By Steve Robinson | April 28, 2017 - 10:36 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Steve RobinsonApril 26’s Unit 5 School Board meeting heralded a big change for the district as the longest serving member, Gail Ann Briggs, and one of the Board’s financially-insightful members, John Puzauskas, exited after 41 years and 12 years, respectfully.

The occasion marked the start of a new era for the Board as Taunia Leffler and David W. Fortner took their seats for the first time. Going into this first meeting for both, Leffler said, “I’m just really excited. It’s going to be a great opportunity.”

Taunia Leffler said she has already been involved in community service that focuses on meeting kids’ needs to help them succeed academically. Being on the Board, to her way of thinking, “is just another way to further that motivation.”

“I want to make sure that, as we are focused on budget issues, including the $8 million deficit from the State on categoricals, that we take care of our schools, our kids, our teachers, and making sure that they have what they need so that we can all be successful.”

Under normal circumstances, school districts would be receiving on a regular basis what are termed categorical payments by the State to help reimburse districts for the cost of things such as special education, bilingual education, and transportation, among other services. The State of Illinois has been slow in providing such payments on a regularly-scheduled basis during its financial crisis, and been even slower since the State has gone nearly now two full years without passing a complete annual budget.

Leffler said her running for a seat on the Unit 5 School Board was done because she wants to see students in the district do well so they can graduate, get jobs, and become productive citizens.

David W. Fortner, a Carlock resident, has been a teacher, as is his wife. He has taught high school math including Calculus. Currently, he works integrating information technology for schools for a company called Integrity Schools. In essence, he helps different computer systems communicate with one another.

“What I’ll bring to the table is experience in education as a teacher. Number one, I’ll fight for students,” he said. He added he believes that if students are empowered to take a role in their education, they learn a lot more.

Both of these folks, as a result of their experience, will bring different perspectives to the Board. It’ll be interesting to see what ways their perspectives will influence the Board’s direction in the future.

New Board President Elected: Congratulations are also due to the new Board officers elected: Jim Hayek, Jr., President; Barry Hitchins, Vice President; and Joseph Cleary, Secretary. All three were elected by acclamation.

One of the things Hayek said in remarks he made after being elected to the post was to thank the families of Board members for their sharing the experience with their family member.

Hayek told the family members of Board members present at the session, “There will be issues that arise that will weigh on these Board members both mentally and physically, and your willingness to support them through this, in a very real way, is a service you are providing to the community.”

Hayek may have been addressing new Board members’ families, but it was a message we probably wish the whole community could have heard.

Town of NormalNORMAL – Of seven options for a railroad crossing, to be used to get passengers from one track to the other at Uptown Station, engineering consultants working with Town of Normal officials are recommending an underpass. At a meeting held March 27 in Town Council Chambers on the fourth floor of the station, the underpass option also appeared the favorite among some of the 70 people in attendance.

Outside of Council Chambers and before the session began, easels holding artists’ conceptions of all the varying options were in place with representatives from both the engineering firm, New York City-based WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, and the Town standing by to answer questions.

Inside a nearby conference room, slides of the different concepts continued to roll as some attendees filled out comment cards which representatives from the Town and the engineering firm will pore over.

Inside Council Chambers, attendees made their thoughts on a means of getting from one side of the tracks to the other clear – they were in favor of using an underpass. An underpass was also what WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff recommended to the Town.

In response to a question from resident Alan Swanson, Carrie Desmond, an engineer with WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, said Union Pacific Railroad prohibits train station platforms from being connected to the tracks.

Julie Hile, owner of a consulting company, The Hile Group, and also in the audience at this event, responded by saying a study done by Operation Lifesaver found there were 2,000 casualties at railroad crossings in 2015. According to its website, Operation Lifesaver is a nonprofit public safety education and awareness organization dedicated to reducing collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail crossings and trespassing on or near railroad tracks.

Hile added the railroad industry wants to get crossings up and away from any way people could possibly hurt themselves.

Normal resident John Craft said he would like to see the Town keep the grade crossing at Linden St. He added he thought building an overpass, rather than an underpass, would be more financially responsible on the part of the Town.

The Town is paying WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff $1.4 million to do the research needed for the project. Among seven options the engineering firm presented the Town for this project included construction of an overpass and doing nothing, leaving things stand. When a study commissioned by the Town called Normal 2.0 came out in 2014, that report listed the cost of an overpass at $12.7 million while listing the cost of an underpass at $8.6 million.

Residents can find the options being considered for the crossing on the Town’s website,, and may submit comments before May 27. Normal Town Council members will decide on the option to be used at a June meeting.

By Steve Robinson | April 27, 2017 - 2:11 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – With the election over, the time had come for two well-established Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members to make their exit. Gail Ann Briggs, who was first elected to the Board in 1979, and John Puzauskas, first elected 12 years ago, both opted to not run for another term in the election last month. The Board meeting held April 26 at district headquarters was the last meeting for both.

They were sent off with warm remembrances by their fellow Board members and had a few things to say themselves. Board Member Mike Trask noted that he and Puzauskas occasionally found themselves on opposing sides of issues, but added, “I appreciate everything you’ve done for the district.” He told Briggs, “You’ve provided a guiding path for us to follow.”

Board Member Joe Cleary told both Briggs and Puzauskas, “Thank you very much for your mentorship and in dealing with the situations we’ve had.” Cleary won election outright to his seat in last month’s election, needing to run formally for the office after being appointed last year to fill the unexpired term of Denise Schuster. Schuster resigned from the Board last year as a result of a job transfer to Texas.

Board Member Jim Hayek, Jr. explained he found Puzauskas’ comments contributed on issues “insightful and thoughtful.” He told Briggs he found her to be “dedicated and thorough,” and added he “saluted her for her commitment to the Board.”

Sharing a light moment, Board Member Barry Hitchins thanked Briggs for her role as “wing man” when the pair needed to travel to meetings or school events.

“Twelve years is significant,” Board Meta Mickens-Baker told Puzauskas. “You came to the Board with experience in safety and planning and that has been invaluable. Thank you for your personal excellence. In her comments to Briggs, Mickens-Baker noted Briggs was one of 10 Board members who had served for a number of years on the Board. She noted Rick Perry was a Board member for 16 years.

To honor Briggs, through Mickens-Baker, the Board presented her with a plaque which will be placed in the conference room at district headquarters where Board members hold closed session discussions.

As part of his Superintendent’s comments part of the meeting, Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, saluted both Briggs and Puzauskas, for their years on the Board.

“Being a school board member is a difficult job and you two did it tirelessly and with great class,” Daniel said. “Your extraordinary efforts have helped us to educate each student and give personal excellence each and every day.”

Curt Richardson, the district’s director of human relations and attorney, serving as acting president until a new Board president was elected, swore in the two new members of the Board, Taunia Leffler and David W. Fortner.

In their final comments to the Board, both Puzauskas and Briggs looked back but also wanted to make sure the district continued its mission with the new faces that had just been sworn in.

Puzauskas said he wants to see Unit 5 continue to keep students safe, recalling that it was during his watch as Board president that the school shooting at Normal Community High School on Sept. 7, 2012, took place. He added on a personal note, “I have been enriched and blessed by those I have worked with. I’ve gained more than I’ve given.”

Briggs injected a bit of historical humor in her last speech to the Board, explaining that her departure from the Board was taking place “two score, one week, and one day” from when she first was seated on the Board.

She encouraged Board members to “adhere to the mission of the district, follow the chair of command, and stay out of the weeds” as they take on their duties on the Board.

Unit 5 mapReception For Briggs, Puzauskas On May 20 At Normal West: A public reception to honor Briggs and Puzauskas will be held at Normal Community West High School on Saturday, May 20 from 1p.m.-3p.m.

School Board Officers Elected: By acclamation, Hayek was elected school Board president, succeeding Mickens-Baker. Also by acclamation, Hitchins was elected Board vice president, while by the same process, Cleary, who won his first elected term in last month’s election, was named secretary.

As he took up his new position, Hayek told the new incoming Board members, “While we have lost over 50 years of experience with the departures of John and Gail Ann tonight, I am very confident that this new Board will use its combined talents, passion, and knowledge to help lead the district into the future and to continue to deliver on our mission of educating each student to achieve personal excellence.”

Noting there are serious challenges ahead which the Board will soon need to tackle, Hayek added, “I have faith the members of this Board will do our best to make decisions and provide leadership in ways that continue to make Unit 5 a truly special and high-achieving school district that our community can be proud of.”

Daniel Joins 400 Superintendents To Encourage Passage Of Budget: Daniel, in his comments to Board members said he had joined with 400 other school superintendents from across the State in encouraging Gov. Bruce Rauner and State legislators to pass a State budget. “As of this month, Illinois has operated 22 months without a full State budget.” As a result, he said, “schools, students, families, and communities will continue to suffer without a full State budget.”

“We also will continue to struggle if mandated categorical State payments, which support special education, bilingual education, transportation, and other important services, can’t get paid this year,” Daniel said. “To date, the State of Illinois owes Unit 5 approximately $8 million in just mandated categoricals. Even though we are not receiving the funds, we are still required to provide the services.”

Daniel said the district will join a campaign called “#PassILBudget.” He said future literature provided by the district will have this hashtag on it, and that Bloomington School District #87 will also be part of the campaign. “We hope our voice will help end the impasse and allow our State to move forward with a budget that will serve the two million public school students who represent our future,” Daniel said.

By Steve Robinson | April 23, 2017 - 10:59 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonFor Caitlyn Hayes and SophiaRose Brown, being part of Teen Relay For Life’s leadership team was important to each of them of different reasons.

For Hayes, a senior at Normal Community West High School, her father was diagnosed with colon cancer when she was five years old. It took his life five years later. She said her sister got the family involved in the annual Relay event held in late June by Relay For Life of McLean County as a result. “But once I got to high school, I really wanted to take control of things and that led me to the leadership team” of the teen event, she explained.

A total of 24 students from four high schools will help put on the 7th Teen Relay For Life from 6p.m. Friday, May 6 until 6a.m. Saturday, May 7 at Tri-Valley High School in Downs. Students from local schools participating include those from NCHS, Normal West, and Tri-Valley. Students from Stanford Olympia High School are also taking part, as well.

University High, Bloomington High School, and Bloomington Central Catholic High School do not have any participation in this year’s event.

There is no doubt NCHS’ Brown has a drive to raise funds for the cause and she and her fellow organizing committee members are always looking for young people to help bring in other kids who may or may not have shared an experience such as hers. For Brown, seeing her maternal grandmother battle the disease three times gave her impetus to become involved with Teen Relay For Life.

“Having to watch my mother go through watching what my grandmother went through led me to get involved,” Brown said. “I hate seeing my mom go through any kind of struggle. It was really hard to watch her watch something so tough. I don’t want another daughter to have to watch their mother go through something so tough. That’s why I’m involved with this.”

“Cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Brown said. To her and the organizing team’s way of thinking, she explained, cancer doesn’t care where you live. She said a large group of kids from Tri-Valley High School have thrown themselves into being involved with the Teen Relay. The goal of these students is for this year’s event to raise $25,000. If that amount is the final total of the event, or whatever the final total turns out to be, will be added to the total money raised at the annual Relay For Life of McLean County event to help give the area its grand total. The annual Relay For Life of McLean County event will be held at NCHS on June 23-24.

“We have a lot of really good bands coming this year,” Brown said. Paper Planes is the name of one of the bands scheduled to appear (it’s a local band, and no, like many of you who follow this column, I’ve never heard of them, either). The National Guard will bring their rock climbing wall, and there will also be basketball and volleyball as a couple of the activities which will keep the kids busy – and active – during the event.

Hayes and Brown explained part of the event will take place in the school in addition to being out on the school track. There will be teams of up to 12 students circling the track for the Relay.

In addition to the activities, there will be ceremonies honoring cancer survivors and caregivers, and a luminaria ceremony. A luminaria ceremony involves bags with the names of survivors or those who have lost their battle to cancer being remembered by the students. The bags have a small light in them to honor the person being remembered.

“The leadership being displayed by this group of young people is unparalleled,” said Kimberly Wright, community manager for American Cancer Society’s Peoria Office. Wright oversees not only the Teen Relay, but the Relay held on Illinois State University’s campus in the spring and the McLean County event.

“Because I see them work on this, I have the privilege of seeing their leadership skills flourish,” Wright said. “All of them are Relaying for a different reason. They are doing it for a personal reason or a higher purpose, and they are all committed to our mission – to end the pain and suffering of cancer.”

Wright said it’s the kids who do all the planning to get this event assembled and ready. She serves as the support person the kids’ use to get materials from ACS to accomplish their task.

Considering the cause and the dedication and determination shown by what I observed at the meeting I attended and from what I learned from Hayes and Brown and Wright, this year’s event should be a success.

By Steve Robinson | April 17, 2017 - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Opting not to run for a seventh term on Normal Town Council in favor of running for the post of Normal Township Supervisor, Cheryl Gaines knew her final Council meeting was coming. A giant vase filled with flowers sat at her spot on the Council dais when she arrived. A sheet cake wishing her good luck and punch were set on a table just outside Council Chambers.

Once the business of the evening’s meeting was completed, there were tributes from Council members she had both long served with and just gotten to know as a result of their holding first terms.

Her fellow Council members had praise for Gaines’ work during her time on the Council. Council Member Jeff Fritzen told Gaines the Council “has been strengthened on the issue of mental health” through her efforts. Gaines is President and Chief Executive Officer at Collaborative Solutions Institute, as well as a counselor there.

“It’s been a privilege to serve with you and take in your store of knowledge on mental health,” Fritzen said.

“What unifies us is our dedication to the community,” Mayor Chris Koos told Gaines. “You have had more passion for this community.”

Council member R. C. McBride told Gaines, “I can never repay you for your mentorship and friendship.” Council Member Scott Preston said he was impressed by Gaines’ “ability to ask good questions and make good decisions that help the people of Normal.”

Council Member Kevin McCarthy said Gaines’ need to ask “why?” on certain matters “has been part of how you’ve operated on this Council.” McCarthy added, “You took a stand to show us why we took votes.”

“You would always bring me back to why we were pushing for certain policies or decisions,” Council Member Kathleen Lorenz told Gaines. “We’ve always continued to be great friends and great colleagues. That translates to having a deeper friendship.”

“I thank everyone at this table,” Gaines said beginning her last speech as a Council member. “We’ve had a great run. I’ve had a great run. Our staff is exemplary.” She thanked the Town’s citizens for electing her.

As a parting gesture, Koos exited the Mayor’s chair early and asked Gaines, the Town’s Mayor Pro Tem, to adjourn the meeting one last time.

Chemberly Cummings is filling Gaines’ seat, having won in the election against challenger Ron Ulmer, and will be sworn in next month. Gaines opted not to run for another Council term, instead deciding to run a campaign to become Normal Township Supervisor in the April election. Sarah Grammer, a Democrat, narrowly edged out Republican Gaines in the election earlier this month. Monday’s session was Gaines’ last meeting as a Council member.

Water Rate Increase Leads To Split Vote: One omnibus agenda item, a proposed 2 percent increase in Town water bills was pulled by Lorenz and led to discussion and revealed a divide as to when such an increase should be put into effect – in May as Town Staff is recommending or a couple years from now, as was argued by Lorenz.

When the vote was taken, it was Koos who cast the decisive ballot, sending the measure to a 4-3 vote in favor of the increase which would push the fee for water from $6.19 per 1,000 gallons to $6.31 per 1,000 gallons. The monthly fee for upkeep of system maintenance would also go up from $5.65 to $5.75. The Town is not recommending any fee increases for fire line use. The Town estimates the increase will bring in an additional $160,000 for the Town water fund with an average household seeing an increase of 82 cents in their monthly tab, or an additional $9.84 tacked to their bill annually.

Lorenz and Council Members Preston and McCarthy cast opposing votes on the measure while Gaines, Fritzen, and McBride voted in favor of the measure. That left Koos to break the tie, siding with those favoring the increase.

“I wanted to have a discussion about the merits of increasing the water cost,” Lorenz said afterward. “But in the end, I voted no because if the need to raise the rate isn’t very pressing at this point, we could take the opportunity to keep the rates where they are.”

Voting for the increase “comes down to what your policy preference is,” said Fritzen, who voted in favor of the price hike. “It was either increase it a little now, or look at a larger increase a year from now or two years from now. I’d rather get a small increase now than wait down the road and get a bigger increase later.”

The rate the Town charges for sewer service will also go up 2 percent. As a result, residents will see that charge go up by $2.88.

Behavior Health Forum Set For May 18: McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre and County Administrator Bill Wasson addressed Council members regarding an update on how the County is progressing to help people with mental health issues. They announced a public forum on the subject will be held on Thursday, May 18 at the Bloomington Center For The Performing Arts from 1p.m.-6:30p.m. The event will include panel discussions on varying topic and a keynote speaker. McIntyre said details will be released once finalized.

Construction For Town Offices At One Uptown Circle Approved: Council members, approved by a unanimous vote, a resolution which would waive the formal bidding process and authorize a contract to Core Construction Services of Illinois, Inc. for work which would begin the buildout of second floor office space on the second floor in the One Uptown Circle Project. When the work is completed, the space would be used to accommodate various departments operated by the Town.

Under the agreement, the developer, Chicago-based Uptown Circle Development is obligated to pay $413,400 toward the buildout project, while the Town will contribute $850,000 toward the buildout and spending for furnishings and equipment.

Road Improvement Project Bids Accepted: Council members voted unanimously to approve a resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. worth $2,290,406.66 for an extension of Greenbriar Drive and improvements from Hershey Rd. Also involved in the project are matters related to the water main and sanitary sewer in the area. The water main matters will cost the Town $141,456 through this contract, and the sewer matters cost is $100,251. That brings the total cost of the contract to $2,532,113.66.

In addition, Council members unanimously approved a resolution related to the Greenbriar Dr. extension project. The resolution authorized execution of an agreement with Bloomington-based Country Acres Land Corporation (CALC). Under the agreement, CALC is required to pay the Town $321,838.47 no later than 10 days before the construction project starts. The money repays the Town for the water main, sanitary sewer, and storm sewer.

Official Vote Result Declares Koos Wins 4th Term: The McLean County Clerk’s Office held a sample recount on Tuesday after which it was determined Koos had won the April 4 election by 11 votes over challenger Marc Tiritilli.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held April 3, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of April 12, 2017.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of bleachers for the athletic fields at Champion Fields from Charlotte, N. C.-based Cunningham Recreation vis U. S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance for an amount not to exceed $59,860.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of shade structures for the athletic fields at Champion Fields from Cunningham Recreation via U. S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance for an amount not to exceed $111,029.40.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of a Toro Groundsmaster Mower from Berkeley, Mo.-based MTI Distributing via the National Cooperative Contract Solutions Program of the National Intergovernmental Purchasing Alliance (National IPA).

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of a Jacobsen HR9016 mower from Joliet-based Burris Equipment via the National Joint Purchasing Association (NJPA), Jacobsen Contract #070313-JCS.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of several pieces of golf course maintenance equipment via the National Cooperative Contract Solutions program of the National Intergovernmental Purchasing Alliance (National IPA) in the net amount of $54,979.21.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing a contract with Normal-based J. Spencer Construction, LLC in the amount of $49,385 for carpentry work associated with the 305 E. Pine St. Gift Shop renovation project.

• A resolution authorizing the award of a contract for the construction of an electronics recycling collection building to Bloomington-based Evergreen FS, Inc. in the amount of $56,800.

• A resolution to award the bid for the Shelbourne Drive and University Court water main improvement project to Stark Excavating, Inc. at a total cost of $638,492 plus the potential for a maximum $15,000 bonus for early completion.

• A resolution waiving the formal bid process and authorizing the City Manager to enter into construction and service agreements with CIRBN, LLC to construct, install, and replace the Town’s wireless network in Uptown Normal.

• A resolution to authorize the renewal of the Town’s participation in the Municipal Insurance Cooperative Agency (MICA) insurance program for plan year 2017-18 beginning on May 1, 2017 and approve a budget adjustment of $25,110.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an interlocal agreement between the Town of Normal, City of Bloomington, and County of McLean for the 2016 Byrne Justice Assistance Grant.

• A resolution supporting the railbanking of Norfolk Southern Railroad right-of-way from Mansfield, Ill. To Bloomington.

• A resolution approving waivers from the Uptown Design Review Code, Chapter 15, Division 17, for 112 E. Beaufort St. (Whimsy store sign).

• A resolution approving an amended final development plan for One Normal Plaza PUD (Baby Fold, 612-614 Oglesby).

• A resolution conditionally and partially approving the final plat of The Lodge On Willow II Subdivision by expedited process (northwest corner of School and Fell Sts.).

• An ordinance conditionally approving an easement vacation on a part of Lot 1 at The Lodge On Willow (214 W. Willow).

• An ordinance amending Section 7.21-1 of the Town Municipal Code – sewer rates.