By Steve Robinson | July 19, 2018 - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Almost three years ago, in the summer of 2015, when an increase in the amount of Home Rule Tax dollars coming to Normal the next year was brought up, Normal Town Council members sought suggestions for how the cash ought to be spent. With soccer being the latest sports rage in the community, there was a push for a multi-field facility to be constructed with a share of those dollars. Doing that, soccer proponents said, would be a draw into the community.

Kicking around the notion of such a facility turned into Normal Town Council, Bloomington City Council, and the Bloomington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau pooling resources to spend $47,000 on a three-month study conducted by Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA), to see what the company which acts as a research group, recommended for this community.

A Clearwater, Fla.-based company, SFA researches and manages similar projects, and whose presentation was given to the group by Evan Eleff, that company’s chief operating officer. SFA had representatives visiting the Twin Cities in April. “In the end, we want to answer the question of why – why a facility in this community,” Eleff told the gathering, which took place prior to the scheduled Normal Town Council session.

SFA, during the presentation which was unveiled at the Astroth Community Education Center on Heartland Community College ’s campus in northwest Normal , indicated a facility which would need to be multifaceted catering to more than one sport, and would come with a total price tag of just over $43.5 million. The bulk of that amount, he said, would be for the fields and sports equipment, carrying a price tag of an estimated $14.4 million. He added the county, too, would see some benefit from such a facility.

Such a facility, if being considered, Eleff said, “must have an economic impact. It must become a regional destination, and must add to an area’s quality of life.”

SFA looked at all sites for all different sports, Eleff said. He stressed if a facility is to be built, “It must not support a single sport.” To that end, he explained, SFA looked at 675 regional events of varying sports at what he called 250 “tourney capable” facilities which would compete with the Twin Cities to hold events. He said a number of those facilities could be within anywhere between an hour to four hours from where those who want to participate live.

He said to create a facility that has a dome is something to consider because, as he explained, a dome “is flexible and costs less operationally.” He said if a dome is not preferred, an outdoor structure which incorporates synthetic turf would be preferred. But he said, if the facility were to have 16 fields, a mix of synthetic and natural grass ought to be considered. The property sought for such as facility, he added, should be 130,000 sq. ft.

An additional benefit Eleff threw in was that even after the kids who use this potential facility grow older, they would be healthier and years later would have the potential for earning more at a future job.

No site for this proposed facility has been mentioned. And just after the 75-minute meeting started, public comment by resident Karl Sila led off the session. He said he would like to see officials concentrate on other matters other than this. He cited any facility could wind up being another one which gets taxpayer funding – something he said he doesn’t want to see – and referenced Downtown Bloomington’s Grossinger Arena as an example of such a location getting such funding.

But according to a local radio report, there is talk that a second unnamed developer has interest in financing such a facility as was discussed at the meeting. Up until that point, developer Katie Kim and landowner Dave Stark had been talking to stakeholders for more than a year concerning such a project.

By Steve Robinson | July 16, 2018 - 10:19 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – It took a quorum of four Normal Town Council members to vote unanimously to split the proposed area which would be a restaurant at the Uptown Circle development into space for two restaurants, or at least one restaurant and another type of establishment. Council members voted unanimously to pass an ordinance amending the development agreement concerning the ground floor of the building during the governing body’s regular session Monday night on the fourth floor of Uptown Station.

The developer, Uptown Circle Development, Inc., requested the amendment, according to a report to Council members prepared by City Manager Pam Reece.

Council Members Kevin McCarthy, Chemberly Cummings, and Jeff Fritzen were not present for the meeting.

In recent weeks, as Reece explained in her memo, Uptown Circle Development had altered its strategy for attracting a ground floor eatery for the building, deciding upon putting in two restaurants. As a result, the 6,700 sq. ft. which would have been meant all for one tenant will now be arranged for two separate eateries, one of which will have 3,700 sq. ft. and the other 3,000 sq. ft.

The developer had hoped to find a restaurant for the larger space and a non-restaurant tenant for the smaller unit, Reece’s report explained, if no second restaurant owner shows interest. Under the developer’s agreement with the Town, if the developer is unable to secure a dining establishment for the larger space, the developer must get prior permission from the Town before signing any agreement with a business that wants to occupy the space.

Friends Forever Students Visit Meeting: Five students each from Israel and Arab states visited Normal for the sixth year and as part of their visit which lasts a couple weeks in Town, one of the places they visited was Monday’s meeting. And as has taken place in the past when these students have been here, one student from each side addressed Council members. Yogev Elnaton and Rania Hieb, both 16-years-old, each addressed Council members. Elnaton said as part of the group’s work, “We think about all the bad things that have been done and how to fix it,” she said about one of the goals to help produce unity. Hieb said it was hoped that even with their different backgrounds, it “is hoped we will always find we will have something in common.”

Liquor Commission Approves Meeting Minutes: Prior to the start of the Council session, Council members, meeting as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, met in a regularly scheduled session and unanimously voted to approve meeting minutes of two prior meetings – a regularly scheduled meeting on March 19 and a special meeting held April 16.

Joint Councils Meet To Discuss Soccer Complex Study: Prior to the Council session, both Normal Town Council, Bloomington City Council members, were joined by members of the Bloomington-Normal Area Sports Commission to hear the results of a three-month study conducted by Clearwater, Fla.-based Sports Facilities Advisory concerning whether a multi-million dollar facility which would include soccer fields would be something the Twin Cities should pursue. The joint meeting was held at the Astroth Community Education Center on Heartland Community College’s campus.

Last Meeting For Communications Director Irvin: Monday’s meeting was the last one for Dan Irvin, Town Communications Director, who is retiring. Irvin has been in the position for three years. Among his duties was to respond to inquiries from media.

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

•Approval of the minutes of the regular Council meeting of July 2, 2018.

•Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of July 11, 2018.

•A resolution to award the bid for a service truck with utility body for the Water Department to Bloomington-based Leman Chevy City at a net cost of $30,396 including trade-in.

•A resolution approving waivers from the Uptown Design Review Code, Chapter 15, Division 17, for 202 W. College Ave. (Ecology Action Center sign).

•A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of a Bobcat S650 Skid-Steer Loader from Bobcat of Bloomington via the Sourcewell Cooperative Purchasing Program, Contract #042815-CEC.

•A resolution authorizing a contract with Watseka, Ill.-based Freehill Asphalt Co. for the 2018 concrete pavement crack and joint sealing in the amount of $29,135.34.

•A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Bloomington, the County of McLean, and the McLean County Soil and Water Conservation District for the administration and implementation of watershed management programs.

•A resolution to appropriate $926,654 of Motor Fuel Tax funds for the bituminous resurfacing of various streets for the 2018 Motor Fuel Tax street resurfacing project.

•A resolution to appropriate $1.38 million of Motor Fuel Tax funds for the 2018-19 Glenn Ave. bridge reconstruction project.

•A resolution authorizing a contract with Insituform Technologies, Inc. for the 2018 sanitary sewer lining contract in the amount of $310,717.70.

•A resolution considering the release of executive session minutes from June 19, July 5, July 17, Aug. 11, Aug. 21, and Oct. 2, all 2017; and Jan. 2, 2018.

•An ordinance approving a parking license agreement between Normal Public Library, Rutherford Suites, LLC, and the Town of Normal.

•An ordinance amending the FY 2017-18 operating and capital investment budget.

•An ordinance adding Division 9 to Chapter 8 of the Town Municipal Code concerning the regulation of small wireless facilities.

By Steve Robinson | July 14, 2018 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

The Normal CornBelters sent six players to the Frontier League annual All-Star Game at CarSheild Stadium in O’Fallon, Mo., home of the River City Rascals, but only one of those players – right fielder Derrick Lawless – saw action from first pitch to final out.

The game’s teams were divided a little differently other that by what division their home team belonged to. This year, the league billed the two sides as Rookies versus Experienced Players. And Lawless, having been through the minor league system of the Toronto Blue Jays, showed plenty of experience, hitting two home runs to help the Experienced squad win the game, 8-3.

“When we took the infield for the All-Star Game, our side only had four outfielders, so two of us would be playing a full game,” Loveless said of his most recent All-Star contest. “I wound up playing right field the entire game.” Not only did he shine in the outfield, but at bat, too, hitting two homers out of the park. This was his second such All-Star event, having played in the Midwest League’s mid-season affair.

If Lawless’ performance startled fans, they were not alone. “I was actually startled about that myself,” Lawless said, explaining he had only done that a couple of times his whole career.

The 25-year-old started his playing career in 2011 in the Toronto system until he was released at the start of this season when he didn’t get resigned and did some job hunting which didn’t see any offers from other teams materialize. But a player friend of his put him in touch with CornBelters manager Billy Horn to see if there was the possibility of playing here.

Coming to Normal wasn’t foreign to Lawless and not just because it’s within driving distance of his native Solon, Iowa, near Iowa City. But rather, his familiarity with Normal comes from having participated in a baseball showcase event at The Corn Crib when he was 17.

Lawless said his faith is helping him through his wait to get back into the minor league system. “God is a big part of my life and if it’s meant for me to go back into the minor leagues, I’ll put in the hard work and enjoy the time that I’m here.”

“I definitely hope that if I get looked at, teams will know ‘he’s a guy who knows what he’s doing and does it every day’ and hope it pays off,” Lawless said.

When he was in the Toronto system, Lawless played in six different cities, including with the Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest League, an opponent of the Peoria Chiefs.

“When I came to Normal, I was just expecting a good crowd of people who love to come and watch baseball being played,” he explained.

Loveless and his wife of 2 ½ years, Ashley, live in another minor league baseball hub, Durham, N, C. and have a 5-month-old son, Derrin.

Statistically, just before games played July 15, Lawless has appeared in 49 games, had 54 hits including 5 home runs, 8 doubles, and 3 triples in 178 at-bats while playing for Normal. That has given him a .303 batting average. In addition, he has driven in 24 runs, been hit by a pitch once, and struck out 46 times.

Loveless said he has tried through actions moreso than words to show his teammates what they should do to get to the minors. If he gives advice at all, it would be “to learn from any failures you might experience,” he continued. “If you don’t learn from it, those failures could be repeated.”

Of Loveless, his current manager said, “He should still be in an organization’s system. There’s no doubt about it.” Horn said he has managed to interest 15 teams in Lawless, but those teams currently have full rosters, so it now a waiting game to see where a spot opens up. Horn added that since the annual draft in June, it takes teams about a month and a half or slightly longer to start thinking of making moves which would involve calling out for players if drafted players don’t pan out with some clubs.

“We’re just hoping Loveless gets picked up any day here and off he’ll go,” Horn said.

Until that day comes, the CornBelters and their fans are glad to have Lawless here.

Road Trip Upcoming: Earlier this week, Eastern Division leader Washington visited The Corn Crib to try to stay atop their division while attempting to spoil Normal trying to gain ground in the Western Division. Friday through Sunday, the CornBelters are at Schaumburg. Following the league-imposed Monday off, the road trip continues with Normal visiting Florence. As of Sunday, Florence was holding on to fourth place in the Western Division four games out behind division leading-River City. The CornBelters are were in fifth place 5 ½ games behind River City.

The CornBelters will be back at The Corn Crib on July 27-29 for a three-game homestand against Gateway Grizzles.

By Steve Robinson | July 12, 2018 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – At what will be the only meeting scheduled this month for members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board, two new Board members were sworn in to replace two who had resigned in the last couple months, and a third who will leave the Board at the end of this month said his public goodbye.

Amy Roser and Alan J. Kalitzky were sworn in at the start of the 45-minute session to fill vacancies created by the resignations of Jim Hayek Jr. and David W. Fortner, respectfully. They were both appointed to fill the seats and will need to run for election to full terms in next spring’s primary elections in April. Fortner’s unexpired term ends in April 2021, and Hayek’s term remaining will be for four years.

Both Hayek and Fortner have both experienced job transfers – Hayek to Arizona, Fortner to Chicago – which prompted their need to step down. Hayek’s resignation became effective at the end of May after announcing his intentions three months earlier, while Fortner’s became effective June 22.

Roser is employed at Illinois State University as an Associate Director for University College. University College supports students as they adjust to university life, providing programs and services to make a successful transition. She and her husband, Randy, have two daughters who will be going into 3rd and 5th grade this fall, respectfully.

Kalitzky is employed by State Farm Insurance as a Relationship Manager in the company’s Technology Vendor Management Office. He and his wife, Alexis, have four children – three girls and a boy — who are in schools in the district.

A press release from the district indicated a total of six applications for the two positions were received. Board members received six applications for the position. Both appointees have been involved with Unit 5’s Citizens Advisory Council (CAC), which serves as a liaison between the district and its community. Kalitzky, held the title of CAC president when he applied for the Board post He resigned from CAC as a result of his appointment to the Board.

Cleary Departs: Cleary made a public announcement concerning his intention to step down at the Board’s June 13 session. His resignation becomes effective July 31. Under State law, Unit 5 will have 45 days from that date to appoint a successor. That person, after taking office, like Roser and Kalitzky, will have to formally run for the seat in the primary elections next spring.

“It’s been a pleasure,” Cleary said, adding he hoped Roser and Kalitzky would improve it while they serve so that they leave the district “in better shape” when their time to exit the Board comes. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple years, and we had financial challenges though we’re financially stable.” Board President Jim Hitchins presented Cleary with a gift from Board members of a small glass vase. Each of the remaining Board members thanked Cleary for his service and wished him well in his new position. Cleary was appointed to a Board seat in late April 2016, replacing Denise Schuster, a State Farm employee, who moved to Texas as a result of a job transfer for her husband. He was elected to the seat outright in spring elections in 2017.

New Sugar Creek Elementary Principal Introduced: Kristina Peifer was introduced by Deputy Superintendent Ray Epperson to Board members as the new principal at Sugar Creek Elementary School, effective July 31. She last worked in Morton School District 709, starting as a special education teacher and worked her way up to a principal’s position in that district. She earned an undergraduate degree at Illinois State University and her master’s degree at Olivet Nazarene University. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity and honored to be part of this community and looking forward to bring my experiences to working with staff and students in the community,” Peifer told Board members.

New Clerk For The Board: Kim Stewart began her new job as administrative assistant to district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel. Her duties will also include serving as clerk to the Board. She replaces LaNell Greenberg who took a job as assistant to Normal Community High School Associate Principal Nikki Maurer.

Two-Year Contracts Approved With Custodians, Support Personnel: Board members approved two-year contracts for custodians and maintenance personnel represented by Laborers Local 362, and with members of Unit Five Support Professionals Association which represents district office staff and paraprofessionals.

Construction For Hoose BEST Program Gets Approval: Prior to their May 11 meeting, Board members were given a tour of rooms which house the Behavioral Emotion Support Team, or BEST, at Colene Hoose Elementary School on Vernon Ave. in Normal. BEST provides intensive behavioral and emotional support for students who have such difficulties. During that tour, Hoose Principal Dr. Adam Zbrozek explained Hoose has become Unit 5’s hub for dealing with students who deal with this issue.

The program began over 30 years ago and needs the space it occupies to be reconfigured to better serve students. That would include construction of a 5.200 sq. ft. addition to the building at its east side which would be used primarily by the BEST Program. During the Board meeting this month, Board members gave unanimous approval to awarding a bid of $959,000 for the project to Peoria-based Bishop Brothers, Inc. In addition, the contract calls for Florida-based Marathon Engineering Corp. to serve as a subcontractor under Bishop Brothers for installation of padded walls at a cost of $49,180. That would bring the total bid presented by Bishop Brothers, Inc. for the project to $1,009,180. Bishop Brothers, Inc.’s bid was lowest among six firms who placed bids for the project.

But the project’s funding will also be paid for in part by school land dedication fees collected from developers. The additional space will have a common area and four classrooms. The current space will be redesigned into a large calming room. There will also be a conference area and a sensory room. An additional bus lane closest to the entrance to the room will be constructed.

Construction on the project will start immediately and is expected to be completed by around Thanksgiving.

By Steve Robinson | July 10, 2018 - 10:58 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON — Food conservation during World War I was among the chief reasons McLean County found itself with a Home Improvement Association. That was among the seeds that once planted and nurtured over the decades has, helped homemakers, students, and others become self-sufficient and learn many new skills over the last century. Today, the group is known as McLean County Association For Home and Community Education, or McLean HCE.

In 1915, the Household Sciences Department at University of Illinois made sure to have an extension office for education programs to be provided to schools as the war effort for the U.S. got underway. By 1917, Lena Ewing, wife of Spencer Ewing of Bloomington , was appointed food chairman for McLean County . From humble beginnings which began a year earlier, what is known now as McLean County HCE developed and took shape. Incidentally, Lena’s sister-in-law, Hazel Ewing, was responsible for getting planning for Ewing Castle underway, according to Don Meyer, who had a nearly 30-year career, serving as extension advisor for agriculture in the county and retiring in 2010 as extension director. He also had practical experience having grown up on a farm in Gridley.

That history was part of a presentation made to county HCE members at the group’s 100th anniversary celebration which took place inside the Mini-Expo Building at the McLean County Fairgrounds on July 10. In addition to the historic recap which included numerous photos and press clippings from the group’s past, the event included a “Through The Years” style show, a silent auction, and a light plate lunch.

McLean County HCE members were guided through the pictorial history by Meyer, who had a nearly 30-year career, serving as extension advisor for agriculture in the county and retiring in 2010 as extension director. The current extension director is Bobbie Lewis-Sibley.

To get the group started, Meyer said, “The work began in 1917 and the founding was in 1918 and it began because we wanted to get women in the country connected to the war effort.” At that time, Meyer said, McLean County had a population of just 68,000 people, 43,000 of which lived in the country. Also at that time, the Red Cross was the only humanitarian group in operation in the county.

Although the war ended in 1918, Meyer said, McLean HCE almost disbanded except that there were concerns at the time that children needed nutritious lunches when they were in school. Because of that, he said, the group turned their attention to that, and in addition, addressed other matters such as sanitation. As a result of that, he said, the group managed to eradicate 40,000 mice in a year once that was up and running.

“People saw the effects of what the group and Ewing were providing, and so it stuck around for a hundred years,” Meyer said.

It may have started with health, Meyer said, but the group behind Ewing , began tackling other issues as years passed such as health, childcare, family issues, and nutrition.

Meyer said the group “wasn’t militant, but it wanted to make change.” One of the largest changes at that time came in 1920 when American women got the right for the first time to vote.

The era of the Great Depression had HCE members delving into matters such as how to maintain a house budget and how to grow their own food, Meyer added. “They had a program called ‘How To Make A $1 Dress,’ among others to show how to make clothing for your family,” he said. The 1940s and World War II ushered in a need for conservation, including rationing of food, he said. It also included so-called “ Victory Gardens ” being started within communities. Food rationing spawned a need for recipe exchanges, too, he said. He reminded that women needed to take responsibility for family farms when sons and husbands went into the war effort, which added to their knowledge.

Changes in the 1950s and 1960s, Meyer said, “were probably more about women getting into the workplace and wondering how they would balance they would balance family and job responsibilities. He said as appliances became more sophisticated over time, there was education needed to be provided for that aspect of life. “’How do you operate a microwave?’ and other such conveniences needed to be addressed,” he said.

Meyer said that with each decade and the improvements that came with it, either socially or in terms of conveniences, there were naysayers who questioned the need for McLean HCE to stay in operation. He said funding from one source or another, be it federal, local, or State, was always in question from time to time.

He added young people today, in spite of what the older generation might say about all the technology and conveniences at their disposal, are continuing to benefit from McLean HCE if they belong to 4H because 4H is a branch of McLean HCE.

To put some perspective on how long such training has been part of every HCE, Meyer said, some of what was taught by HCEs preceded things that were later taught a community college level.

Current Membership Stats: There are 213 members of McLean County HCE, and roughly 175 of them were in attendance for the group’s 100th anniversary celebration which took place at the Mini Expo Building at the McLean County Fairgrounds on Tuesday, July 10.

There are a total of 10 individual groups scattered throughout towns in McLean County , explained Betty Ohlenkamp, one of two 2nd Vice Presidents sworn in at the function.

There are 213 members of McLean County Association For Home and Community Education, and roughly 175 of them were in attendance for the group’s 100th anniversary celebration which took place at the Mini Expo Building at the McLean County Fairgrounds on Tuesday, July 10.

There are a total of 10 individual groups scattered throughout towns in McLean County , explained Betty Ohlenkamp, one of two 2nd Vice Presidents sworn in at the function.

Long Time Members: As part of the program audience members received at the event, one page was dedicated to those women who had been a part of McLean HCE for many decades. That would include ladies like Eleanor Crego and Shirley Wilz, who say they are both proud to be part of the group for 72 years, and 62 years, respectfully.

Crego, 95, said her father was in charge of Will County ’s farm bureau and was raised on a farm, and later married one, Thomas Crego, where their farm was in Wheatland Township , near Naperville . As part of McLean County HCE, she said she helped with numerous programs the group was undertaking.

Wilz, 84, has been a member of HCE for 62 years, getting her start when she lived in Indiana . “When our family moved over here, I called HCE to find it and asked, ‘where can I go to continue membership?’ It was that important to get back into a unit like this. I would like to say I met and still have lifelong friends that I met in this organization, and my hat’s off to University of Illinois Extension for this, and thanks for the memories. You can’t take those away.”

To show how McLean HCE has changed with the changing times, Wilz explained, “When I first belonged, you had lessons on how to cut up a chicken. We had also seen latch key children which led to different organizations we had not been part of before.”

Wilz had advice for current and incoming members. “You have to bend with the times or you’ll get left behind,” she said, adding she is continuing to do just that still today.

New Officers Installed: New officers who will oversee McLean County HCE were sworn in during a ceremony which was part of the luncheon. Becky Toohill was introduced as the group’s new president. Kathleen Emery was sworn in as 1st Vice President, with Karen Crull and Ohlenkamp sharing 2nd Vice President responsibilities. Nancy O’Neill was sworn in as the group’s secretary, and Fran Burns was sworn in as treasurer.

In addition to her duties as an officer, Ohlenkamp will continue to oversee a program which she refers to as a “sustaining program” which helps members who aren’t able to attend meetings informed with what’s going on with the group. She said she sees to it that those members who may not use computers regularly receive a hard copy edition of information McLean HCE wants to get out to its membership. That group is populated by 37 members.