By Steve Robinson | June 30, 2017 - 12:35 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Connect TransitNORMAL – Christine Tsui and Geethani Cabraal live at Ironwood Gardens Apartments at the far north end of Linden Ave. in Normal and have been making use of one of the “tripper” buses provided by the community’s bus service, Connect Transit, in order to get to their jobs every day. From that location, they are able to continue on with their day. Tripper buses are short-time buses which help residents who live at the far north end of Normal and the far south end of Bloomington make connections with the rest of the bus system.

At one of six “listening sessions” set up by Connect Transit and held in the Community Room of Normal Public Library on June 29, Tsui and Cabraal made their concerns known regarding the possibility of extra effort and expense they would incur should tripper routes be discontinued. Tsui and Cabraal were among 12 people who had questions and attended the 60-minute session, as did Normal Town Council members Kathleen Lorenz and Chemberly Chambers.

Tsui and Cabraal use the tripper buses to get from the Ironwood Gate Apartments to get to the intersection of Northfield Rd. and School St., the nearest bus stop from the tripper point they use, to get on with their day. “If they stop the tripper, that would keep me from getting to Raab Rd. to get to the Pink bus,” Cabraal explained. Tsui and Cabraal met for a one-on-one session with Isaac Thorne, interim general manager and Jeff Holtke, marketing manager, for the bus system, to explain their concerns.

Without the tripper bus, “I’d have to walk to Northpoint and School,” Cabraal explained. Tsui uses the tripper bus to get to Uptown for work at Illinois State University. Tripper buses only operate for the first few hours of the work day and for a few hours beginning at 5p.m. at the close of the work day.

Tripper buses began running last August and were only slated to be operating for six months, Thorne said. But they have continued as the result of their need. In addition to discussing tripper routes, the sessions have updated residents to minor changes being made to four routes, including the Green Route, which loops between Uptown Normal and Downtown Bloomington.

If Connect Transit doesn’t keep the tripper, Tsui said, she would hope another route that runs near her home would be expanded to include Ironwood Gate Apartments. Part of the problem residents who live there have is that there are no sidewalks around the property. No sidewalks make putting a permanent bus stop there difficult.

To Tsui’s and Cabraal’s way of thinking, extending the Pink Route which includes the apartment complex, would be the next best solution.

Tsui and Cabraal said they are hopeful that after talking with Thorne and Holtke, a solution will be found that will help them and other commuters like them.

Of the six sessions with the public that were held in June, the biggest concern expressed by riders involves tripper routes, Thorne said. The thought of losing tripper routes “has been giving people a lot of discomfort,” he said. He added that costs for the tripper routes are different for the Twin Cities. It costs Connect Transit $60 per trip to run a tripper route to Hilltop Mobile Home Park, while it costs $30 per trip to run a tripper to north Normal. On average, by comparison, Thorne said, fixed route service costs Connect Transit $4 per trip.

More listening sessions will be announced in July.

Fixed Bus Stops Improving Performance: August will mark two years since Connect Transit initiated fixed stops where riders must be to be picked up by a bus. Prior to that time, riders could be picked up at any street corner. Thorne said the fixed stop concept, when it was introduced, helped to increase on-time performance. He said the “any corner” pick-up method produced an on-time performance rate of 76 percent. Fixed pick-up points have increased that figure to 93 percent.

Steve RobinsonFor Normal Community West High School head softball coach April Schermann, it might have been more nerve-wracking than a Regional or Sectional playoff – sitting at dinner with seven other high school softball coaches from across the country waiting for the announcement by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association at their 52nd annual convention to learn which coach had been selected as Coach of the Year.

But if she was nervous, Schermann, who just completed her 13th season and has amassed a 350-108 mark in that time as the Wildcats head coach came across with her usual cool-under-pressure demeanor. The finalists for Softball Coach of the Year sat at dinner during the event held at Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in East Peoria on June 21, a function which was part of the organization’s week-long convention.

The announcement to find out who won in that specific category came complete with a wait. After all, it was one of 19 categories in which the top coach would be named, such as coaches of the year of football, basketball, and baseball, among others. Each category had eight finalists, and whether the person honored was there or not, those in attendance were given a brief recap of the person’s career highlights. Softball Coach of the Year was 12th in the lineup.

Schermann’s competition for the honor – four of them were not present – all had good numbers in terms of wins to their credit, as well. Schermann has a 350-108 mark to put up against the folks who she was vying for the honor with. And at events like that, whether you are there or not, you want to hope for good things for the local coach.

But it was Jim White from an Iowa high school who came away with the honor.

“As I was sitting and listening to all the bios of all the coaches who were finalists, I was in awe of them and their many accomplishments,” Schermann said. “I’m honored to be among such great people. I was very touched to hear how those coaches have impacted the lives of young men and women, and just glad to be a part of this profession that helps young people achieve their highest potential,” she added.

Schermann already does that as a math and science teacher at Normal West and will continue to do that, trying to shape young minds. She received, either alone or with colleagues, five grants from the Beyond The Books Educational Foundation this spring for projects, among which, deal with 3-D printing. She received the group’s Beyond The Box grant of $10,000 for work involving that. In total, with colleagues, Schermann wrote proposals for and received grants totaling $13,059.

Thanks to that kind of effort, I’m sure the kids in those classes will benefit from and be impacted by what they do and learn there.

Dave Dougherty, NHSACA Executive Director, explained after the awards banquet that judging for finalists begins with a group of experts in the competing coaches field who assign a score to each finalist. That leads to three NHSACA vice presidents who score the finalists again. Those two scores are then added together. That grand total determines who becomes the award recipient for that sport. NHSACA divides the country into eight regions, with a finalist from each region attending the dinner, if their schedule allows.

Dougherty said NHSACA uses specific qualifiers to narrow the field such as national service, State service, how the coach has benefited their community, and take into consideration any honors the coach has received.

In terms of finding a winner, Dougherty said NHSACA will break a tie scoring down to 1/10 of a point. “We’ve had a recipient who outscored their second place competitor by less than 5/10 of a point,” he pointed out.

When the kids who make new discoveries and learn something about both the subjects they are being taught by her, and possibly learn something about their abilities in the process, it will be because Schermann led the way, showing it to them. Isn’t that the point to teaching, which is in itself, the greatest reward?

By Steve Robinson | June 19, 2017 - 10:35 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – With high speed rail to consider, the Town of Normal has spent the last few years pondering how rail passengers who will need to use both the north and south tracks at Uptown Station will get from one platform to the other.

As a result of a 5-2 vote by Normal Town Council members at their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday night, the question of how was resolved: They gave approval to begin researching construction of an underpass between the two tracks. An underpass was one of seven options presented to residents at a fact-finding session the Town put on with the firm the Town hired to research the matter, New York City-based WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff this spring. Council Members Kathleen Lorenz and Scott Preston cast the dissenting votes.

Town officials narrowed to seven the potential options for a crossing then from those, believed their best option for getting from the north track to the south track was an underpass. At one time, both an overpass and an underpass were among the options being deliberated on.

On April 27, the Town held a public session showing residents options open to the Town and encouraged comments. The majority of those persons who spoke then told Town officials they favored the option of an underpass. Lorenz and Preston were concerned about the fact the number of choices of possible options available to the Town, of which there were seven, were not narrowed down further.

Normal’s 2014 Uptown 2.0 plan which was commissioned by the Town and done by WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff first recommended construction of an underpass which would have a $12.7 million price tag. An overpass, the research showed, would cost Normal $8.6 million. Mayor Chris Koos has said State or Federal funds would be needed in order to pay for such construction.

Among 41 comments Town officials received following the April meeting showed 29 residents who responded favored construction of an underpass.

Bruce Nelson, project manager for WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Wayne Aldrich, the Town’s Director of Public Works, recapped the seven options that Normal officials had to choose from to begin the discussion.

Aldrich and Nelson explained that once the vote was taken to decide which of the seven alternatives would be chosen and pursued, the Town would need to spend the next six to nine months working with the National Railroad Association, after which a Federal government report would be released on the subject.

After that report is released, Aldrich said, “We get down in the weeds to start the design phase.”

“We’re making a 25-year decision here,” Council Member Jeff Fritzen said to start Council dialogue. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like and I can’t decide based on appearance.” He added “funding uncertainty” on the part of the Federal government also has a role in the matter.

Aldrich said an underpass doesn’t create as much of a construction headache as any other option might. He added underpass construction would be “less disruptive” to commuters than an overpass.

Concerning funding, City Manager Mark Peterson said, “When the Federal government is involved in such a project, it means the government pays up to 80 percent and we’d pay 20 percent. Those are the kind of projects they look for.”

Following the session which lasted slightly over two hours, Lorenz said she would have liked to have seen the options the Town had to choose from reduced from the seven that were presented to the public and Council members. “We paid a lot of money for this study and it’s a 25-year decision, so we want to make sure we get it right. The outcome of the study didn’t convince me this was the only path to take.”

Seven residents asked to give public comment and both sides of the issue – in favor and not in favor of the underpass – were presented as a result. Former Normal Mayoral Candidate Marc Tiritilli said he favors a “no build” option. He said what the Town is considering with the underpass option, “isn’t about safety. It’s about (having) a centerpiece.”

But college student Wes Ward told Council members he was in favor of the underpass being proceeded with. “There will be gains from such debt” related to constructing the underpass, he said. He added he believes the Mayor’s contention that Normal can handle such debt related to the project, making it work.

Following the meeting, in response to Lorenz’s concerns, Koos said, “When we went through public review, public support was overwhelmingly in favor of an underpass. When WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff presented this in a public setting, an underpass was preferred.”

Addition To Constitution Trail Centre Approved: Council members unanimously approved a final development plan and conditionally approved a final plat for a fifth addition to Constitution Trail Centre. At that site with approval, a Sky Zone Trampoline Park will be opened on 2.233 acres of the property.

Last Meeting For Retiring Town Clerk Wendy Briggs: She has served three mayors, two city managers, and seen 19 Town Council members sit on the dais in 32 years in the Clerk’s office, 28 of them serving as Town Clerk. But Monday’s meeting was the last one for Wendellyn “Wendy” Briggs. She will retire at the end of June. Town Deputy Clerk Angie Huonker will be promoted to Town Clerk effective July 1.

Briggs worked in the mid-1970s for City Manager David Anderson and in the Town Clerk’s office, leaving to work in a law firm before returning to work for the Town Clerk’s office in 1985, being promoted to the Town Clerk post three years later. She received a proclamation for her dedication presented to her by Koos and given a standing ovation by Koos and Council members.

“I truly appreciate being able to work for all of you and help in any way I can,” Briggs said.

Janessa Williams Appointed To Human Relations Commission: Council members unanimously approved the appointment of Janessa Williams to the Town’s Human Relations Commission. Williams is filling a vacancy left by the recent resignation of Alberto Espinosa. Williams first moved to Normal in 1973 to attend Illinois State University where she received a degree in Accounting. After living in the Chicago area for 16 years, Williams returned to Normal in 2004 to work at her alma mater. Among her endeavors away from her work, Williams has established a Umoja Celebration at ISU, a graduation event which represents African American tradition, heritage, and culture.

Agenda Items Approved: Other omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting on June 5, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures as of June 14, 2017.

• A resolution authorizing an extension to an existing license agreement with Connect Transit for access to Uptown Station.

• A resolution accepting the low bid and awarding a contract to Astoria, Ill.-based K. K. Stevens Publishing Company for printing the Normal Parks & Recreation Department’s seasonal program guides: Fall (48 pages); Winter/Spring (44 pages); and Summer (64 pages) at the cost of $27,154.33 (plus postage).

• A resolution waiving bids and authorizing the renewal of a subscription to Microsoft Office 365 through the State Joint Purchasing Program from CDW-G at an annual cost of $67,984.46.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement for technical planning services with McLean County Regional Planning Commission.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an agreement with the University of Illinois for groundwater lever monitoring.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a three-year extension to the SCADA integration services contract with Normal-based SCADAware, Inc.

Unit 5NORMAL – Teamwork between drivers for Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. and Normal-based Unit 5 School District is improving, explained the bus company’s location manager. Mark Bohl updated School Board members on progress being made to make sure this fall’s busing of students will be improved over difficulties experienced by parents, students, and the district at the start of the school year last year.

“We’ve seen teamwork improved over the past school year,” said Bohl. Bohl, a military veteran, was hired last October to attempt to improve the situation that was experienced at the start of last school year. “Everyone is doing a good job and attendance by drivers changed 100 percent from last fall. About 130 drivers are on First Student’s payroll, and the company, as required by agreement with the school district, is attempting to maintain a substitute driver pool of around 15 percent, he said.

Bohl said two people have been designated to answer phone calls for First Student from parents when the school year starts, explaining “communication is the key.”

Regarding what transpired at the beginning of last school year, Bohl said First Student had a “false calm” about the start of school. He said an increase in drivers last December helped improve the situation.

Having heard this report, Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. suggested to Bohl that “it would be helpful to the Board if you and Dr. Daniel reported to us inf the first few days of school” concerning how matters were progressing. Dr. Mark Daniel is Unit 5 Superintendent.

Unit 5 mapSome Districts In State Considering Not Opening In Fall: But before buses can even begin to roll to a school, the school has to be open, ready to receive students. For some district superintendents, Daniel said after the meeting, there are concerns about and even contemplation of not opening schoolhouse doors if State funding isn’t there. Board members unanimously approved amending the district’s 2016-17 school year budget which closes out at the end of the month. Combined, the district’s Transportation and Education budgets show a $5.5 million deficit, the majority of monies due would be coming from Springfield.

The State owes Unit 5 payments totaling $8.1 million for Transportation and Special Education reimbursement The State has, so far, only provided Unit 5 with one payment toward that debt. The district is hoping to receive another State payment by June 30.

Following the meeting, Daniel told reporters, “We’re facing a difficult year ahead.”

Transportation and Special Education reimbursements from the State are referred to by educators as categoricals. “Without categoricals, we have enough money to get through 75 percent of the school year,” explained Board Member Joe Cleary following the meeting.

Daniel said a State-wide group which addresses issues of large school districts, Springfield-based Large Unit District Association, is encouraging its member district superintendents to get the public to write their legislators to push them to pass a budget in time to begin the 2017-18 school year.

He added parents need to begin writing letters to State Representatives and State Senators with their concerns about the consequences of what a potential third year with no State budget would mean for Unit 5. He said 60 percent of the State’s students go to school in 58 districts in the State.

As of the end of that meeting, Daniel said, “We’re not at the point of saying ‘don’t open.’”

Unit 5 Getting Virtual Classrooms: Board member unanimously approved a $170,880 contract with Normal-based Zdi Audio Visual for a virtual classroom project to be installed for use at both Normal Community West High School and Normal Community High School beginning this fall. Unit 5 will use capital projects fund dollars to pay for project. Zdi will install and maintain high-resolution screens, as well as visual equipment and sound equipment in one classroom per high school. The visual and sound equipment at both schools will have motion-detecting capabilities.

Board Approves Renewal Of Insurance, Workers’ Comp. : Board members unanimously voted to renew district insurance policies through various insurers including AIG;; Allied World National Assurance; ACE; Travelers; and Wright Specialty Insurance. The insurance paid for covers auto; property; general liability; crime; and boiler and machinery. In addition, the District pays for an umbrella policy, and several individual liability policies.

The district’s premium for the policy this coming school year totals $1.2 million, an increase of 7.42 percent, or $83,857, from what the district previously paid.

In addition, a workers’ compensation coverage plan with Safety National Insurance was approved, its premium totaling $92,169 annually. That amount is 1.9 percent less, or $1,765 less being paid by the district from what they paid for coverage last year. Also, Unit 5 will pay Cannon Cochran Management Services to serve as a third party administrator for claims. That firm will receive $13,000 for their services.

Next Board Meeting July 12: There will be no second Board meeting in June. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12 at District headquarters, 1809 W. Hovey Ave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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