouraging him to become a member of the Camp’s counseling staff. Working at the camp, Brenco said, “Allowed me to meet many special people who had an impact on my life.”

“Camp was a magical place, just a magical place,” added another former Swim Team member, Paul Beiersdorf, now a Peoria resident, in addressing the service. He recounted how the camp had been started by Clifford E. “Pop” Horton, who served as director of health and physical education from 1923-1961 for what was then known as Illinois State Normal University, then later ISU.

Beiersdorf said the camp was set up as a college course to give students an opportunity to learn about interacting with children with disabilities. In effect, the students were taking a course while caring for the kids, Beiersdorf explained.

Beiersdorf said that as a result of how Harris helped the camp and its student staff flourish through their experience, as well as because of how he lived his life, “if Archie didn’t make it to Heaven, then none of us have a chance.”

Rev. Greta McDonald, minister at First United Methodist Church in Downers Grove, knew Harris while he lived with his daughter and her family during his last years. “Even at that time in his life when he was not at full strength, when it was much harder for him to express himself, when he was aged, I saw in him a remarkable man,” McDonald told the gathering.

McDonald said those who knew Harris as their college instructor “probably marveled at his talent and stamina and skill and teaching technique and its effectiveness. But those who knew him as a swim coach, knew him as a person, who, along with his wife, Harriett, opened their home to you.” Harriett Harris died in 2012.

McDonald said she learned swim members could “drop in for supper anytime and often did.” That sometimes meant there would be between 5-10 unexpected dinner guests for the Harrises as a result.

He was an excellent teacher and coach and could bring out the best of a person’s talents,” McDonald told the gathering. “But more lasting was the personal care and open home and open heart he shared with his students.”

“He was a remarkable person because of what he made of his life,” McDonald said.