By Steve Robinson | June 29, 2021 - 7:59 am
Posted in Category: News, The Normalite

NORMAL – Heavy rains late in the day and early evening on June 25 and June 26 caused problems for businesses and drivers, particularly along Main Street, and specifically for a pair of established businesses which intersect near Advocate BroMenn Medical Center.

Both on Friday and Saturday, June 25 and 26, that weather created problems for area businesses in that neighborhood both days including flooding of their parking lots, as well as the parking lot for the Medical Center nearest Main Street. Rain waters stretched across Main Street to the businesses, and at one point, although the convenience store stands on raised concrete, its gas pumps area was under water rendering them useless.

Next door, at Monical’s Pizza, their parking lot flooded and their basement received some water, explained the store’s general manager, Brian Plotner.

For Casey’s General Store Convenience Store, 1301 S. Main St., the water rush meant waist deep or slightly higher water in the area around its gas pumps. The business’ building itself was unaffected, explained store manager Mercedes Bundy, because the store building sits on a raised concrete platform, the brainchild of the building’s original owner.

But next door, at Monical’s Pizza, 1219 S. Main St., matters were a little more difficult, Plotner explained. His store is slightly lower to the ground which meant the restaurant had flooding issues, including its dumpster floating off the property at one point as a result of Friday’s downpour and the restaurant closing roughly 30 minutes earlier than usual, around 10:30p.m.

In addition, Saturday’s rains began around 3:30p.m. with the downpour increasing to the point Plotner had his employees park in a section of Casey’s lot. Plotner added he stopped delivery service around 4:15p.m. Saturday because the flooding prompted him to move his store vehicles across the street to sit at Casey’s and delivery drivers would have to walk with product to the cars as a result of the flooding.

Also by that time, he said, his business only had a couple of phone-in orders which Plotner said he cancelled for the safety of his employees explaining he was concerned about potential injuries due to parking blocks in the parking lot.

Saturday’s rain produced another issue: The restaurant’s dumpster floated away from its confinement but not far from the restaurant forcing Plotner to call a company to retrieve it and put it back in place.

“They were really great about letting us do that,” Plotner said about the neighboring business’ assist.

Over at Casey’s, Bundy said her parking lot was the only part of the store’s premises affected by the hip-deep and slightly higher water. No water entered the store, she said.

Flood waters crossed Main Street intruding on a lower parking lot at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center located directly across from Casey’s.

Rains Caused Temporary Stoppages For Connect Transit: Connect Transit, the Twin Cities’ public transit provider, also experienced temporary service stoppages at a couple of points on both Friday and Saturday as a result of the rains, explained Shelly Perry, operations manager for Connect Transit. Shelly Perry, operations manager for the transit service. She explained the rains prompted the company to halt service once per day – from 8:45p.m.-9p.m. Friday night, and again from 3:30p.m.-7p.m. Saturday meaning buses stayed in place at their nearest transfer point.

During those times, Perry said, buses remained in place while assessments of Twin Cities roads could be made. Once waters started receding, she said, the system went back to picking up and dropping off passengers.

Perry said inclement weather usually causes such stoppage procedures to be put into effect, and that Friday’s and Saturday’s episodes were the first time Connect Transit had to employ them this year.

By Steve Robinson | June 21, 2021 - 10:04 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to approve a resolution giving permission for a second amended preliminary subdivision plan for Blackstone Trails subdivision. With Council’s approval of this, developers can continue the build-out of a residential subdivision. The developer, iDev, LLC, purchased the roughly 106.48 acres of land for such a purpose in 2009.

The current submitted amended preliminary subdivision plan is for the north half of the subdivision in accordance with an agreement approved by Council members in 2019. The majority of the property was zoned R-1B Single Family Residential, but a strip of land along Shepard Rd. and a portion of Hershey Rd. were zoned R-2 Mixed Residential.

The preliminary plat was approved by Council members in 2009 followed by Council approval of the first final plat a year later. The final plat on the first addition was approved by Council members in May 2013. In January 2019, Council members approved a zoning map amendment rezoning roughly 1.69 acres at the development’s southwest end to be S-2 Public Lands and Institutions so the Town could develop land for use to place a new Normal Fire Department station.

Council members received this item to approve after Normal Planning Commission held a public hearing to review the 2nd amended preliminary subdivision plan where Commission members voted 7-0 to approve the plan. Before the vote at that session, NPC members heard from a resident of that area who posed a number of questions concerning design factors for the new structures.

Council Vote Grants Raise For City Manager Reece: With Council Member Chemberly Cummings absent from the session, Council members voted 5-1 approving a resolution amending the base salary of City Manager Pam Reece. Council Member Stan Nord cast the lone opposing. He explained Tuesday he asked for release of the minutes of the executive session Council members held in a special meeting on June 14. He said he wants those minutes released so the public can hear the discussion Council members had concerning the matter.

But Reece told Council members minutes from June 14’s executive session aren’t due to be released until the Council’s next meeting on Tuesday, July 6. The meeting will be held that day because Monday, July 5 is when municipalities will celebrate the July 4th holiday, which falls on a Sunday this year.

Reece, a 30-year employee of the Town, has a contract to work at her post until March 31, 2024. Her annual salary as of April 1, 2019 was set at $190,550 with an adjustment a year later of $$5,716.50 and a further raise of $4,733.50 effective April 1.

Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich To Retire: Toward the end of the session, Reece announced Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich has announced his intention to retire in August after serving the Town for 24 years. Monday was his last time at a Council session. “We could talk for hours on the impact he has had on this organization,” Reece said. Aldrich joined the Town in 1997 starting as Town Engineer. From there, Reece said, Town officials moved him into the role of Uptown Development Director. In April 2002, Aldrich was appointed by then-City Manager Mark Peterson to coordinate the Uptown Renewal Plan as the Town’s Uptown Development Director.

“Wayne has led what has been the most impactful and remarkable municipal project in the State of Illinois, and certainly in the Town of Normal, leading Uptown Development,” Reece said, adding Council members currently sit in a Council Chambers that came to be courtesy of Aldrich’s leadership when Uptown Station was constructed.

“His legacy in our organization and our community is probably indescribable,” Reece concluded.

Aldrich, who was in the gallery, spoke briefly, saying his time with the Town “has always been exciting and we’ve got a great team.” He added he was thankful for the support he received of three City Managers he served under (the late David Anderson, Peterson, and now Reece), as well as support from Town Council members for being able to complete some of the projects he had done.

Technical Services With Regional Planning Commission Approved: Nord asked an omnibus item concerning a resolution for the Town going into an agreement with McLean County Regional Planning Commission be discussed because of his concern that a consultant working on a project is also on the board of Connect Transit. Council members voted 5-1 to approve the measure with Nord voting against.

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

• Approval of minutes of the special meeting of June 7, 2021.

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting of June 7, 2021.

• A resolution to accept a five-year proposal from Valparaiso, Ind.-based M. E. Simpson Co. for large meter testing services.

• A resolution to Accept Bids and Award a Contract to J.G. Stewart Contractors, Inc. for the Landmark Drive Sidewalk – West Sidewalk Construction Project in the Amount of $320,295.

• A resolution to Accept a Proposal with Crawford, Murphy and Tilly Engineers for a Hydraulic Model of the Water Distribution System at a Total Cost Not to Exceed $115,000 and Approve an Associated Budget Adjustment.

• An ordinance amending Ordinance No. 5838, concerning an easement vacation for the resubdivision of lot #2 in the first addition to Eagle’s Landing Commercial Subdivision at 1290 Healing Stone.

NORMAL – Two of Illinois State University’s better-known alumni returned to their alma mater Saturday each to receive another honor Saturday: To become laureates to the Lincoln Academy of Lincoln. The pair were honored at the ceremony held at Illinois State University’s Braden Auditorium were former NBA player and Chicago Bulls head Coach Doug Collins and former U. S. United Nations Ambassador Dr. Donald McHenry. Also being honored was Dr. Robert T. Fraley, a Fellow of the American Association For The Advancement of Science.

This was the 56th convocation and investiture of laureates to the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, and took place in Braden Auditorium of ISU’s Bone Student Center Saturday with a few hundred invited guests attending the ceremony and dinner which followed. Award for professional achievement and public service. The honor is presented to people with ties to Illinois for outstanding contributions in science, education, religion, social services, medicine, government, business, labor, the arts, agriculture and athletics

Collins Spoke Of Faith, Passion, Resiliency: Collins was introduced to the audience by ISU President Larry H. Dietz, who reminded Collins played on the U. S. Olympics team in Munich, Germany in 1972 before suiting up to play professionally in the NBA after being drafted in 1973 for the Philadelphia 76ers. He also coached for NBA’s Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, and 76ers. Dietz reminded Collins has also been part of broadcast teams for five Summer Olympics games.

Collins began his speech by joking that he would feel more comfortable if he were at Horton Field House, the arena where he played for the Redbirds in the early 1970s, wearing his number 20 jersey, then added, “I’m just honored and humbled to be here tonight to accept this prestigious award. I always tell people to dream big. Well, I outdid my dream.”

He said he wanted to choose words that he thought would describe him to those gathered for this event. “Number one is proud,” he said. “Proud to be born and raised in Illinois, son of a sheriff,” he explained. “I was named after Sen. Paul Douglas.” Douglas, in fact is his middle name.

He told the story of joking with actor Ron Howard about Collins telling the actor he lived above the Franklin County Jail where his father was sheriff, his uncle was a sheriff’s officer, and his grandmother was the cook, all while his family lived one floor above the jail. He said he joked with Howard that the actor “was playing out his life story” when young Howard starred as Opie in the 1960s comedy, “The Andy Griffith Show.”

He went on to say, “I was so blessed to be coached by Benton head coach Rich Herrin, who helped make me the man I am today. He said when he got to ISU and connected with the late Redbirds head coach Will Robinson, the coach “was like a father figure to me.” He joked that nowadays, younger people recognize him as “that guy who coached Michael Jordan.”

Collins said he told Dr. Dietz every time he comes to campus, the word joy comes to mind “because all I have is positive experiences about my time here.” Those days, he said, included living in Wilkins Hall, practices at Horton Field House, the teammates and coaches. “My life was joyful – more joyful than I felt I could ever feel.

Passion was the next word Collins said came to mind, explaining, “It’s the driving force in all the accomplishments in my life.” Faith was another word central to his life, Collins said, explaining his Christian faith has helped him “navigate the highs and the lows” in his life.

Grit and Resiliency were two more words that have shaped his life, Collins said, adding those helped him as he went through his professional sports career. Love, Collins said, was the last of the words he said shaped him explaining he met the love of his life, wife Kathy 49 years ago in front of Watterson Towers to go play volleyball together. He said they married a year later “and she’s been stuck with me ever since.” It was a line that produced laughter from those gathered.

To Dr. Donald McHenry, ISU Became Like His Territory: An East St. Louis native, Dr. Donald McHenry earned his Bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University before earning a Master’s degree at Southern Illinois University, but he also studied at Georgetown University. Dr. McHenry told the gathering the ceremony reminded him of the French word Terroir, a word describing climate, soil, temperature, and topography. “Illinois and this University are my terroir,” Dr. McHenry said. “They are the elements which formed me and my journey through life to this point. Those elements have contributed a great deal to what I was able to accomplish.”

“From here, from this University and this Land of Lincoln, I set out to see what I could do with the contributions that the University and the land had contributed to me,” Dr. McHenry explained. “Illinois, and indeed, the United States, are a part of a much larger machine. What we do here is greatly influenced by what happens around the world.”

Speaking of the current pandemic, Dr. McHenry said, “We won’t solve it for ourselves until we solve it for all the world. We won’t solve the devastation of climate change until we solve it for all citizens of the world.”

Dr. Robert T. Fraley Also Honored As Lincoln Laureate: A man with no connection to ISU was also named a Lincoln Laureate at this ceremony. Dr. Robert T. Fraley, currently a Fellow of the American Advancement of Science and a St. Louis resident also had this honor bestowed upon him.

Previous Lincoln Laureates: Collins, Dr. McHenry, and Dr. Fraley join a select group of Laureates which has included Senators Adlai E. Stevenson II, Everett Dirksen, and Alan Dixon; Chicago Bears head coach George Halas, and former Bears linebacker Dick Butkus; Columnist and Broadcaster Irv “Kup” Kupcinet; Comedian Jack Benny; Former Governors Richard Ogilvie, Otto Kerner, and Jim Edgar; Actors Charlton Heston and Burl Ives; and broadcasters Bill Kurtis, John Chancellor, and Paul Harvey.

NORMAL – Not every high school sports team receives the chance to play for a State championship on their home field. That is usually the sort of thing every player dreams about when the thought crosses their mind. But for Normal’s University High Pioneers, who were a number one seed, faced another number one seed, Freeburg, and wound up playing in the third place game after losing to the team nicknamed the Midgets at Duffy Bass Field on Saturday. As a result of that loss, the Pioneers found themselves playing for and placing third after a 7-5 win over Central State 8 foe Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin.

U-High 7, Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin 5 To Take 3rd Place: U-High (32-4) went to work early against the Cyclones with lead off batter Karson Bonaparte walking followed by being his being driven home by outfielder Chase Adams to start the scoring, 1-0, with a blast into center field for a double. A fielder’s choice helped Evan Jones get on base and later score courtesy of Jack Bach’s home run over the left field wall, putting the Pioneers up before SHG came to bat, 3-0.

U-High was able to add two more runs in the 4th inning courtesy of Matt Armstrong’s single sending Bach and Matthew Davenport across home plate for two more runs, putting U-High up, 5-0. Springfield SHG (cut that lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the 5th inning when Jack Schafer’s single sent home Paul Gilmore who singled and Jayden Davis who walked. Those runs reduced U-High’s lead, 5-2.

The Pioneers advantage increased an inning later to 6-2 when Jones got on base and was singled in by Daniel Mosele. The Cyclones kept pace in that inning, too, adding three runs beginning the inning with Louie Bartletti’s leadoff walk, followed by singles from Nic Crowe and Gilmore, a walk given Jaydon Davis, and single by Schafer reduced U-High’s lead to 6-5. Senior Macallen Conklin led off the top of the 7th inning with a home run which cleared the left field wall.

Winning pitcher Chase Adams struck out eight and walked one in 4 2/3 innings of work.

“I wasn’t surprised about the heart our players showed that last game,” explained Pioneers head coach Steve Paxson, elaborating knowing they were playing for third place might have created a situation where his players’ effort might not have been what he did see throughout the contest. He said the team showed they put in what was needed to win the contest. “I’m just really proud to have coached this group. They’re really a special group.”

Five-Run 3rd Inning Puts Freeburg Over U-High, 5-3: Freeburg (35-3 following this game) employed a five-run third inning to overcome a Pioneers lead earlier in the semifinal contest to defeat the Pioneers, 5-3, to advance to the Class 2A Championship while sending the Pioneers to the 3rd place game to face the Cyclones. U-High scored two runs in the top of the 2nd inning as Evan Jones walked and advanced to 2nd base on a wild pitch. The next batter, Carson Beal, flew out to left field for the first out of the inning, and was followed by Mosele who doubled scoring Beale, putting U-High up, 1-0. A single by Davenport got Mosele home for U-High’s second run of the inning, giving the Pioneers an early 2-0 lead.

In the top of the 3rd inning, Adams would push U-High up, 3-0, on a single and stolen base followed a base hit by Macallen Conklin.

But Freeburg scored all five of their runs in the bottom of the third inning. The scoring barrage began as with one out, Austin York and Jacob Blomencamp led off the inning with a walk and single, respectfully, and then committed a double steal. From there, Colin Bruggemann singled, scoring the pair, cutting the Pioneers’ lead, 3-2. The next batter, Eli Hoerner singled deep into right field, and was followed by Eli Hill would be walked. The pair then committed a double steal and the bases were loaded when Hayden Ott singled completing the scoring.

By Steve Robinson | June 17, 2021 - 10:43 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – A recently passed State Senate Bill mandating the teaching of sex education to primary school students prompted nearly 200 people to attend June 16’s regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board objecting to what the bill asks school districts to do in terms of teaching the subject to younger students.

Illinois Senate Bill 818 would create a new curriculum for grades K-5, and a “sexual health education” for grades 6-12, according to the website Capitol News Illinois. But District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle informed 180 parents who attended the meeting at Normal Community West High School’s cafeteria. Dr. Weikle informed the gathering Unit 5 doesn’t teach sex education in its elementary schools. As a result, she said, the district “is not required to follow the guidelines at the elementary level.” That information brought about applause from some audience members.

She added students in grades 6 through 12 do receive sex education which, she said, “includes abstinence and contraception, teaching with materials that are evidence based, and medically accurate.”

Opposition To Mandating Masks Continues: Some members of the audience of roughly 200 people attending the session refused to adhere to the State mandate concerning wearing masks prompting Board President Amy Roser to ask Board Attorney Curt Richardson to inform the gathering about what the district policy on the matter is. “Any person who refuses to engage in conduct prohibited by our policy including the State rule, may be ejected from school property,” Richardson explained. There were two Normal Police officers on hand at the session.

There were, as there had been at previous meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic began over a year ago, a number of comments regarding mandating students wear masks, all of them opposed. Parent Jason McCullough told Board members if the masks mandate is not lifted by the district, he would pull his children out of the district.

“Cultural Race Theory” Addressed By Commentors: There were even attendees who signed up to speak in public comments over cultural race theory because of concerns that issue was being or going to be taught in Unit 5 schools. Britannica.com defines “cultural race theory” as “Critical race theory is an intellectual movement and a framework of legal analysis according to which (1) race is a culturally invented category used to oppress people of colour and (2) the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, political, and economic inequalities between white and nonwhite people.”

NCHS special education teacher Dustin Underwood was among a number of attendees who addressed this issue explaining to Board members he considers himself a “culturally responsive teacher,” and as such, for him, means he should care about and respect the culture the student comes from. He said he also maintains relationships with his students’ parents to help make sure he monitors their concerns.

In part, Lupita Shonn, the parent of a recent Unit 5 graduate raised an objection to the bill, saying Unit 5 “is clueless about race,” suggesting grade schools should be color blind.”

NCHS’ “Good News” Honors Track Team’s Achievement: Board members were introduced to members of Normal Community High School’s girls’ track team which came away from a State event with record setting times, including a new school record in one event when they competed at Illinois High School Association Track and Field Competition on Eastern Illinois University’s campus in Charleston on June 12. The first event NCHS’ team won was 4×400 Relay with a time of 3:57:34 which broke a previous mark held by the school. Team members who competed were Abigail Ziemer, Carina Ingst, Jordynn Griffin, and Ali Ince. The team is coached by Den Patten, Austin Peters, and Marcus Mann.

Ince, a freshman, then added to the team trophy case by winning the 800 meter run with a time of 2:07.06 which was just .01 seconds from setting a State meet record. Ince then competed in the 1,600 meter run finishing first again with a time of 4:40.85, breaking an IHSA State record in the process. Maurer thanked head track coach Marcus Mann, and assistant coaches Austin Peters, Den Patten, Amy Scott, and Tom Patten for their efforts this season. Maurer said NCHS coming away from the event with those medals “was just amazing.”

District To Finish 2020-21 School Year With Slight Surplus: Board members received what could be considered a surprise when District Chief Financial Officer Marty Hickman presented a budget update for the current school year which ends June 30. Hickman explained the district will finish the school year with a budget that indicates a slight surplus of $3.5 million as the district reported having a budget of $202.3 million for all funds. Hickman said Board members will approve the district’s fiscal year 2021-22 budget during a meeting in September.

Another financial matter Board members addressed was to vote unanimously to approve adoption of the amended budget.

Superintendent Comments Mention Masks, COVID Shots, Screenings: District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle covered a number of subjects in her Superintendent’s comments, starting with reminding roughly between 180-200 citizens sitting either in or near the cafeteria that the district adheres to policies regarding the pandemic issued by Illinois State Board of Education. She explained ISBE requires masks to be worn by staff, students, and visitors on school grounds. “As a school district, we do not get to pick and choose what rules we will follow and which ones we will not,” Dr. Weikle explained, adding the district would continue to work closely with ISBE and continue to seek guidance from Illinois Department of Public Health.

Dr. Weikle also pointed out ISBE and IDPH are not requiring students to repeat the COVID vaccine for the 2021-22 school year if already vaccinated. If students and staff have had the shot and have come in close contact with someone with COVID will not have to be in quarantine. Additionally, she said, ISBE and IDPH are encouraging school districts to offer voluntary COVID screening tests next school year.

Trio Of New School Administrators Introduced: When students return in the fall, they may find new administrators in their school’s front offices and will begin their duties July 1. Jon Haws is the new associate principal at Parkside Junior High School. He most recently spent eight years at Metcalf School, Illinois State University’s Lab School, where he served as a physical education teacher, as well as a coach, and leader in several building and district-level committees.

Megan Bozarth is the new principal at Carlock Elementary School. This upcoming school year will mark Megan’s 21st year in education. For the past 5 years, she has been at Dean of Students/Activities Director at Metcalf School, and Heather Rodgers is the new principal at Cedar Ridge Elementary School. Heather brings 10 years of experience as an educator, all of which have been spent at Cedar Ridge. She had taught 2nd and 5thgrades before becoming assistant principal at Cedar Ridge in 2019.