By Steve Robinson | October 16, 2017 - 10:55 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Council members, by a 5-2 vote, approved a resolution authorizing approval of sales tax sharing agreements with Phillips Edison & Company for Greenbriar and College Station Plaza Shopping Centers. Both retail areas are located along Veterans Parkway. Greenbriar Shopping Center houses Fresh Market Grocers, and College Station Plaza houses Bed, Bath, & Beyond. While they are owned by the same company, the shopping centers are divided into two legal entities.

Council members Kathleen Lorenz and Scott Preston cast the opposing votes.

Phillips Edison & Co. is seeking help because of financial strains caused by Dick’s Sporting Goods relocating from their shopping properties to Empire Crossing Shopping Center in Bloomington. Phillips Edison & Co. hopes additional dollars brought in with the Council’s positive vote will help them to pay for facility improvements which they believe, will help them retain existing tenants whose leases will expire in the next few years.

Phillips, Edison & Co. has, according to a Town Staff report, already spent $400,000 on capital improvements to the facility. The Town Staff report estimates that by approving the agreement, there would be a net revenue gain to Normal over a 10-year period of $4.8 million.

An executive with Phillips, Edison & Co., Scott Adair, told Council members the company if the company doesn’t perform as expected by the Town, the company would not receive the anticipated incentive. The arrangement between the company and the Town wouldn’t be about “a handout,” Adair said. “It’s about a partnership.” He told Council members the company has capital of its own “but it’s not in excess.”

Capital used by Phillips, Edison & Co. on the two shopping centers would be used to upgrade new tenants’ spaces, not on existing tenants. “If they don’t generate the revenue, they won’t get the rebate,” City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members.

Following the meeting, Preston explained his opposing vote, saying, “The thing I kept coming back to is that Phillips, Edison & Co. would or would not undertake these investments themselves without our incentives.” They have enough capital to make investments into their properties, Preston explained, adding that because of that, they don’t need financial assistance from the Town.

Prior to the presentation, Council members heard from former Normal Mayoral Candidate Marc Tiritilli and former Normal Town Council Candidate Ron Ulmer, both of whom spoke in opposition to the proposed agreement.

Council Approves Motion To Receive 20-Year Solid Waste Management Plan: Council members unanimously approved a motion to receive a 20-year resource and recovery, or solid waste, management plan submitted to them by the Ecology Action Center. Michael Brown, executive director for the Ecology Action Center gave a brief presentation on McLean County’s history of dealing with solid waste. In the past month, he has given the presentation also to members of Bloomington City Council and McLean County Land Use Committee. Each of those bodies also voted to receive the plan. Following those votes, there is now a 90-day comment period for the public to look over and make comments concerning the plan.

The finalized plan will be brought back to Council members for final approval sometime early next year.

Children’s Museum Director Resigns: Monday’s Council session was the final one attended by Cultural Arts Department Director and Children’s Discovery Museum Executive Director Shelleigh Birlingmair. A Town press release announced she has resigned to accept a Development position at Advocate-BroMenn/Advocate Eureka. Birlingmair has been with the Town since last October. Birlingmair’s resignation is effective at the end of October.

County Planning Commission, Council Hold Work Session: Prior to the Council session, Council members held a joint work session in Council Chambers with members of the McLean County Planning Commission. Vasudha Pinnamaraju, executive director of McLean County Regional Planning Commission and a team which included professionals from the Town and other community groups, presented to Council and Commission members an update on what the community can do to help its citizens as the Town moves into its next 25 years.

Among the suggestions made by a team that worked on a report which put subjects into focus was that infrastructure improvements and public safety go hand-in-hand. A draft of the plan is currently available online at the Town’s website, www.normal.org. At their Nov. 9 meeting, Normal Planning Commission members will vote to send the report on to Normal Town Council for final approval. That could happen as early as the Council’s Nov. 20 meeting.

Liquor Commission Imposes Fine, Receives Payment Installments: Prior to the Council session, Council members, serving as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, heard a settled case report concerning a fine paid by Kroger Limited Partnership 1, doing business as Kroger J-347, 1550 E. College Ave., for furnishing liquor to an underage person on July 26. Because this was the second offense in two years for the store, the Town imposed and Kroger paid a $1,000 fine.

Also during this session, Commissioners were informed there were 12 liquor license holders who needed to pay their annual license fee to the Town. Mayor Chris Koos explained to the gathering six licensees had paid their fee in two installments while four others paid in full by the Town’s Sept. 30 deadline. However, as of the deadline, there were still two license holders who had paid the Town and have been sent balance due notices.

Commissioners also approved minutes from a regularly-scheduled meeting held July 17 and a special session called on Aug. 21.

Uptown Holiday Lights Ceremony Held: Between the work session and Council meeting, Town and Illinois State University officials held their annual Uptown Tree Lighting Ceremony. The ceremony, as in years past, has formally been the kickoff event for ISU’s Homecoming celebration. ISU has various events scheduled leading up to Saturday’s Homecoming festivities.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Oct. 2, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Oct. 11, 2017.

• A resolution to waive the formal bid process and award a contract to Charlotte, N. C.-based GameTime C/O Cunningham Associates, Inc. for the purchase of modular playgrounds under the U. S. Communities Purchasing Program for Fell Park and Underwood Park in the amount of $112,500.74.

• A resolution approving executive session meeting minutes from July 17, Aug. 11, Aug. 21, Sept. 18, and Oct. 2, all 2017.

• A resolution conditionally reapproving a final plat for the J&M Planned Unit Development – Phase I at Cottage Ave. and Village Ct.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat of the resubdivision of One Normal Plaza Planned Unit Development by expedited process (former ISSCS Administration Building).

By Steve Robinson | October 14, 2017 - 10:29 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Normal Community West High School found itself in a tight defensive battle for the first half of their Big 12 Conference game against Peoria Richwoods at Wildcat Stadium on Friday, Oct. 13. The game included a scoreless second quarter for both sides.

But West head coach Darren Hess’ troops pulled forward in the second half – featuring three 3rd quarter touchdowns – for a 35-21 win in front of 450 fans. West’s win, coupled with Danville losing at Normal Community High School, 42-14, gave the Wildcats sole possession of second place in Big 12 Conference standings. Illinois High School Association will announce playoff pairings on Oct. 21.

Peoria Richwoods (4-4 overall, 4-3 Big 12) received the opening kickoff and scored three plays later on a 61 yard pass from senior quarterback Keenan Streitmatter to senior wide receiver Sharod Danage just 64 seconds into the contest, putting the Knights up, 7-0, after senior kicker Alex Nieves’ extra point.

Normal West (6-1, 5-1 Big 12) responded during the ensuing drive with a 3 yard scoring run from junior running back Adriel Fussell at 8:06 in the first quarter, followed by junior kicker Eddie Miller’s extra point, tying the score at 7-7.

Richwoods responded by concluding their ensuing possession with a 34 yard touchdown pass from Streitmatter again to Danage followed by Nieves’ extra point, with 6:30 left in the quarter. That put Richwoods up, 14-7, going into the half, thanks to a defensive second quarter performance from both sides.

Normal West FootballNormal West won the pregame coin flip and deferred receiving the ball until the opening of the second half. They stuck quickly when they got the ball, scoring three plays later as wide receiver C. J. Davis dashed 36 yards for the Wildcats’ tying touchdown at 10:52 in the quarter, followed by Miller’s extra point, knotting the score at 14-all.

Richwoods’ next possession ended in a turnover on downs giving West the ball at the Wildcats’ 39. Four plays later, Davis dodged defenders for a 36 yard touchdown, followed by Miller’s next extra point pushing West in front, 21-14 at the third quarter’s 7:30 mark.

The Knights’ ensuing possession ended in a punt which left West to start at their own 11 yard line. Eight plays later, junior quarterback C. J. Lewis connected with sophomore tight end Cole Hernandez on a 15 yard touchdown pass, followed by Miller’s next extra point. That increased West’s lead, 28-14, with 5:42 left until the start of the fourth quarter.

Peoria Richwoods football helmetRichwoods’ second possession of the fourth quarter started following a West punt, at the Knights’ 9 yard line but ended in an interception touchdown for West defensive back Armani Forrest, which pushed West up, 35-14, following Miller’s extra point, with 5:42 left in the contest.

Richwoods responded quickly as senior return man A. J. Johnson took the ensuing kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown followed by Nieves’ last extra point on the night.

“This game was about energy, it was about matching Richwoods’ intensity, and I didn’t think we did that very well in the first half,” Hess said. He credited Richwoods’ Streitmatter-to-Danage combo “with giving the Knights momentum and it was just a matter of containing them.”

“We didn’t finish our drives off,” lamented Richwoods head coach Roland Brown. “When you don’t finish drives against a team like West that has speed and talent like they do, you’ll get worn down a little bit.”

By Steve Robinson | October 12, 2017 - 2:56 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonThis column begins with an admission: I’m terrible at science. I just don’t get a lot of it. It was a situation that started in grade school and progressively got worse with every passing year. My late college Communications advisor at Illinois State University, Dr. Ralph Smith, sought out science courses for me to complete right through graduation just so I could get through my general studies (the man should have been awarded a medal by somebody for succeeding as he did).

Like I said, I’m terrible at science.

But, I’m willing to bet had my science teachers been as energizing as Bob Pflugfelder, I might – I repeat, might, — have caught on to some of the scientific principles my teachers all those years ago tried to drill into my brain.

Kids at a certain grade level and their folks probably know Boston-based resident Pflugfelder best as “Science Bob” – scientist, author, and TV personality who has shown up in appearances on every show from “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn” on the kids TV channel Nickelodeon to “Live” with Kelly Ripa in the daytime to Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show.

But on Thursday, Oct. 12, “Science Bob” was visiting two Unit 5 junior high schools, Parkside and Kingsley, performing entertaining experiments and energizing kids who helped with those experiments and those who watched. It was a crowd of the school’s sixth grade classes who watched “Science Bob” work his magic. The reactions I heard as I sat in the audience ranged from “Oh wow!” to “Cool!” as Science Bob tried and succeeded to keep the kids’ attention.

“Science Bob” also entertained adults at the 25th anniversary celebration for the Beyond The Books Educational Foundation, which was held in one of the club rooms in Hancock Stadium later that night. Pflugfelder performed the same scientific feats for adults who were just as impressed as the kids were. One parent told a group sitting at her table her daughter was disappointed she could not come just to see him do the tricks a second time in one day.

“Science Bob” connected with these kids even before his presentation began at PJHS. As kids started filing in, he chatted with kids already seated, telling the kids, “We’re going to blow some stuff up. That okay with you?” The kids were, needless to say, very okay with that.

He started small – literally – with four volunteers from the audience and four separate milliliters of water and some Alka-Seltzer tablets which he gave each student. He then asked the kids to put a small lid on top of each of the tubes containing the water. “You’re going to want to run after you drop the tablets in there,” he told the students. One kid did run, and with good reason, as the lid to each container blew off as soon as the fizz came. Again, the kids were impressed.

He told the kids he had a fascination with science since age 5 and he had been at it ever since. But at that age, it started with building models. He also showed kids how he transformed a windowless classroom in a school where he once taught into a starship, complete with lifelike-looking controls and screens of outer space to give the room that special effect needed to keep pupils engaged.

He reminded his audience that when it comes to science, “Sometimes, failure is a part of the process,” adding that isn’t a commonly-shared belief because “Chinese teachers have difficulty with the concept of failure.”

Another trick Science Bob showed was pouring dish soap into a large beaker that had a mix of hydrogen peroxide and sodium iodide. The chemical reaction produced by the mixture was a volcano of froth that thrilled the kids, many of whom showed their approval by stomping their feet in addition to applauding. He also did an experiment that involved the end result being an exploding Pringle’s can.

For his big finish, Science Bob, a guy who tries to make science clear for kids, produced a cloud. He created it by adding hot water to liquid hydrogen, which has a temperature of minus 320 degrees. As the cloud took shape and then moved toward the kids in the first few rows, they were thrilled. To tell the truth, so were the grown-ups when they saw it.

At the gala, parents got an opportunity to see Pflugfelder perform the show he did for the kids as well as get an opportunity to purchase one of his children’s fiction books featuring young inventors Nick and Tesla, which he co-authored with Steve Hockensmith.

“Kids are born explorers and scientists,” Pflugfelder told me after his appearance at PJHS. He explained that any 2-year-old looking under rocks and leaves going through a park proves that. But he said, by middle school, the science “gets a little more challenging and we lose a lot of kids” at that age.

“With the science that I do, I want kids to realize that science is part of everyday life, and a lot of fun.”

Like I said before, some of us just don’t get science. But watching and listening to “Science Bob” was helpful and enjoyable, and hopefully, the kids who saw his performance will allow the lessons he presented to stick with those kids for years to come.

Unit 5NORMAL – In a first of its kind event, Normal-based Unit 5 School District presented residents with an update on the district, not just on matters it was addressing, but some also provided some statistical information which residents might not have been aware of previously.

Held in the auditorium of Normal Community High School, Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. informed roughly 100 people present the district “has a direct impact on the quality of life” for the students it instructs.

Hayek was followed by Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, who informed audience members that the district has seen its graduation rate jump 4 percent, to 91 percent, from a decade ago. He said Unit 5 is seen as “a destination district” by many who come to the area.

Daniel explained that through offering internships, project-based learning, and college and career readiness opportunities to its students, Unit 5 is continuing to help students prepare for their future.

Daniel touted activities such as 5th grade Band, which has 528 members currently, which helps students master skills, as well. He also mentioned that Virtual Learning has become part of the district, as well, the result of the virtual classroom at Normal Community West High School, which brings professionals to speak remotely to students’ classes. Of virtual learning, Daniel said, “We’re, hopefully, going to see more and more of this.”

In addition to the graduation figures, Daniel cited that 927 district students had scored highly on Advance Placement exams.

Unit 5 mapDaniel informed the gathering that 30 percent of Unit 5’s student population is neither white nor male. The teachers in the district also have continued to pursue learning, with 66 percent of them either holding Master’s degrees, and 64 of them are National Board Certified. He added the district manages to retain 87 percent of its teaching staff, which Daniel said, is above the national average.

But while Unit 5 has such positives, Daniel explained, it’s faced with some looming challenges, among which is trying to eliminate a $1.2 million deficit in its education fund. Unit 5 also finds itself $33 million below what State lawmakers see as an adequate amount of funding to meet State guidelines. Unit 5 has an overall budget of $162 million.

“Enrollment drives revenue,” Daniel told the audience members who attended the session which preceded the Board’s scheduled meeting, which was held in the school’s cafeteria.

Beginning Enrollment Figures Presented: During the Board meeting, Dr. James Harden, executive director of human resources and student services for the district, presented Board members with school year-opening figures. Unit 5 begins the 2017-18 school year with 13,334 students in its elementary schools, four junior high schools, and two high schools. That figure includes 1,003 students total at the district’s four junior high schools, and 2,144 students at NCHS and 1,686 students at Normal Community West High School. There are a total of 6,400 students attending the district’s 17 elementary schools.

ISBE Requests Information To Comply With Federal Law: Marty Hickman, business manager for the district, reported to Board members Illinois State Board of Education is asking Unit 5 to submit to them per school building budgets in order to comply with an Obama Administration law which asks for such figures which, once received by ISBE, would be turned over to the Federal government.

By Steve Robinson | October 9, 2017 - 3:16 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

FootballNormal Community West High School added two more distinguished honorees to its Wall Of Fame Sunday evening at a gala held at Lakeside Country Club. Kim Behrends Kauufman and Jared O’Brien are the 13th and 14th persons to be added to a select group of Normal West graduates whose career paths have contributed to their communities.

The Wall Of Fame, located just outside the entrance to the school library, was the brainchild of West Social Studies Teacher John Bierbaum, who approached Normal West Principal David Johnson with the idea five years ago.

In the event’s first couple of years, 2013 and 2014, the event was held at the school. In 2015, the school held a 20th anniversary celebration at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott, and named honorees to the Wall Of Fame at that time. But since last year, the event has been held at Lakeside Country Club in Bloomington.

“Every year, we have between 20-25 people nominated for this,” Bierbaum explained. “So it’s a two-round process to get it down to two people to be honored.” He added the first round of discussion among the 20 Normal West staff members on the selection committee is required to end in a consensus of who becomes a final nominee. Once that number is determined, those persons considered for the award must receive an approval vote from 75 percent of committee members.

Bierbaum said the process is modeled on how final selections for baseball’s Hall Of Fame are decided. This year, he said, the committee received a total of 26 nominations. The two graduates named to join 12 others on the Wall Of Fame are Kim Behrends Kaufman and Jared O’Brien.

Kim Behrends Kaufman: Kaufman, Class of 2004, has spent the majority of her life using communication skills to help the world around her. As a member of the speech team at West, Kim was a two-time State qualifier and served as a leader and peer coach for the team. She was also an active participant in the music and theatre programs, where she was a member of the state qualifying cast of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” In addition, she also played tennis and sang in the choir. She went on to study communications at Illinois State University where she graduated summa cum laude and was a Robert G. Bone Scholar. Since that time, her communications skills have been put to good use impacting others from working at Walt Disney World to her time at WMBD-TV, as well as Children’s Hospital of Illinois, and State Farm. As an active participant in Toastmasters, Kim reached a new pinnacle in 2016 when she competed in the Toastmasters International World Championship of public speaking and was named among the top ten speakers in the world. She has even done some reporting and column-writing for us here at The Normalite.

Steve RobinsonKaufman, who was known as Kim Behrends when she attended West, said the school afforded students a wealth of activities to join and be active in. Kaufman was active in drama, explaining to the 200 people who attended the ceremony she recalled being part of the school’s production of “Joan Of Arc.” She said she “found a home in arts and speech and choir.” She said the skills she picked up at West have helped her in “a world that’s so digital now.”

Jared O’Brien: Jared O’Brien, Class of 2006, approached Normal West Varsity Baseball coach Chris Hawkins in 2001 having been the Varsity Basketball manager, and asked Hawkins where he could get a Wildcat baseball cap. Hawkins told him if he would be his manager in the spring, he would give him one. As a result of that inquiry, O’Brien became the baseball team manager in the spring of 2002 and he’s never left. Today he does not miss a game. He’s is a fixture on the sidelines with jobs varying from running the scoreboard, travelling with the medical kit and being the top backer of West baseball at all home and road games. In addition, he became a team manager on the Varsity Football team during his sophomore year and has fulfilled that position ever since.

O’Brien showed off an unusual skill when he addressed the gathering, demonstrating his knowledge of nicknames of NCAA Division I sports teams. When he isn’t working at Evergreen Village Retirement Home, O’Brien volunteers by scoring games for the Wildcats’ baseball team, and maintaining a close association, too, with the Wildcats’ football team.

“This is a great honor and I’m really humbled by it,” O’Brien said.

Twelve Prior Honorees: There have been 12 people named to the Wall Of Fame in the previous four years Normal West has started recognized faculty, staff, and students from its past. Kaufman and O’Brien are 13th and 14th to be added. They join previous honorees from 2013 Dr. Jerry Crabtree, West’s first principal from 1995-2003: Tom Eder, who followed Crabtree as principal from 2003-2012; Taylor Kirby, a 2011 West graduate who starred in Track, becoming both a two-time Intercity Pole Vault champion; and U. S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a 1996 West graduate; 2014 honorees former Houston Texans offensive guard Cody White, a 2007 grad; Linda Bawulski, who served in the post of administrative assistant to the school principal from 1995 to 2010; and Gary Woods served as the school’s first Athletic Director from 1995- 2001; 2015 honorees Tyler Ross, Class of 2013, currently the school’s most decorated speech team member; Steve Mintus, Normal West faculty member from 1995-2005; Berny Chiaro, Teacher & FMP Coordinator; Nathan Stark, Class of 2008, currently an actor; and 2016 honoree Kathy Smalley, who served as a student counselor from when the school opened in 1995 through 2006.