By Steve Robinson | August 31, 2021 - 10:32 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – When Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members met during their regularly-scheduled meeting Aug. 25, they were informed the current budget includes a deficit which totals $18.5 million. That amount, as it turns out, according to a District official, is not as much as it was anticipated to be.

Marty Hickman, the district’s chief financial officer, explained to Board members the district didn’t spend as much money on transportation because of remote learning during the previous school year. Transportation accounted for $8 million being spent while taking in $11 million.

Informing Board members in the auditorium at Normal Community West High School, Hickman explained the district also transferred $11,750,725 from its working cash fund placing that money into its education fund. That amount, it turns out is lower than was anticipated for the school year, as the district expected that amount to be around $16 million. The district also received a payment of $1.5 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) Grant dollars.

Looking at the eight individual funds the district manages, the coming school year will see half of them with net changes in the red. The largest of those is the district working cash fund with a deficit of $11.3 million. The district Fire Prevention and Safety account has the next highest deficit of $4.4 million, followed by its transportation fund with a deficit of $3.2 million. The district’s educational, operations and maintenance, debt service, and tort funds all currently remain in the black.

With students returning to classrooms this month, Unit 5 officials are working on financial assumptions that, among other things, food service incoming money levels should return to normal with students back in class, Tommy Hoerr, director of financial services for the district, told Board members.

Hoerr added lunches the district dispensed last year during the pandemic were paid with Federal grant dollars. This year, he added, local revenue will pay for that expense. Hoerr said

Among the financial assumptions the district is making concerning the coming school year, Hoerr said, are that income from food service should return to pre-Covid levels at the district’s two high schools and should increase at its four junior high schools. He said that ought to add $1.6 million to district coffers.

In addition to those assumptions, Unit 5 anticipates a 1 percent increase in the levy for earned assessed valuation of real estate for 2021.

Where State-provided funding is concerned, because of remote learning last year, the district lost roughly $1.7 million in transportation revenue. Evidence-based funding, however, saw an increase of around $400,000.

From a labor perspective, Hickman recapped for Board members the district continues to negotiate with employees who are members of Laborers Local 362 to agree on a contract. The district is in the middle of a second year of a three-deal with both members of Unit Five Support Professionals Association, the union representing paraprofessionals and educational office personnel, and Unit Five Education Association (UFEA), the union which represents the district’s teachers.

Board members anticipate adopting a finalized budget at their Sept. 22 meeting.

By Steve Robinson | August 30, 2021 - 8:09 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – After a first year in 2019 in which the Town of Normal rebranded what was commonly known as “Cornfest,” followed by a year in which the Covid-19 pandemic prevented the event from even taking place last year, the turnout for the rebranded event, now known as “Sweetcorn Circus” looked impressive for anyone who came into Uptown Normal this past weekend.

Independent craft makers came back and lined both sides of both North St. and Beaufort Ave. and local residents, and others from outside the area came as well, to see what was new and to devour at least a couple ears of corn to make the trip complete.

Members of Illinois State University’s Gamma Phi Circus could be found walking on stilts and performing other singular acts as they went up and down Uptown Normal’s main streets enticing patrons to come see their shows.

And if the crowd wasn’t looking at various products from the vendors that lined both sides of both main avenues, they were eating corn – and plenty of it. And they had Lexington resident Bob Clark and a dedicated group of volunteering Boy Scouts to thank for all the shucking of corn the boys did and the help received from volunteers who took in money for and prepared the corn to be enjoyed. The young men who helped were part of Troop 920 which meets at St. Mary’s Church.

Unlike past years, Clark didn’t have an exact figure as to how many pounds of ears of corn were received for the event except to say “four good-sized truckloads came so far.” He was able to say the corn came from the Maddox Sweet Corn Farm, located in Warrensburg Ill. He could also tell you how much time he had to put the volunteers and obtaining the corn together.

To start with, it wasn’t as much time as he usually has had in years past. Unlike the usual preparation getting underway in June, this year’s organizing started after the first week of August had gone by, he explained. And as if trying to even think about getting things organized for this event would already consume one’s thoughts, Clark had something else on his mind at the time: He was undergoing chemotherapy treatments to rid his body of cancer.

A few weeks prior to Normal’s annual event, friends held a fundraiser for Clark, some of those who attended the fundraiser were helping at Normal’s weekend event while donning t-shirt’s with “Bob’s Squad” on the front.

Knowing he would be sidelined for some of the time in which organizing would be needed, “I reached out to a lot of great people,” Clark said about those who helped with the effort to make the event happen.

Clark said he was really surprised by the amount of people who turned out and the support and the financial donations that were able to be put toward the event, Clark explained.

If all of this organizational skill in what could be classified as a near-emergency sounds like it called for someone who is cool under pressure, even when fighting a disease himself, Clark was the man for the job because, when he is not organizing this event, he is employed as the director of emergency management for McLean County.

In talking about how all of the organizing came together under such conditions, Clark said, “It’s just been amazing, the people coming together and helping to make it happen.”

Two Troop 920 Members Among The Volunteer Ranks: Benedict Smith, son of Martin and Jamie Smith, and a junior at Normal Community West High School, belongs to Boy Scout Troop #920, volunteered to help during the day’s activities. He said he would like to be a botanist after continuing his education. The 16-year-old said he was enjoying working alongside the people he got to meet at this event.

Another Troop 920 member, Joshua Hamaker, son of Christopher and Sharon Hamaker, a sophomore at Central Catholic High School, explained he came out for another year when Clark mentioned volunteers were needed for the two days the event was in progress. He said he has been helping “3 or 4 times” when Clark sought Boy Scout volunteers. He said he enjoyed talking with others he was with while shucking corn. He said taking part in the event “was a great experience because you’re supporting the event, you’re supporting the Town, and it’s great.”

By Steve Robinson | August 28, 2021 - 10:15 pm
Posted in Category: Bloomington HS, NCHS, News, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – After Friday night’s season opening loss to Normal Community High Fred Carlton Field, one can only imagine Bloomington High School players and coaches still couldn’t get the sight of NCHS senior quarterback Chase Mackey from their dreams considering the performance he gave in the Ironmen’s season opening 35-0 Big 12 Conference shutout victory over the Purple Raiders.

Mackey, the 6 foot-3, 200 pound quarterback, completed passes totaling 195 yards which included three touchdown passes and running for a fourth directing his team to its first victory of the season, its first road victory.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Purple Raiders were deep in their own territory and forced to punt but the return put NCHS (1-0 Big 12 and overall) on BHS’ 5-yard line. Even with a penalty against them, four plays later, the Ironmen scored courtesy of Mackey rushing five yards into the end zone at the 5:59 mark in the first quarter, followed by junior kicker Ryan Millmore successful extra point, putting NCHS up, 7-0, closing out the quarter.

Short yardage and penalty flags doomed Bloomington (0-1 Big 12 and overall) in the second quarter allowing NCHS to begin what turned into its next score from BHS’ 14-yard line. One play later, senior running back Michael Coleman rushed past defenders for NCHS’ next score, followed by Millmore’s extra point, putting NCHS up, 14-0 with 2:11 left in the quarter.

NCHS would score again in the quarter’s closing seconds as Mackey would connect with senior wide receiver Kyle Thierry on a one play 45-yard scoring pass followed by another Millmore extra point, giving NCHS a 21-0 halftime lead.

NCHS received the ball to open the second half and immediately added to their lead courtesy of an 18-yard touchdown pass from Mackey to senior wide receiver Terance Washington capping a 4 play 65-yard drive topped off with Millmore’s extra point, increasing NCHS’ lead to 28-0 as the game entered the fourth quarter.

Mackey and Washington would connect one more time on the night with 6:10 left in the contest on a 55-yard touchdown pass followed by Millmore’s last extra point of the night. Washington’s opening night stats included four receptions tallying 116 yards.

The victory avenged a 12-6 loss NCHS suffered against BHS in the spring, which Ironmen head coach Jason Drengwitz noted after the game, adding he didn’t really look upon this victory as revenge for that loss, but added, “it was probably sweeter for our players, but I don’t think I looked at it as a revenge game. I have a lot of respect for Bloomington, their players, and their coaching staff. More than anything, it’s not really revenge. You just want to beat your crosstown rival for the bragging rights. BHS was a team who handled us physically last year. I know our kids feel good about this win. They were excited to get out here and play against this team.”

Drengwitz added that from here, he and his players need to look at what went well for the Ironmen and build on those things. “I know our kids feel good about this win. I know they were excited.”

BHS head coach Scott Godfrey characterized the week leading up to the game as being “just a tough week.” “We had a lot of adversity thrown at us this week,” Godfrey said in describing how his week leading up to the game played out. He explained the heat added to injured players, and having to play without some key players made the week leading up to the game frustrating for the coaching staff and players.

“Give credit to Normal Community, they hit us in the mouth from the very start,” Godfrey said. “They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and they won the turnover battle. So, first and foremost, they did what it takes to win a football game.”

Ironmen Field To Be Renamed “Dick Tharp Field” Before Friday’s Home Game: Prior to Friday’s first NCHS home game, the field they play on, currently known as Ironmen Field, will be renamed in honor of a former head coach, Dick Tharp, thus becoming known as Dick Tharp Field. Tharp, now 90, coached NCHS for 22 seasons, from 1966-1988, helping guide the Ironmen to a 158-50-5 mark. Big 12 Conference foe Peoria Manual will be the opponents for the 7p.m. contest. The Rams will be seeking a first win having lost a week 1 non-conference game at Peotone, 24-20.

NORMAL – A section of West College Ave. has become concerning for many business people and residents over the years. For both constituencies, the deterioration of the road, particularly as one travels from College Ave. to Rivian Motorway has had businesses in the area hoping the Town could find a way to repair it.

For Chip Henrichs, who owns a trio of warehouses which house businesses along College Ave., his concerns include, were they to be needed, fire engines and emergency vehicles needing to do a U-turn into on-coming traffic to service his businesses. For years, Henrichs said, he has wanted the Town to put a small through lane to avoid what has concerned him about that part of the street, but there has never been one put in. He said he has approached Normal about creating the through lane but it still remains unaddressed.

For Mike Swartz, manager of McLean County Fairgrounds, he checked out the proposed changes in the roadway to see if there would be any potential impediments the fairgrounds might face due to updating done to the stretch of College Ave. near the entrance from there to the fairgrounds.

Normal residents, particularly those concerned with the deteriorating state of a section of West College Ave., got a glimpse of where work to fix the aging infrastructure will be done and gave Town officials an opportunity to hear concerns the work on that stretch of road will impact their businesses. The deterioration the road has experienced in over three decades time has also had an impact on them was among the reasons they say they came out to the look at proposed work the Town wants done to the road.

Among the improvements Town officials want addressed when work begins are: Reconstruction of West College Ave., including intersections and entrances from U. S. Route 150 to White Oak Rd.’s west side; Put traffic signals at the intersection at U.S. 150 at Rivian Motorway and provide a northbound right turn lane; Provide a center two-way left-turn lane along the eastern side of the road; and provide a multi-use path on the north side of the street.

In a conference room across from Normal Town Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, local residents were given an opportunity to see where along the 1.5 mile stretch of West College Ave. the Town seeks to do work to improve a stretch of the road which has been a source of concern to many residents including Henrichs. The session lasted two hours but only a handful of residents like him availed themselves of the opportunity to see the layout of the plan, which stretched across a number of tables in the room.

West College Ave. serves as an access road for a trio of types of businesses which service people needing the businesses. Those businesses range from commercial to industrial as well as to private residences.

In addition to connecting to several businesses in the area, the road also provides access to the south side of Rivian. Those who looked over the layout were given an opportunity to write comments which would be passed on to the design team for the project. The Farnsworth Group engineering firm is heading the design phase of the project. Farnsworth Group staff were also on hand for the two-hour session.

Town Engineer Ryan Otto said the project to be done to this stretch of road is considered a rehabilitation project “so that it serves the needs of the community” like ones for Henrichs and Swartz. “We’re looking at a 30-year horizon to make it fit for truck traffic and all the businesses and the land that’s developable around the area.”

The project is in its initial planning phase, of which seeking input from the public was part of, explained City Manager Pam Reece. The pavement from White Oak Rd. to Rivian Motorway is of primary concern, Reece said. “The road has been on our radar for a while, but the worst end is the west end near Rivian Motorway, but we’ve incorporated we’ve included the whole length of the roadway because we want to have an improvement plan for the whole area.”

There are three phases to the project is expected to have a $9.3 million price tag and be done in three phases – planning; design and right-of-way/easement phase; and construction. Otto said once Town Council approves funding for the project, and getting past the planning and design phases, it’s expected to take two years from start to completion. The construction is slated to begin in spring 2023.

Reece said once the Town knows what it wants to do to improve the area, the Town can begin looking at security funding, Reece said. “We’re hoping to use some of our Federal surface transportation dollars among our sources,” she said. The Town would go through a program established by McLean County Regional Planning Commission to apply for some of the funding, she explained. In addition to that, Reece said, the Town would also use some Federal and State funding, as well as some of the Town’s Motor Fuel Tax funds for the project.

When seeking Federal funds on such projects, the community seeking Federal funds are asked to contribute a certain amount of local funding to the project, Reece said. But currently, she said, Normal does not know how much it will be asked to pitch in on this project.

Otto added that while the work is being done, the Town wants to reconfigure the road to meet the needs of Rivian and the surrounding businesses. “Anyone who drives out there knows it’s in rough shape,” Otto said explaining, “There’s a lot of concrete and joint deterioration, and a lot of potholes. So, we’re proposing rebuilding the entire road. It’s no longer something we can just mill off and resurface. It’s beyond that.” He characterized the condition of the concrete on that road as being “too poor” for simple patchwork to be done in order to fix it.

After the Town got a full assessment of how much the road needed fixing, Otto explained, they looked at what could be done to improve it by “reconfiguring it to meet the needs for Rivian and all the businesses that are currently there.”

By Steve Robinson | August 21, 2021 - 10:23 pm
Posted in Category: ISU, The Normalite

NORMAL – During what was his next-to-last public function with Illinois State University, Dr. Larry Dietz, now President Emeritus of the University since retiring June 30, told a group of 40 invited guests

The ceremony was held in the patio area between the newly-renovated Bone Student Center and the University’ Bowling and Billiards Center Aug. 20. With Dr. Aondover Tarhule, ISU’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, serving as emcee for the event, guests heard from current ISU President Dr. Terri Goss Kinzy followed by remarks from Dr. Dietz as his wife, Marlene, stood by his side.

“I’d like to say, a little bit selfishly, that it’s really wonderful to have the opportunity as a new president to be part of celebrating the legacy of your predecessor,” Dr. Kinzy told the gathering. She added she knew she had “big shoes to fill but that Larry has been helping us to get to this point today.”

“The reputation of Larry and his wife, Marlene, and their leadership and will always be part of their legacy are that Larry leaves behind a strong institution, with the infrastructure to withstand tough times,” Dr. Kinzy told the gathering. She also credited Dr. Dietz’s financial acumen with helping guide the University through recent national financial tough times. She also credited Dr. Dietz’s guidance with making ISU “a more resilient institution” during the current pandemic.

Dr. Kinzy added that even with the Dietzes stepping away from day-to-day relations with the University, she said she knew the couple “will be there, with their hand on our back helping us more forward.” She said the role the Dietzes played in making ISU strong “will stay with us forever.”

“How Humbled” Dietz Felt: For his part, Dr. Dietz told the gathering “how humbled and honored and grateful that I am to go and have a wonderful partner like Marlene. She’s been a partner all the way and that’s just our routine. Thank you for all that you’ve done to support this University and support me and it’s been a terrific ride for both of us.”

Dr. Dietz then quickly pivoted to mentioning his successor who came from ISU from Western Michigan University where she was vice president of research and professor of biological sciences at Western Michigan University since 2018. “She’s going to do a fantastic job and she already is,” Dr. Dietz said, telling her, “I’m delighted about the leadership you are providing and I know we’re in great hands.”

Dr. Dietz was also quick to say he often received credit for things during his tenure he said he didn’t do, explaining, it was the University’s employees who should be credited. He explained that by saying, “Any University has great team members as a central part of that. So, regardless of the role that you played, if you’re a proud Redbird, and I know that you all are, and you have that ‘can do spirit,’ and value individualized attention, and value integrity, and all the other values that this institution represents, you’re going to make a difference in peoples’ lives.”

“That’s why this institution has been strong and stable all this time, even during trying times,” Dr. Dietz explained. “All of you are responsible for that.” He explained people ISU staff come in contact with “feel” the integrity ISU staff present to those they serve.

He said those who work at ISU “are the reason the University has been strong and stable,” adding, “my job has simply been to hire good people, try to keep good people, and try to be a partner with each of you.”

“Marlene and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have served, and appreciate the opportunity that we were given back in 2014 during a very interesting time of the institution.” He said ISU will always face challenges, adding, “I know President Kinzy is up for that, the management team is up for that, and that’s going to continue to drive the success that is Illinois State University.” He concluded by saying he and his wife were “deeply humbled, deeply honored, and deeply grateful” by honoring us with your presence today.”

Dietz Arrived In 2011, Appointed To President In 2014: Dr. Dietz came to Illinois State in June 2011 assuming the post of vice president for Student Affairs and tenured associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations. ISU’s Board of Trustees appointed him to be Illinois State’s 19th president in March 2014 following the resignation of his predecessor, Dr. Timothy Flanagan. Flanagan resigned after only spending nine months in that post.

Farewell Dinner Held At Bone Student Center Saturday: The very last University function Dr. and Mrs. Dietz attended was a farewell dinner Saturday evening held at the Bone Student Center Ballroom. A total of 600 guests attended the evening’s festivities. In addition to being able to mingle with current and former employees invited to the event, the Dietzes received farewell messages during the event from notable friends and alumni wishing them well in their retirement. Those messages came on videotape messages from former U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations and ISU alum Dr. Donald McHenry; ISU alum and former Chicago Bulls head coach Doug Collins; The Honorable James Knecht, and former ISU Vice President and Provost Dr. Jan Murphy.