By Steve Robinson | March 24, 2019 - 10:35 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – With Normal Town Council’s vote to approve construction of the proposed five-story Trail East Building in January, demolition of three buildings located at 104, 106, and 108 E. Beaufort St. is slated to begin within weeks. That demolition means losing the mural at 104 E. Beaufort St., which was once headquarters to The Pod art studio.

The Pod went out of business in 2017 but a small public outcry to try to save the mural started with news of the proposed demolition of the building. On Saturday, a Heartland Community College sophomore and Normal Community West High School graduate took it upon herself to invite the community to say farewell to the mural.

Emma Henry placed posters next to the mural protesting the decision to demolish the buildings and gave residents an opportunity to take pictures of the mural one last time Saturday afternoon. She said her goal with her “Save The Mural And Other Historic Buildings” event was to raise awareness about the situation and invite others to come get a last photo before the buildings come down. She posted the invite on Facebook.

“My goal is to bring awareness to what the Normal Town Council wants to do,” Henry said of the event. She taped posters next to the mural reminding people that April 2 is Election Day, a reminder that two Town Council members were up for reelection: Kathleen Lorenz and R C. McBride. A third Council seat is also up for grabs with the decision by Council Member Jeff Fritzen last fall not to seek another term. The two incumbents, six challengers, and a man running as a write-in candidate are vying for Council seats in this election.

Henry said she wanted her event “to be a positive thing with people to have one last chance to be near the mural.” She added when she posted the invitation she asked people to come out and remember the mural.

About 15-20 people arrived, a few taking photos, others getting in one last gaze at the artwork which was subdivided by artists who put their own personal flair into the mural. A few parts of the artistry had been signed by the artists.

“I didn’t want this as a protest,” Henry admitted. “I wanted it to be more like a celebration.”

By Steve Robinson | March 18, 2019 - 10:39 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members, serving in their capacity as members of Normal Local Liquor Commission reported they had received complaints concerning an establishment which was not abiding by Town regulations concerning food service, at a regularly-scheduled session which preceded Monday’s Town Council meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station.

Two gaming parlors owned by 35 Years, LLC Landmark, doing business as Marie’s Place, were found not to be serving food to patrons, which was discovered by an audit conducted by the Town in February. Jason Querliagrosca, assistant corporation counsel for the Town, told Council members locations of the business at 1520 E. College Ave. and 115 Susan Dr., Suite H, were not abiding by the regulations of their Limited Hours liquor license regarding serving food.

A third location owned by University Park, doing business as Marie’s Place, located at 1702 W. College Ave., had a liquor license granted by the Town in 2015 but has never opened, Querliagrosca told Commissioners. Commissioner Chris Koos told the meeting renewal of the licenses will be put on hold until the owner or owners of the establishments seeks a hearing before the Liquor Commission.

Commissioners also heard a $500 fine has been paid for a second offense by Bzil1, LLC, doing business as Blaze Pizza, 1601 E. College Ave., for selling alcohol to a minor. In both cases, the fines have been paid. This establishment also paid an additional $1,000 for a third consecutive offense which took place in November.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., doing business as Chipotle Mexican Grill #2731, 1601 E. College Ave., paid a $250 fine for a first offense of selling alcohol to a minor in November. Owners of the store have paid the fine.

Four other establishments settled with the Town, paying $250 fines for first-time offenses of selling alcohol to minors. Those establishments are: Portillo’s Hot Dogs, LLC, doing business as Portillo’s Hot Dogs, 202 Landmark Dr.; Budget Liquors, Inc., doing business as Budget Liquors, 200 S. Linden St.; and Meijer Great Lakes Limited Partnership, doing business as Meijer Store #207, 1900 E. College Ave. Red Robin International, Inc., doing business as Red Robin Gourmet Burgers And Brew, 107 S. Veterans Parkway, paid a $500 fine for a second consecutive offense.

CornBelters’ New Owners Granted License: Commissioners also approved a liquor license applied for by Normal CornBelters Baseball, LLC, doing business as Normal CornBelters, 1000 W. Raab Rd. The license was necessary because of a change of ownership for the team.

Renewals Granted: Commissioners also approved recommending liquor licenses for 76 various businesses ranging from convenience stores to restaurants, bars, hotels, groceries, and drug stores, Catering licenses, Outdoor garden & sidewalk café licenses, Annual tasting licenses, a Paramutuel betting parlor license, Entertainment licenses, video gaming licenses, a stadium, and a taproom.

Agreement With Lawn Service Passes: During the regular Town Council session, at the request of Council Member Kevin McCarthy, Council members discussed a resolution approving an agreement with Carlock-based Boitnott Lawn And Landscaping for mowing and abatement services effective April 1, 2019 through March 31, 2022. The resolution was part of the meeting’s omnibus agenda. Under the terms of the agreement, the cost of the contract “could result in a minimal increase in the Town’s budget,” explained Greg Tremel, director of inspections for the Town, in a memo to City Manager Pam Reece.

Specifically, Reece said in answering a question from McCarthy, the company would be called in to mow properties where complaints are filed with the Town. Over the last six years, Reece pointed out, the Town has spent a total of $10,851 on such service from Boitnott over the past six years. Offenders have reimbursed the Town so far to the tune of $4,052 during that same period.

McCarthy asked if the Town’s Parks and Recreation Department, under whose umbrella the mowing service comes under, couldn’t absorb some of the cost of doing the mowing, thus saving money for paying a contractor. Reece said no, because of the type of equipment used for mowing by the Town. The equipment is larger than a typical mower, she explained.

Numerous Appointments, Reappointments To Boards And Commissions Announced: Town Boards and Commissions will see new appointees and reappointments as a result of unanimous approval from the Council. Nick Moran was reappointed to the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority with his term running through April 30, 2020.

Marty Behrens, Rick Boser, Guy DiCiaula, Fred Hahn, and Brian Redd have all been reappointed to the Town’s Building Board of Appeals. Each of their terms expires March 30, 2022.

Todd Bugg, Kathy Burgess, and Anne Matter have all been reappointed to the Town’s Historic Preservation Commission, each for terms expiring March 31, 2022.

William Brown and Janae Henson have been reappointed to the Town’s Human Relations Commission. Each of their terms expires March 31, 2023.

Dave Shields and A. J. Zimmerman have been reappointed to the Normal Planning Commission for terms that will expire March 31, 2023. Barbara Fuller has been reappointed to the Uptown Design Review Commission for a three-year term expiring March 31, 2023, and Randy Schaab has been reappointed for a three-year term expiring March 31, 2023 on the Normal Zoning Board of Appeals.

Newly appointed to the Town’s Building Board of Appeals was Jason Coffman, filling a vacancy on that board. A licensed mechanical engineer for 17 years, Coffman’s term on the Board will run through March 31, 2022.

Zachary Boerger was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Town’s Historic Preservation Commission. Boerger is a realtor with Coldwell Banker in Bloomington. His term with the Commission expires March 31, 2023.

Elise Albers was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Children’s Discovery Museum Foundation Board. Albers is manager of population health for OSF HealthCare/Children’s Hospital of Illinois. Her term runs through June 30, 2020.

Town’s First “Officer Of The Year” Introduced: Between the Liquor Commission session and the Council meeting, Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner introduced those attending the meeting to the department’s first “Officer Of The Year,” Officer Evan Easter. In remarks introducing Easter, Bleichner explained the officer was named for the honor by both his supervisor and his peers “because of his strong work ethic, tireless dedication to removing illegal guns and drugs from the street, and his commitment to community service, volunteerism, and willingness to mentor other officers.”

Bleichner said that mentoring is the result of “working in a variety of assignments, including working on vice crimes.” Easter is a 15-year veteran of the police force.

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

• Approval of minutes of the public hearing held on March 4, 2019.

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting held on March 4, 2019.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of March 13, 2019.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with McLean County for animal shelter services.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with McLean County for animal warden services.

• A resolution to award the bid for water main and service line materials to Bloomington-based Water Products Co.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Rowe Construction Co., a division of United Contractors Midwest, Inc., in the amount of $2,455,519.77 for the Motor Fuels Tax Resurfacing Project.

• A resolution authorizing a change to the Robert G. Bone Historic Preservation Grant Program.

By Steve Robinson | March 17, 2019 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Over the years, I have covered a number of Special Olympics Illinois annual State Basketball Tournaments. At the majority of these, I meet athletes who are happy to be playing on a team and parents and other family members who cheer on their relative knowing the goal of inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities is what is to be highlighted when telling their stories and not so much the sports aspect of the story.

As the reporter, that is sometimes tough to explain to editors who are used to a certain set of facts that go, normally, hand-in-hand with a particular story. But when you cover Special Olympics sporting events, the team’s record or other sorts of facts commonly found within sports stories aren’t what the organization wants readers to take note of first and foremost.

They want you to see that sports is the leading component to helping include people with intellectual disabilities into being able to function in society. That’s because the athletes go from learning the ins and outs of sports to the ins and outs of holding down a job and being able to add contributions to society. The athletic part helps the athletes stay active and gain friends and new relationships and the ability to belong to society.

And usually, it is young people, age 8 and up, or young adults who participate in these events. I would tell you I have never encountered a family where a parent and child were both part of Special Olympics. And I could have told you that up until this past weekend. Then I met father and son, John Gordon, Sr. and John Gordon, Jr., from the Village of McLean.

John Sr., 37, has been involved in Special Olympics for a number of years but basketball is the only sport he has ever played in Special Olympics, he explained. He works for a contractor when he isn’t involved with the organization. John Jr., who I will identify by his nickname, J. T. from here going forward, is a freshman at Stanford Olympia High School. J. T. is the youngest player on the Falcons team representing Special Opportunities Available in Recreation, also known as SOAR, which is jointly funded by the Parks and Recreation Departments of the Town of Normal and the City of Bloomington.

J. T. said his friends at school “know I’m on a Special Olympics team and they know I’m on the team with my dad, so that’s even better. Some people give me compliments about it and I love that.” John Sr. knows it has been “over five years since he laced up his sneakers and this season has been interesting as a result. When he isn’t playing basketball, John Sr. works as a roofer.

Players on the SOAR Falcons squad range in age from J. T. at age 15 to the oldest player, Dennis Stanley, who is age 54. Head coach Doug Dowell and assistant coach Joe Heaser are at the controls of trying to continue what has been a rocky season for the Falcons. They were 4-4 during this season and got into the State Tournament literally by the luck of the draw.

“Special Olympics requires a minimum of three games played to qualify for the ability to compete at regional basketball in January, explained Maggie Rutenbeck, program manager for SOAR. And there would have been a district competition this year, but poor winter weather forced Special Olympics Illinois’ home office in Normal to cancel the district competition. Since SOAR has four basketball squads with players of varying skill levels, the team selected to go to State Finals was drawn out of a hat, Rutenbeck said. Dowell’s team received the lucky pick.

“They’re quite the duo,” Rutenbeck said of John and J. T. “J. T. has the skill but doesn’t have the experience his dad does. John has turned into the fine example of sportsmanship on and off the court, and his son gets to see that firsthand. Leading by example is what John is showing his son.”

Dowell, who has been coaching the Falcons for six years, added, “John understands the importance of getting everybody on the team involved.” Of J. T., Dowell said, “He’s a good ballplayer, so he has a lot of confidence in his ability. He also knows several of the players so that really helps him on the court. He takes direction well, so he’s easy to coach.”

As it turns out, John and J. T. aren’t the only kin on the team. John’s sister, Patty Gordon, is also on this squad, although she did not play here because of a broken arm she suffered a month ago.

Dowell said the whole family has “basketball savvy.” He added having the skills the trio brings is “just that much more beneficial to the team. It’s not just where to dribble and where to shoot. It’s learning to see the open guy, where you should be going next. They really picked up on those concepts of basketball.”

They have picked up on the concepts to the point that, once a year, Dowell’s team scrimmages with the teams from El Paso High School.

In school, J. T. said his favorite subject is “math, easily. I love math.” He’s also a big fan of gymnastics.

As for how SOAR Falcons did during the tournament, they beat the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association team from Crystal Lake, 54-37 on Saturday, and followed that up Sunday with a 48-42 win over Loyola Park Scorpions to earn a gold medal in their four-team division.

Talking to them in Horton Field House on Illinois State University’s campus, John said he would “come out here every day” to play basketball. J. T. said now that basketball has wound down, he’s giving some thought to taking up another Special Olympics sport, Track, specifically, he said, “long jump, for sure.” He was quick to add the 40 meter dash to the list of competitions he’d like to enter once spring sports practice starts. You get the feeling that since things went well for him his first time out that once he takes to the track, even if his dad will be sitting in the bleachers for those events, that J. T. will continue to grow in his sports knowledge and the maturity that comes with it.

By Steve Robinson | March 12, 2019 - 10:39 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – The improving weather temperatures apparently aren’t the only indication spring is close at hand. Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board voted unanimously to approve bids on six construction projects at their regularly-scheduled meeting at district headquarters March 13.

Life-Safety matters were addressed when Board members awarded a tennis court resurfacing project at Normal Community High School was awarded to Bloomington-based McLean County Asphalt Co., Inc. which submitted the only bid for the project. The company submitted a bid of $293,254 for the project. In previous sessions, Board members had been shown photos of cracked and crevassed concrete at those courts.

A reroofing and wall repair project to the athletic buildings at Normal Community West High School was awarded to Springfield-based Henson-Robinson Co. for the lowest of five bids submitted for the project, $153,370.

A partial reroof project at Parkside Junior High School was awarded to Mt. Zion, Ill.-based Top Quality Roofing for the lowest of three bids submitted for the project, $545,400. Adelman verified Top Quality Roofing has done previous work for the district in the past.

A reroofing project at Colene Hoose Elementary School on the section of the building constructed in 1968 was awarded to Henson-Robinson Co. for $194,532, the lowest bid among five companies which submitted bids.

A reroofing project at Fox Creek Elementary School was awarded to Henson-Robinson Co. for their bid of $433,488. Henson Robinson’s bid was the lowest of seven companies which submitted bids.

The bid for an electrical subcontracting project at Northpoint Elementary School was awarded to Normal-based Wilcox Electrical And Services. The company submitted a bid of $53,250 and that bid was the lowest among five companies which submitted bids for the project.

Joe Adelman, operations director for the district, told Board members all of these projects are paid for using bonds the district has sold and were budgeted for. With regard to the Hoose reroofing project, he said this last phase will help make sure it would be good for at least 30 years.

With regard to the NCHS Tennis Court project, Board Member Dr. Kelly Pyle asked Adelman how long the court’s surface, which had not been treated for a number of years, will last once the repair is completed. Adelman said after the repair is completed, a maintenance checkup will be performed on the court every three years.

Adelman said all projects would begin right after school ends for the year and he anticipates completion by sometime this fall. As part of the meeting’s omnibus agenda, with numerous items being handled with one Board vote, Board members unanimously approved all bids submitted for boilers for Kingsley Junior High School the district received March 7 due to an error in bidding documents.

Last Day Of School Announced: In comments to the meeting, Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, told the meeting, “I want to thank everyone for their support during this unusual winter we’ve had. Our amazing staff has gone out of its way to ensure the schools were ready for everyone. We are especially grateful to the Town of Normal for loaning us salt to get through the winter.” Daniel explained that became necessary because the shipment the district was expecting got held up on a barge on the Illinois River which had frozen over.

Daniel said the district’s anticipated last day of school will be Friday, May 31, adding Board members will make that official at their next meeting in April.

Parkside Junior High School’s “Good News”: Darrin Cooper, principal at Parkside Junior High School, used a “good news report to recognize a group of students who have been selected to be part of the All-Illinois Junior Band. Cooper explained that all junior high band students in Illinois were encouraged to audition for this State Band, but only the top 84 musicians were chosen for this honor. Six of the 84 selected are attending PJHS, as well as one alternate. These PJHS band members also serve as the only representatives not just from Unit 5, but from all Twin City junior high schools selected for this honor.

“This is the highest accomplishment that any junior high band member can receive,” Cooper explained, adding much of the credit goes to the band’s director, Jennifer Greif Bolton. Illinois State University student teacher Chuck Willard was also acknowledged for his work with the students, as well.

The seven musicians (and the instruments they play) are: Ethan Snyder (trombone), Rolen Schlipmann (euphonium), Jonas Techmanski (percussion), Sam Albertson (percussion), Jenna Klokkenga (Clarinet), Ernst Nkangu (contra clarinet), with Jake Kellermann (trumpet) serving as the alternate.

New Food Service And Nutrition Director Introduced: The district has known for roughly over a year that Pat Powers, director of Food Service and Nutrition will be retiring next year after a 28 year career with the district. At this meeting, Board members were introduced to her successor. Daniel introduced Hudson resident Joanna Rewerts would succeed Powers. Although Rewerts will begin working for Unit 5 July 1, she will be learning the ropes from Powers until then. A registered dietician, Rewerts has worked as a nursing home administrator, as well.

“If you think about it, when we are feeding over 13,000 students a day, this is a major position,” Daniel said about the work Rewerts will be stepping into. “The time needed to understand the duties, responsibilities, the management processes that Joanna will be involved in means we want for there to be an absolutely seamless transition, and I think we’ll have that.” Rewerts said she is “excited for the opportunity to work with Pat over the next year.”

Infinite Campus Update: Board members were provided with updates concerning new information systems which are soon to be implemented by the district. The two new systems are known as Infinite Campus and Tyler iVisions. Infinite Campus would replace the current information system the district has used over the past decade, known as Skyward. Tyler iVisions relates to software for human resources and payroll functions for the district.

Michelle Lamboley, Unit 5’s director of director of special education gave a presentation concerning next steps in the implementation of these new systems.

Lamboley explained the district is putting some of its teachers in the role of trainers to help fellow employees with the training. She said those trainers would receive 300 hours of training to best do their jobs. That training will be a mix of in-person and using web-accessible programs. In February, she explained, district teachers received an overview of Infinite Campus. Another such overview was given to Parent-Teacher Organization leaders last month.

She added it’s hoped the portal for Infinite Campus will be available by spring break giving staff time to get used to working with in prior to using it next school year. District families will get their first look at the system in May so that they can review information relevant to them just prior to participating in registration in July.

A series of trainings for human resources, payroll, and related departments are scheduled to take place later this month and on varying dates throughout April.

Next Board Meeting April 10: Because the district’s spring break will start March 24, this is the only Board meeting scheduled for this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, April 10 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | March 10, 2019 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Two young women had to wait almost two months for the richly-deserved recognition to be received, but on Saturday, Priyamsa Mikkilineni, a junior at Normal Community High School, and Kavya Sudhir, an NCHS senior were honored as recipients of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Award. Mikkilineni from the Human Relations Commission of the Town of Normal, Sudhir receiving her honor from the City of Bloomington’s Human Relations Commission. The ceremony took place at the Bloomington-Normal Radisson Hotel and Conference Center on Normal’s north side.

Priyamsa Mikkilineni: Priyamsa, daughter of Srinivas Mikkilineni and Usha Vallunpalli, has put her spare time into working to raise funds for the non-profit organization Bright Life Foundation which serves to help minority education in India. She has helped to raise $7,000 for that cause. She has also worked on a project to help the environment-friendly project which would have solar powered brought to schools in India.

Closer to home, Priyamsa is also co-founder for “Gotcha Boxes” for the needy in our area. What’s in a “Gotcha Box”? “It’s a box with toiletries and other necessities, which we get donated, and we give them to homeless people,” Priyamsa explained. Her group collects the items and distributes them to shelters for distribution to those people in need.

The vendors which have received these boxes include Home Sweet Home Ministries, 4-H, and Midwest Food Bank. Getting involved with such organizations became an education in itself for Priyamsa because she needed to be informed on how the Ministry preferred for such thing to go out to their clients. She said that taught her how compromise is achieved in the business world.

Priyamsa said the leaders at Home Sweet Home Ministries found what was desired to be accomplished to be “very ambitious, but they were excited” by what they were being offered.

Still a junior, she has a few colleges in mind for when she graduates from NCHS. Her life’s goal once she gets to college is to study business with a focus on marketing.

Priyamsa said she and her friends took the approach of trying to get folks to understand the problem of homelessness in order to get donations rather than just taking contributions without some background for why they were doing it. That sounds like she was using marketing skills already, and that she discovered she has a knack of it, too.

“Marketing is trying to make connections with people and trying to build relationships with people,” she said. “And throughout doing this, I’m building relationships with people who are involved in community service or are in need of community service. So I think that really helps.”

When she is not helping with “Gotcha Boxes,” Priyamsa is a member of the NCHS Marching Band, and the Future Business Leaders of America, where she’s the State Treasurer for that group. In this group, she added State representatives and other government officials have visited and informed about the economy has an effect on society.

Priyamsa has a goal she is determined to get off the ground armed with what her future education goals. She said she wants “to start a non-profit organization that helps kids get involved in sports.” She said she would like to do this because she realized after talking to friends that some kids’ parents can’t afford the expenses some sports entail.

“Since I was little, I was always involved in sports, and sports in America is a really big thing,” Priyamsa explained. “That’s not what non-profits really focus on.” She said the majority of non-profits she knows focus on education and homelessness among other issues. She said she would like to consider starting the kind of non-profit she’s been thinking of, as she explained, “Because kids like to have fun in their lives, too.”

Kavya Sudhir: Kavya, daughter of Sid and Susheela Sudhir, demonstrated her commitment to improve cooperation and fostering mutual respect among different peoples while as an intern with the City of Bloomington and the Downtown Business Association. She took what some might see as a unique approach to doing that. She worked on an individual project to make the City’s Farmer’s Market more open to those people of other cultures. She worked with the Market’s vendors to see if they would provide more ingredients used in Indian cooking. Doing that would allow the market to provide fresh produce to a larger amount of residents.

She also belongs to Youth Engaged in Philanthropy, or YEP, as one of 20 student members. The students in the group work with $10,000 from an anonymous donor to benefit non-profit groups using grants. She has even addressed Illinois Prairie Community Foundation which oversees YEP.

At NCHS, she is among a group of students which organize an “Iron Breakfast” event, giving new students to the school a chance to get together with other students and hopefully, foster new friendships. That event is put together by the school’s Student Council. Because NCHS has students whose families come from all parts of the globe, at the breakfast, Kavya uses the event to help the kids meeting there bond and begin friendships.

Although she hasn’t decided on a college to attend yet, Kavya does know what she wants to major in Biomedical Engineering. “My main interest lies in the field of Prosthetics,” Kavya explained. “That would be either in helping build prosthetics or attaching prosthetics to people who would have lost their limbs in war.”

She also is involved in the McLean County Diversity Project. When she is not involved with the groups listed so far, she also tutors math to junior high and high school students.

From all she has been involved in, Kavya said, “I think the main thing I have learned is leadership skills, learned how to deal with all different groups of people, and how to interact with groups of people who don’t have the same ideas or political backgrounds.”

Proud Principal: With two winners representing both communities coming from his school, Trevor Chapman, NCHS Principal, had reason to express pride in an email to me, stating, “Both Priyamsa and Kavya are incredible young women. They are selfless in that they are always thinking about how to serve others – both in and out of our school building.

“I know both of them sacrifice much of their free time to serve others, really serving as servant leaders for their classmates and our entire community,” he wrote, adding, “Both of these young ladies multi-task by serving others while trying to balance their own busy lives including school work and extra-curricular activities. I’m proud of both of them for going above and beyond and putting others before themselves.”

Both Priyamsa and Kavya have goals in mind and other peoples’ needs at the forefront of their thinking. That’s a hopeful sign. What’s more, the people they have already touched have benefitted from their good works. But it sounds like they are both just getting started in how they aid humanity, and it will be interesting to see what they can do for their communities, and possibly the nation or the world as a whole, in the future.