NORMAL – Normal Town Council members received an update on operation of the Town’s public transportation system at the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting, conducted remotely, on Jan. 18, in light of the country’s ongoing pandemic. Riders of Connect Transit suspended fare collections in mid-March of last year as the medical crisis began but its Board Chairman and Interim General Manager reported Federal and State funding have helped keep the service functioning during the difficult period.

Board Chairman Ryan Whitehouse explained the pandemic created a drop of over 40 percent in ridership for Connect Transit as a result of the pandemic.

Whitehouse said Connect Transit implemented policies when the pandemic began in March to assure riders they are being protected from the disease. Connect Transit suspended fare collection to avoid physical contact between riders and drivers in March. Connect’s Board of Directors will take up when to take up fare collection at a meeting in February.

Other measures taken include riders boarding and exiting buses from the rear door, and being required to wear face coverings at all times. Buses are also cleaned and disinfected every four hours, he explained. Whitehouse added the current cleaning schedule is unique because buses generally are cleaned every 24 hours. Of the cleaning schedule, Whitehouse told Council members, “Regular bus cleanings are happening every four hours with buses coming back to our facility and a deep cleaning happens. We’ve hired staff to clean every four hours.” He called such a procedure “unique.”

He added a bus transporting riders from the McLean County Health Department in Downtown Bloomington to the COVID testing site at the McLean County Fairgrounds leaves three times a week.

Whitehouse said of Connect’s $14.5 million budget, passenger fares account for roughly just nine percent, or $1,382,360, combined comes annually from the Town and the City of Bloomington. Normal’s share totals $$541,840. Larger funding for the system amounts to $9.3 million, or 65 percent, from Illinois Department of Transportation, and another Federal payments totaling slightly over $2.1 million, 14 percent, keep the system operating.

Connect Transit will get a financial boost in the form of grants totaling $17.92 million — $9.92 from IDOT, and an $8 million grant from the Federal Transportation Administration. Whitehouse said the money will go toward, among other things, improvements at the Downtown Bloomington transfer area and for purchase of four 35-foot buses.

Connect Transit’s previous general manager, Isaac Thorne, announced his intention to leave at the end of July, and left a month later. Martin Glaze succeeded Thorne as Interim G.M. and exited in October. Retired Normal City Manager Mark Peterson has served as the system’s interim general manager since. Whitehouse said a search for a permanent G.M. using a search firm is underway.

Council Approves Solar Array For Church: Council members unanimously approved Conditionally an Amended Site Plan for First Presbyterian Church, 2000 E. College Ave. so the church could install a Solar Array. The church was making a request of the Town to amend their site plan in order to install a ground-mounted solar array northwest of the church building. The church’s previous request for an amended site plan from the Town was in 2004 for construction of a building addition and relocation of the playground and sand volleyball court.

Issuing Refunding Bonds Approved: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing issuance of General Obligation Refunding Bonds, Series 2021 in an amount not to exceed $2.1 million in order to refund the Town’s Taxable General Obligation Bonds, Series 2010A Recovery Zone Economic Development (RZED) Bonds.

Liquor Commission Hears Report Of Settlement: Council members, acting as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, unanimously approved a liquor license each for two establishments now under new ownership. Commission members were informed by Mayor Chris Koos, Liquor Commissioner, of a settlement between the Town and 35 YEARS LLC, LANDMARK, doing business as Marie’s Place, Landmark, 1520 E. College Avenue, Normal, IL And 35 YEARS LLC, PATRIOT CENTER, doing business as Marie’s Place, Patriot Center, 115 Susan Drive, Suite H, Normal, IL.

Koos explained the owners of the establishments have paid all fees and all settlement costs to the Town and new owners of the businesses were seeking liquor licenses for the establishments. He also said the prior owners “no longer have any interest in this business.”

Koos also reported to Commission members eight liquor licensees elected to pay their fee in two installments and that all license holders met the Town’s September 30, deadline. As a result, no late fees were charged.

Last April, Liquor Commissioners denied licenses to the Marie’s Place locations for varying reasons including citing the prior owners for, in the past, failing to provide 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 last April 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.

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

• Approval of minutes of the Regular Council Meeting of January 4, 2021

• Approval of Report to Receive and File Town of Normal Expenditures for Payment as of January 13, 2021

• A motion rebating funds to Central Illinois Regional Broadband Network (CIRBN)

• A Resolution Considering the Release of Executive Session Minutes from June 19, 2017, February 18, 2019, and April 15, 2019.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and accept quotes totaling $54,949.22 from Dell for the Purchase of Computer Equipment.

• An amended resolution to appropriate $930,000 of Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) Funds for the Towanda Avenue Bridge over Sugar Creek Repair Project.

NORMAL – The building sits in front of the waterpark and pool in front of Fairview Park on Normal’s north end. It has had a history which indicated it had been used for among other uses, a sanitarium before other uses were found for it. Now that property, located at 901 N. Main St. will see another chapter of its life written by a developer who wants to revamp the two-story structure and surrounding properties at 903 and 905 N. Main into senior housing.

The plan Normal Town Council members heard Tuesday during the session held remotely as a result of the country’s continuing pandemic seemed a positive enough for the community to Council members to give a 7-0 unanimous vote to a resolution conditionally approving an amended site plan for the project.

The project’s developers, Springfield-based Laborers’ Home Development Corporation (LHDC), approached the Town with the intention of constructing 41 senior housing units attached to a soon-to-be built second building of 23 feet high which would have additional units. The units would be available for residents age 55 and older, according to LHDC.

According to the report provided Council members by Mercy Davison on the matter, the project will rely LHDC, a non-profit group, to receive affordable housing tax credits from the State. The stage the project is at for LHDC is having hired an architect for assembling building plans and putting together a site plan which would be presented to Town Council members at a future meeting for final approval.

Davison’s report indicated LHDC is a non-profit group which develops, owns, and manages affordable senior housing throughout the Midwest, including Illinois. All the units, the report states, would be built to meet Federal accessibility guidelines and have features such as grab bars in bathrooms and showers, accessible controls, accessible doors, cabinet hardware, and adjustable shelving.

McLean County has owned the former sanitarium property for decades, as well as the surrounding properties, including the Emergency Management garage, which also has 901 N. Main as it address; McLean County Nursing Home at 903 N. Main St., and the county juvenile detention center at 905 N. Main St.

Davison said the only item needing to be worked out between the developer and the county concerns the number of parking spaces needed. She added Town Code ties parking for multi-family projects to the number of bedrooms in each residential unit. Code calls for this facility be required to have 66 parking spaces. LHDC is requesting a variance to provide 34 spaces, including 4 which would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Council members had positive comments when they addressed it before voting. “Personally, I think this is a great project,” said Council Member Kevin McCarthy. “We’re taking an old, unproductive, used asset and we’re going to rehabilitate it and make it productive again and add to it.”

“It’s worth noting the number of boxes this project checks and fills,” added Council Member Kathleen Lorenz. She added such a complex would diversify the housing options available to seniors in the community.”

“I think it’s an exceptional project,” Koos stated, adding, “This is a significant project. It takes a significant building in our community, an historic building, and puts it through an interesting adaptive reuse. I know it’s something the Town and the County have been concerned about for years.”

“It’s our plan to restore the structure to its historic former look and bring it all up to code,” explained Tim Ryan, representing LHDC. “Also restore its historic features intact.”

Normal Planning Commission members voted 7-0 to approve the proposed project during their session on Jan. 7. Only one member of the public spoke at that session concerned about an increase in traffic at Summit St. if the project were approved.

By Steve Robinson | January 18, 2021 - 10:01 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

NORMAL – The wait is finally over for Illinois State University’s Volleyball team. Precautions surrounding COVID-19 forced the Missouri Valley to push back the sport’s regular fall scheduling in favor of playing when players came back for spring semester.

On Monday, after a fall semester of wondering when they would be allowed to not think about COVID-19 restrictions and concentrate on kills and digs, third season head coach Leah Johnson and her team took to Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena to get a feel for the new season with hopes of getting back to the Conference Championship.

They managed that last year, having been seeded 2nd and disposing of 6th seed Drake before falling to top seed Northern Iowa. And things went so well, the Redbirds obtained a berth in the NCAAs but fell in the opening session to University of Cincinnati.

What she said she witnessed during the session was “this was a team I could trust and I saw that again today,” said Johnson, who met remotely with local media members via Zoom after the practice session. “We needed this experience in practice to feel what it’s like to get our name called, seeing our name up on the big board because we’ve been beating each other up for a little while now.”

Johnson said the team was prepping for a new season with returning players coming back in July and newcomers joining before fall semester. “It was disappointing to hear our season was transitioned to the spring, but once we kind of got through that grieving process, I believe everyone expected to prepare,” Johnson said.

At that point, Johnson said, she and her team practiced six days a week, simulating playing on one side of the net through a full match. “We did as much simulating as we could, and with that, we also simulated resiliency.” She said that also meant mentally preparing for changes thrown their way as a result of COVID.

Some of that resiliency will mean contending with playing games on back-to-back days as opposed to having a few days to recover and go at it again. Johnson said the team was actually considering scheduling games in that manner in the fall before the league moved the season as a whole to the spring. “If you win day one, your opponent knows what they get to fix before game two,” she explained. “Our goal is to constantly best ourselves. I also think it will be about recovery – which team can play their depth, which team can recover and see the next match as a brand new match.”

Johnson said with five returning seniors and six freshmen on the roster, “This is a team that is pretty special. It has a lot of potential and has five seniors who have all been at starting roles or significant roles their entire career. This year’s seniors (and hometowns) are: Kaylee Martin (Sterling, Ill.); Kendal Meier (Cedar Rapids, Iowa); Stef Jankiewicz (Farmington Hills, Mich.); Alyssa Kronberg (Palatine, Ill.); and Sydney Holt (Eureka, Mo.). The team also has six freshmen, including one redshirt, joining the team for their first season as Redbirds. The team also has one player from Austria and one from New Zealand.

“They’re a pretty special senior class,” Johnson said. “If I could keep them around longer, I would.” She added that everyone underneath them is competitive. “That’s one thing the seniors have given me feedback on – how the freshmen, sophomore, even junior class, are pushing them. It’s not easy to still be a starter in our gym just because you’re a senior. It’s not given. You have to earn it and they’re feeling that. So that’s a good sign for the future, too.”

Meier, who plays in the middle blocker slot, said it may not seem like the season has finally arrived until they hit the court to open the season at Marquette Friday night.

Kendal Meier: Because of COVID, players will need to wear masks while on the court. Iowa native Meier, a senior, told reporters players didn’t play with masks, so playing with them “was a huge adjustment. Coach is all about being prepared and when the season starts, you will have to wear a mask, or working out, you will be wearing a mask. I think we all have embraced the face that we are wearing masks.”

Meier said to answer the question of what makes this team different, she has to go back to comparing advantages and disadvantages such as the advantage of training for a full semester. One of the advantages, to her, was being able to spend time at length bonding with freshman teammates, something that doesn’t happen in the midst of a season.

Stef Jankiewicz: Stef Jankiewicz, another senior on the team, said the cold and snow are the biggest difference in adjusting to playing in the spring semester because she said it usually get cold toward the end of the season, when the team plays at the MVC Tourney in November. Jankiewicz said the additional bonding time also helped the team in terms of players knowing what is expected of them on the court come game time. She said she is looking forward to helping ISU “show the team’s competitive side” when they take to the court against Marquette.

Jankiewicz said COVID has added a layer of responsibility for players in that they had to make sure that, in addition to bringing shoes, certain stretch bands, and kneepads to games or practices, they also brought masks. The end result was all team members held each other accountable for making sure additional items like masks were part of their equipment. “Freshmen held us accountable the same way we would hold them accountable for things,” she explained.

About that aspect of how the team is operating now as a result, Jankiewicz said and referring to the underclassmen, “That’s one of the biggest differences that I am really excited for because I know they will always be there to push me, and every single person on the team will. So, I have to hold myself to a new standard every match and every practice.”

Redbirds Host Bradley Monday At 6p.m.: The Redbirds will play Missouri Valley Conference rival Bradley Monday at 6p.m. followed by a two-night visit by University of Cincinnati. On Feb. 1, the Redbirds visit Bradley for a 6p.m. The game at Bradley is part of a three-game road trip as the Redbirds will visit Indiana State for contests on Feb. 7 and 8.

NORMAL – Following a public hearing required by the State, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board discussed considering a motion to submit a request to Illinois State Board of Education to renew a waiver allowing the district to maintain the fee the district charges for driver’s education courses. The hearing was part of the regularly-scheduled meeting of school board members who met in the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School on Jan. 13.

The Board’s vote on the waiver renewal will take place at a future meeting. If approved by the Board at that time, it would be sent on to Illinois General Assembly for approval, and should that governing body approve it, would last five years, expiring in spring 2026.

During discussion regarding the waiver, Board President Amy Roser explained the district wished to maintain the fee the district charges for those courses to stay at a rate not to exceed $450. By State law, Illinois school districts can charge a “reasonable fee” not to exceed $50, which can be increased to up to $250 after a public hearing. Unit 5 charges $250.

The district originally applied for the waiver five years ago, said Curt Richardson, attorney for the district, in his explanation to Board members. He said this request is different because the earlier request involved asking for a modification to the application whereas the current request was for a waiver. He said once the waiver request is received by ISBE, that body forwards such requests on to Illinois General Assembly which will vote whether or not to approve it.

The waiver, Richardson said, if passed, would allow Unit 5 to maintain the increased fee. State Statute 27-24.2 of the State School Code, allows districts to charge “a reasonable fee of up to $250” after a public hearing is held. “We don’t, actually, right now charge the total $450,” Richardson explained. “It just gives us a little room if we need to.”

In fact, Richardson said, personnel costs to operate it is what takes up 90 percent of the program’s cost. He added the requested increase “allows us to provide a quality program.” As a result, he said, the district can provide more in-car training. Without it, he said, students would have to wait longer for such training and the district would have to pay an outside firm for such training.

He said if the district had to pay extra money for the training, which might affect other courses the district could offer students. Richardson added once the five-year period ends, the district wants to be able to end it with a goal of telling the State that 85 percent of students who took the course came away with a grade of “B” or better. There were no public comments, either written or in person, before Board members voted.

Available COVID Testing Among Items In Superintendent’s Comments: District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weichel reported to Board members students returned to school buildings on Jan.11. Dr. Weikle said she “was pleased with how well our students have acclimated getting back into the buildings and into a routine with their teachers” after months of remote learning from home via computer.

She added Unit 5 schools will receive $1 million in on-site COVID testing, thanks to two local businesses. Rivian Automotive and Reditus Laboratories have partnered to provide the service to the district. Rivian donated $500,000 to Pekin-based Reditus Laboratories for COVID testing and Reditus matched that amount. That will provide for 9,000 tests. The tests will be available specifically for Unit 5 students and staff at no cost to the district.

The logistics of the testing will be determined in the coming weeks and will be shared with district families when finalized. Dr. Weikle explained no one will be required to take a test. Testing will be done on a completely voluntary basis for students and district staff. “Such convenience and timeliness of providing on-site testing for our staff and students will help the district better monitor and control the spread of COVID in the schools,” she said.

Board Gets First Look At 2021-22 School Year Calendar: Michelle Lamboley, assistant superintendent, provided Board members with a first glance at the district’s 2021-22 school year calendar. She added the committee forming the next school year’s calendar tried to model the upcoming calendar after the one the district would have had this school year had the COVID-19 pandemic not disrupted matters. Wednesday, Aug. 18 is scheduled as the first full day of classes for the new school year.

Lamboley said, typically, a school improvement day would be scheduled for a Friday in April at the end of the month. But for the coming year, the committee opted to move it up to mid-April. Other than that, she explained, there are no major changes to the coming year.

Board Member Barry Hitchins asked that the upcoming calendar include a note that late start dates, those used by district teachers for in-service events, not apply to the district’s early learning program participants.

Board Member Alan Kalitzky said news about an upcoming calendar “is a great sign of progress that the district is planning to move forward with, what is hopefully, a traditional school year. And I am hopeful that we will see it to fruition.”

Next Board Meeting Scheduled For Feb. 10 At Normal Community West High School: This was the only meeting scheduled for the Board this month. The next Board meeting is slated for Wednesday, Feb. 10 in the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School starting at 6:30p.m.

NORMAL – One student each attending one of Normal’s three high schools, received Youth Awards at the 45th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Luncheon when the event was held virtually Saturday due to the country’s ongoing pandemic. The trio – two who live in Normal while a third lives in Bloomington and attends a Unit 5 high school – were recognized by Awards officials and civic leaders during the event.

The three students, and the schools they attend are: Aditi Sharma, a senior at Normal Community High School; Jasmyn Jordan is a senior at Normal Community West High School; and Yvin Shin, a senior at University High School.

Jasmyn Jordan: Jasmyn Jordan is a senior at Normal Community West High School. She is the Founder and President of the Normal West Black Student Union, Student Council Vice President of Communications, member of the NAACP, Not In Our School Steering Committee, Youth Action Board, Youth Engaged in Philanthropy, and a recipient of the NAACP’s Harry Hightower Youth Community Service Award. It is her hope to become a child and forensic psychologist.

She said she was “extremely grateful to be a recipient” of the award adding, “The principle of self-determination is a concept that Dr. King and I firmly believe in. Dr. King stated to believe in yourself and that you are somebody.” She added those working to uphold what Dr. King stood for “are fortunate to his legacy.

Yvin Shin: Yvin Shin is a senior at University High School. She serves on Not In Our School and the BN Welcoming leadership team. Shin is also the President of U-High’s Student Diversity Committee. She has committed to studying at Columbia University in New York and plans to double major in Political Science-International Relations and Neuroscience. Through her studies and advocacy, she hopes to better understand human interaction, community, and service.

Shin began by thanking the Town for the honor bestowed upon her, adding, “It’s truly an honor to not only receive the award but to have my name and work mentioned even in the vicinity of such a monumental figure.” She added, “We are fortunate enough to consult Dr. King’s legacy as we work. That does not mean our work is any less difficult or speaking up is any less extraordinary.” She said those engaged in working to keep his legacy alive will not have the benefit of knowing how they will be seen by future generations for their work on his behalf.

Aditi Sharma: Aditi Sharma is a senior at Normal Community High School and was the City of Bloomington’s King Youth Award recipient. As a leader of Not In Our School and the founder of Inclusive Education Coalition, she has collaborated with peers and adults in her community to organize social justice events, informational workshops, charity events, and school curriculum reform. Sharma plans on double majoring in Political Science and Philosophy to go on and continue working as an activist for equality.

“I am so humbled and honored to be receiving this award alongside other brilliant student leader of the Bloomington-Normal community,” Sharma said, adding, “When I joined Not In Our School freshman year, I never would have dreamed of being in the position I am right now.” She added she has helped to form the Inclusive Education Coalition at her school. She said such experience “has taught me the value of hard work, perseverance, collaboration, and integrity.”

Dr. Kristal H. Shelvin, Ph.D, Normal’s Adult King Award Recipient: Dr. Kristal H. Shelvin, Ph.D, was honored at the adult King Award recipient for the Town of Normal. Dr. Shelvin is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Jack and Jill of America, and sits on the boards of Heartland Head Start and Illinois Prairie Foundation’s Women to Women Giving Circle. As the Clinical Services Supervisor at Livingston County Special Services Unit, Dr. Shelvin’s community work focuses on dismantling racism and inequities in education and mental health.

Dr. Shelvin said she accepted the award “with the utmost gratitude,” adding, “I am very honored to be recognized by the Normal Human Relations Commission. I am awed to join the list of admirable community leaders who were nominated and selected before me. It is my pleasure to serve this community who welcomed me with open arms as a young graduate student.” She said she wanted to share her award with her husband and two children.

Don Shandrow, Bloomington’s Adult King Award Recipient: Don Shandrow is co-founder and executive artistic director of the Coalescence Theatre Project. As Executive Artistic Director, Shandrow was honored for the group being committed to presenting plays that express ideas, thoughts, and stories that are not usually heard in other local theatres; to offer opportunities to underutilized performers and theatre artists, and bring together an audience that reflects the diversity of our community. Shandrow called receiving the honor “unexpected and humbling.”

Other Speakers Included NCHS Associate Principal Caffey: Attendees also heard from Camille Taylor, co-chair of Not In Our Town steering committee and Not In Our Schools; Dr. Doris Houston, interim Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion at Illinois State University; and Dr. Brandon Caffey, associate principal at Normal Community West High School. They also heard a musical performance NCHS senior Aniya Thompson who performed the Cynthia Erivo song, “Stand Up,” and heard actor Gregory B. Hicks give a dramatic performance from playwright Katory Hall’s work, “The Mountain Top.”

Barb Atkins Remembered: The event also remembered Barb Atkins, who had served in numerous capacities for Bloomington including deputy city manager and community affairs manager. Atkins, 61, died Nov. 7.

Princeton University Academic Addresses ISU Audience Remotely: Dr. King was also remembered at a function hosted by Illinois State University on Jan. 14. Dr. Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., the Chair of the Center for African American Studies and the Chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, addressed a Zoom meeting of nearly 1,000 attendees. Dr. Glaude’s presentation was sponsored by ISU’s Office of the President, University Housing Services, and the Association of Residence Halls.

Among his remarks, Dr. Glaude said the holiday the country uses to celebrate Dr. King can have two purposes: Either it can remind the country of its “tragedy of our racial past and present,” or, he said, it can remind us about the fragility of democracy.