By Steve Robinson | April 29, 2020 - 6:37 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

EL PASO – Like many communities in the State and nationwide, El Paso and Gridley are learning how to survive and adapt during the pandemic the country has been experiencing for almost the past two months. School District 11 has, like numerous school districts across the country, been conducting distance learning with students by computer, and at the District Board’s session April 27, done remotely, District Superintendent Brian Kurz commended district staff for their efforts during this situation.

Kurz said school staffers have been checking on students and their families making sure they are doing well during this situation. He added all students have one teacher who checks on them each week. He added if contact is not made after multiple attempts, administrators and other staff members make home visits to check on them.

Kurz added the rate of student participation for learning activities have been well over 80 percent during the remote learning period. He said staff members have been able to connect several families with support for those who have needed it.

EPGHS Graduation Scheduled For June 19: Brian Quam, principal of El Paso Gridley High School, reported to Board members graduation for EPGHS seniors has been scheduled for Friday, June 19 with an alternative date scheduled for the event set for Friday, July 17.

Kurz Receives New Contract: Board members voted to give Kurz’s a new four-year contract as superintendent. Kurz has been working in the third year of a five-year contract as EPG superintendent. Last night the Board of Education and I agreed to a new 4-year contract.

In a statement to the media, Kurz explained, “My family and I were grateful for the opportunity to come back home to EPG. We don’t take that for granted – and the extending of my contract means a lot to me. I am very grateful for the staff and board I get to work with each day. They make EPG a great place to live, work, and raise a family.”

New Dean And Athletic Director Hired For EPGHS: Adam Troll has been hired as the new EPGHS Dean and Assistant Athletic Director. Currently, Troll is employed in the Richland 88A School District as a middle school Dean / Athletic Director. Adam and his wife, Carrie, are the parents of two elementary aged children. Troll will begin his duties at EPGHS on July 1.

Results Of Referendum Concerning New Junior High Announced: Kurz announced the official results of the referendum held March 17 concerning whether a new junior high school should be constructed to replace the current facility. In El Paso Gridley, 1,648 residents cast yes votes while 405 cast no votes, showing 80 percent of voters were in favor. In Woodford County, 963 voters registered Yes votes as opposed to 344 No votes, showing that 74 percent were in favor. In McLean County, there were 621 Yes votes cast and 52 No votes, indicating 92 percent of voters there in favor), and in Livingston County, 64 voters cast Yes votes as opposed to 9 No votes, indicating 88 percent of residents were in favor.

The next two steps to be worked on Kurz told Board members, will include discussions with architects as plans are currently being drawn up for the project, and involving EPG Jr. High Athletic Director Joshua Krone working with a team of teachers to meet with architects to discuss the physical features of learning spaces.

District Financial Recap: Kurz summarized for Board members the state of the district’s financial condition, explaining revenues for the district look good but will not meet budget projections for the remainder of the year. He also pointed out District 11 has only received just one of the four categorical payments school districts are supposed to receive annually. Those payment total around $100,000 each and are applied for special education and transportation.

He added property tax receipts will be delayed, but added he hopeful the district will receive the correct amount of payments in June to close out the current fiscal year, but informed Board members the district should brace for receiving a lesser amount.

As for how much the district is spending, Kurz said that amount is in line with expectations. He said the district saw an increase in maintenance purchased services while experiencing a decrease in the purchase of maintenance supplies.

District Policy Committee Meeting Recap: Kurz informed Board members district policy committee members have met to review some legal changes to current policies. He explained none of the policies reviewed would have any real impact on district practices. The changes, he said, centered around updating language, footnotes, and citations to be compliant with current legislation.

NORMAL – A current gaming establishment which has found itself on Town administration’s radar in recent months received license approvals from Normal Town Council members at Monday’s regularly-scheduled session as Council members began their meeting serving in their capacity as the Normal Local Liquor Commission. Commission members met from remote locations as result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Town Deputy Corporation Counsel Jason Querciagrossa reviewed for Council members issues the Town had cited the owners of Marie’s Place gaming parlor for in the past, including not providing food to patrons as they had advertised they would. Audits done by the Town and inspections done by McLean County Health Department at locations at Patriot Center shopping plaza and at Landmark Mall were to have had food on site but did not offer any. A third location, located in a strip mall at 1702 W. College Ave. never opened, Querciagrossa added.

All three locations came up before NLCC for license renewals, Querciagrossa explained.

Mayor Chris Koos, as head of NLCC, reminded commissioners at a Liquor Commission meeting on March 18 that Commissioners elected to take no action on renewing the business’ licenses but rather, decided for the matter for a hearing to be conducted before an administrative officer.

The hearing officer recommended to the Town that the owners should be fined, Querciagrossa said. At Monday’s NLCC meeting, a number of votes were taken concerning licensing of the business, in part, because its ownership is changing hands. As a result, the Town issued a Stay order for the business’ license for 2018-19, according to Normal Town Clerk Angie Hounker. Liquor Licenses run from April 1-March 30.

When such a business is changing hands, NLCC must vote on approving or not approving the license for the new licensee. But in this situation, not only did that have to be voted on, but so also did approving licenses for the current year and next year.

A number of votes transpired during the NLCC session, the first of which was to revoke the 2018-19 stay of the Marie’s Place license for that fiscal year for the business’ East College Ave. location. In that vote, Commissioners approved denying a license for that location by a 6-1 count, as Commissioners Chris Koos, Karyn Smith, Kathleen Lorenz, Scott Preston, Kevin McCarthy, and Chemberly Cummings voted to uphold the revocation while Commissioner Stan Nord cast the lone vote against revocation. The votes for denying the license renewal for 2019-20 for the business’ location at 115 Susan Dr. fell the same way. Both businesses would have received a Class O – Limited Hours license.

When it came to denying renewals for the business’ 1520 E. College Ave. location for 2020-21, which would give proprietors a Class C – Beer and Wine Only with longer hours, Nord again was the only Commissioner voting to grant the business a license. A fourth vote to deny a Class C license for the location at 1520 E. College Ave. also passed by a 6-1 vote, with Nord again casting the only opposing vote.

Next, Commissioners voted 6-1 to deny a Class C license for the Marie’s Place at 115 Susan Dr., again with Nord casting the only opposing vote.

Another vote awarding a license for the location in the Landmark Mall, for new owners who kept the ownership name of 35 Years LLC Landmark, was also denied by a 6-1 count, with Nord being the lone dissenter.

In an email to The Normalite, Nord explained his lone votes to some of the matters this way: “The reason for my lone vote was because denying the liquor licenses would present an obstacle to the new owner in reopening these business locations. The reason the licenses were being revoked had only to do with not serving food, well prior to the new ownership. The new owner was resolving the issue. The town presented no compelling benefit to justify denying the licenses to the new owner.”

A final vote, to award a license to Marie’s Place at 1702 W. College Ave. for license year 2019-20 received a unanimous approval from NLCC. That business location has never been open but the proprietors have continued to apply for a license. A Class C license for 2020-21 was unanimously approved.

Water Main Replacement Expenditure Approved: During the Council session which followed NLCC’s session, Council members unanimously approved awarding handling a project involving replacing nearly 2,400 feet of water main to George Gildner, Inc. after that firm submitted a bid of $512,433 for the project. The area where the water main will be replaced is located on Jersey Ave. between Ethell Parkway and Robinwood Drive.

The project is being done along Jersey Ave. in order to help relocate the water main into an area that will not disrupt construction of a new bridge in that neighborhood.

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

• Approval of the Minutes of the Special Meeting of March 23, 2020.

• Approval of the Minutes of the Regular Council Meeting of April 6, 2020.

• Report to Receive and File Town of Normal Expenditures for Payment as April 15, 2020.

• A resolution to award the bid for the Jersey Avenue water main replacement project (Robinwood to Ethell Parkway) to George Gildner, Inc. at a total cost of $512,433 plus up to a potential bonus of $15,000 for Early Completion.

• A resolution authorizing an extension of a contract with T2 Systems for the T2 Flex

Parking Ticket Solution in the amount of $81,741.

• A resolution authorizing a Second Amendment to the Supply and Processing Agreement with Midwest Fiber Recycling for the processing of recycled materials and
continuation of the drop-box recycling program for six months and authorizing an associated budget adjustment.

• An ordinance reserving volume cap in connection with private activity bond issues
and Related Matters

By Steve Robinson | April 16, 2020 - 2:02 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Employing a phone-in system, Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members met a week later than scheduled, on April 15, to hold their regularly-scheduled meeting. During the session, which lasted 30 minutes, Board members were informed the district will need to issue working cash bonds earlier than planned to have available working cash on hand to finish the fiscal year. That decision came as result of a McLean County Board decision concerning it property tax deadline.

District Business Manager Marty Hickman informed Board members relayed to Board members McLean County Treasurer’s Office moved back the due date residents have to turn in their property tax payments to June 17. As a result, Hickman explained, the district is cashing the bonds to have money on hand for expenditures.

Board members voted last July to inject the cash into the district’s coffers. At a meeting last December, Board members passed a measure intending to sell $29 million in working cash bonds as a means of addressing a deficit.

Hickman said cashing the bonds ahead of schedule was “to avoid any risks on our cash flow or have any issues with payments in June.” Not doing this now, he added, would have jeopardized the district’s ability to meet payroll distribution in July.

Superintendent Credits IT Staff, Food Service, District Directors For Efforts: District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel gave credit to a number of things taking place in Unit 5 which are helping families who are in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, he gave appreciation to the district’s food service staff for being able to feed roughly 1,200 daily meals to students, and followed that up with thanking district custodians who have been assisting food service in the assembly and distribution of those meals. “Bus drivers have delivered those meals, so they have been involved as well as food service, and principals have followed the buses on Fridays when we distribute those,” Daniel explained.

He added United Way of McLean County has joined in the food distribution effort, helping distribute dinners. “I am very, very appreciative for this because our food needs are growing and it seems as though we are continuing to raise the bar and meet that expectation.”

Daniel added the district is doing what it can to, also, “meet social and emotional needs of students and staff.” In addition, Daniel said, “Teachers have been phenomenal in contacting their individual students that they had in their classrooms. Principals have also been following up with staff, and those few students we have not yet connected with.”

He added Greg Leipold, the former Normal Police officer and recently-named Security Director for the district, has been checking up on students with home visits when the district has not heard from those students. In addition, he said, members of schools with Promise Council members have touched base with students, providing the students with activities to do.

The district has been in remote learning mode since the pandemic began. “At first, it was extremely intense, learning to use the devices,” Daniel said. He reminded that Unit 5 would prefer staff and students use Google Hangout, Google Classroom, and Google Webex for remote learning because the district’s Instructional Technology department staffers are able to support those items.

“Teachers have been very creative in their lessons,” Daniel added. He said he had a chance to observe lessons given by teachers in sixth through 12th grade and said he found them “very engaging. We’re very thankful for that.”

He said the district was responding to questions from both students and parents in a timely manner. He praised Maureen Backe, director of elementary education, and Dan Lamboley, director of secondary education, Michelle Lamboley, director of special education, and Darrin Cooper, director of teaching and learning, for their efforts in assembling the format used for remote learning. He also added his appreciation to Lindsey Dickinson, president of Unit Five Education Association for her efforts in helping organize the distance learning program.

“Without us coming together and truly rowing in the same direction, and supporting each other, I don’t think we’d be where we are today,” Daniel said. “And it’s very obvious that having our teachers in the front of the classroom is the best learning model.”

With regard to problems experienced with computer connectivity, Daniel added, “We’re working hard addressing issues we are having. If students have computers that are broken, we are able to swap those out and get them repaired.” District IT staff had 650 service requests once distance learning began last month and managed to reduce that number to 10 just prior to the Board meeting.

UFEA Introduces New Website: Dickinson wrote a public comment to the Board, which was read by Kim Stewart, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent and Clerk of the Board.

In the past few weeks, Dickinson penned, “We’ve been teaching remotely and our students have been learning remotely. It has been a challenge for teachers and students and for their parents and caregivers. And it has been a real challenge in how we do our work and how our students learn.” She said the current situation has called on teachers to seek creative ways to do their jobs. UFEA, she explained, has launched a new website to help students, parents, and caregivers called ufeacares.org.

Dickinson wrote the site features a directory of remote learning resources which the organization recommends. She added all grade levels and content areas are covered. She said resources will be updated for as long as the closure lasts, and welcome suggestions from students, parents, and educators.

“We miss our schools and classrooms, and we miss our colleagues,” Dickinson wrote. “But most of all, we miss our students and the connections we make with them at school. There is no way remote learning can replace, reproduce, or replicate the one-on-one interactions that happen in our schools every day. All we can do as students, parents, educators, and caregivers is to do the best we can. We know we are – and will be – better together.”

NORMAL – During their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday night, Normal Town Council members received an update concerning programs available to help businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The overview of what is available to businesses was conducted by Patrick Hoban, chief executive officer of Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council.

The meeting took place with all council members, and other participants present, doing so from remote locations.

Hoban began by stating that the shelter-in-place order issued by Gov. J. B. Pritzker which began March 21 and expected to run through April 30, “has taken its toll on Illinois, especially on Bloomington-Normal, with over 21,000 college students.” He added someone he knew told him the current atmosphere people are living in is “our new normal, but I don’t believe that unless we start our recovery process.”

Hoban said among the first things B-NEDC did was to partner with the McLean County Chamber of Commerce and Bloomington-Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau. That trio of groups have created a website, www.bnprepared.org, which informs businesses on available resources they can find at this time.

Among the programs available to businesses Hoban mentioned are Economic Injury Disaster Loans offered directly by Small Business Association for amounts up to $2 million. These loans are available to businesses with under 500 employees. They can be paid back over 30 years at a rate of 3.75 percent, he explained. Businesses can borrow up to $25,000 without collateral, Hoban added.

Another loan available to businesses Hoban mentioned is the Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan which businesses can use to borrow up to $10,000. Both loans are for businesses employing under 500 employees.

A third one Hoban mentioned which would be of help to not just businesses but financial institutions is the Paycheck Protection Program. Hoban explained it is fully forgivable and 75 percent of it can be used for payroll. He said any business interested in this program will need to contact their local lender.

Hoban added the State has created a program to help businesses at this time. He said one program they created was the Illinois Small Business Emergency Loan Fund which will loan businesses with under 50 employees and taking in less than $3 million in revenue up to $50,000.

“To summarize – and I can’t stress this enough – call your banker so you can find out what you can qualify for,” Hoban added.

In answer to a question from Council Member Karyn Smith, Hoban said one way the public can help businesses at this time is to purchase gift cards from the merchants. City Manager Pam Reece added that there are businesses that are accepting prepayment for services with the understanding patrons will avail themselves of the services offered once the pandemic concludes.

Council Received Updates On Projects Listed On Omnibus Agenda: Council members received an update on a few projects listed in the Town Council’s omnibus agenda during a nearly hour-long session from Reece. Chief among the reason for completing the projects now, she said, was that they were capital improvement projects needing to be completed to meet deadlines.

First among the projects was a water main replacement project to be completed in neighborhoods centered on Bryan Dr., Adelaide St., and Wilmette St. in Normal. Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. at a total cost of $865,400 plus up to a potential $15,000 bonus for early completion, brought in the accepted bid for the project.

Reece explained to Council members installing the water main “will improve the water quality in those neighborhoods.” In addition to new water main installation, new fire hydrants will also be installed in those areas, she said.

Reece added that a street resurfacing contract which was awarded to Bloomington-based Rowe Construction Co., a Division of United Contractors Midwest, Inc., was the sole bidder for the project, submitting a bid in the amount of $942,755.07. She said it has been the Town’s experience that Rowe usually is the sole bidder on such projects, adding, the company is usually, also, the lone bidder on projects put up for bid by the City of Bloomington.

The streets being resurfaced in this project have been rated by the Town and were ones considered needing priority by the Town, Reece said.

Council members also unanimously approved a resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. for the Glenn Avenue Bridge Replacement Project in the amount of $872,788.47. “That project originally had been budgeted for a couple of years, meaning to replace the bridge in 2019, but ran into some challenges in terms of getting the project done then,” Reece explained to Council members.

She added the project is expected to come in under budget and, with Glenn Elementary School adjacent in that area where the work will be done, the Town is looking to see the project started as soon as Normal-based Unit 5 School District concludes the spring semester and completed by August.

Finally, Reece added the Town is hoping to be able to see a project involving numerous sidewalk improvements gets completed this year. To that end, Council members unanimously approved a resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based J.G. Stewart Contractors, Inc. for the 2020 Miscellaneous Sidewalk Improvements – 50/50 Sidewalk and ADA Ramps Project in the Amount of $454,480.90.

Reece said multiple locations in the community would see improvements done and at a price under budget.

Council Member Nord Questions Spending On CDM Exhibits: Reece also mentioned to Council members the impact completion of another project approved by resolution would have on the community, to authorize Children’s Discovery Museum Executive Director Beth Whisman to amend the Design/Build Agreement with Lincolnwood, Ill.-based Luci Creative, LLC for the new “Healthy Me” exhibit in an amount not to exceed $419,475. Reece reminded Council members the governing body authorized spending on updating the exhibit at that price in July 2019.

At the time that original resolution was passed, Reece told Council members, the governing body voted for the Town to spend an amount not exceeding $300,000. But, Reece explained, in the course of the Wilmette, Illinois-based company’s design of that exhibit, the Town consulted with educators and health care professionals who made recommendations which prompted the Town to expand the information contained in the exhibit. As a result, the Town sought, and received a unanimous Council vote with the increased price tag.

“We believe that project will result in a higher quality exhibit and meet the needs of the Museum for years to come,” She said. Reece added the Children’s Discovery Museum Board has agreed to reimburse the Town for the expense. Council members unanimously passed the resolution without discussion. It is hoped that if there are no delays, that exhibit will be ready for display in August.

Smith asked Reece if, with the Town shutdown and the Museum closed, would that help the Museum with its timing to complete the exhibit. Whisman said the current situation should have no effect on the Museum’s scheduled debut for the exhibit.

But prior to the vote unanimously approving the spending measure, and citing that the CDM Board has not had a meeting since the community and country began contending with a pandemic, Council Member Stan Nord offered a motion to table voting on the measure until the Council was able to hear an update from CDM Board members, “in case they wanted to tweak this exhibit.” He also pondered whether CDM would be starting any work on new exhibits during the current circumstances.

Smith seconded the tabling motion, but it failed on a 6-1 count with Nord being the only one seeking for the measure to be tabled, while Mayor Chris Koos, and Council Members Kevin McCarthy, Scott Preston, Kathleen Lorenz, Chemberly Cummings, and Smith voting against it.

Whisman informed Council members funding for the exhibit was approved knowing the cost was going to increase. She added the money needed for the project has been secured by the Museum Board through pledges. “The Board was comfortable with an amount up to $420,000,” she explained. She included that the dollars for the exhibit are coming from private fundraisers and gifts secured by the CDM Foundation.

Cummings: “Take Pandemic Seriously”: Cummings informed Council members she had received reports of small group gatherings in the community despite local authorities’ insistence on people not gathering in groups larger than 10 or observing social distancing to cut down on the spread of Covid-19. “I don’t want it to get to the point to where it impacts your household, so I am pleading with our community to take this seriously – this is not vacation time. We have to be smart about this as a community.”

No Landscape Waste Pick-Up At This Time: McCarthy reminded residents that curbside services provided by the Town – trash collection, recycling, and brush are being picked up on a weekly basis during the pandemic. He reminded the only service the Town is now doing currently is landscape waste collection.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular Council meeting held March 16, 2020.