Illinois Public Media News
The General Assembly no longer wants to put a restriction on how old someone must be to attend the University of Illinois.
No matter how smart or qualified, anyone under the age of 15 cannot enroll at any of the UI's three campuses -- which meant, of course, that a 14-year old high school graduate who last year had wanted to attend the Urbana-Champaign campus could not.
Representative Naomi Jakobsson says in the end, the student enrolled at nearby Parkland College, but it wasn't ideal. The legislature sent a measure to the governor that removes any restrictions.
Jakobsson admits the college lifestyle may be a bit mature for the younger set, no matter how smart they are. "There is a lot that goes on and one has to consider the maturity level of the student, to make sure that they're really able to be in a situation where there aren't kids around," Jakobsson said.
UI hopefuls still have to meet other requirements. They include four years of high school level English and three years of math, or demonstrating the equivalent level of knowledge and skills.
Wilco lead singer Jeff Tweedy says he's "deeply saddened'' by the death of former band member Jay Bennett.
The 45-year-old Bennett was found dead early Sunday in his Urbana home. Tweedy said in a statement Monday that Bennett made "significant contributions'' to Wilco's songs and the band's evolution. Tweedy said Bennett would be remembered "as a truly unique and gifted human being.''
Bennett worked as a sound engineer and played instruments for Wilco from 1994 to 2001.
An autopsy was planned for Tuesday by the Champaign County Coroner.
Earlier this month, Bennett sued Tweedy, claiming he was owed royalties for songs during his seven years and five albums with the group.
A memorial service is scheduled for this Saturday at the University of Illinois College of Law for John Cribbet. The former Urbana Campus Chancellor died Saturday in Urbana after a long illness.
Cribbet was chancellor from 1979 to 1984, and dean of the College of Law before that. He was on the law school faculty for more than 60 years, both before and after his chancellorship. Current U of I Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman said through a news release that he remembers Cribbet as a "larger than life figure", who brought a sense of wisdom and purpose with him, "even in the simplest encounters".
As Chancellor, Cribbet is credited with hiring football coach Mike White, and planting the seeds for the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. As a law professor, he was considered a pioneer in the field of property law. His textbook, "Cases and Materials on Property" is now in its 8th edition.
Cribbet, a native of Findlay, is survived by his wife, two daughters and their families. A memorial service will be held this Saturday, May 30th, at 2 PM, in the Max L. Rowe Auditorium, at the U of I College of Law Building in Champaign.
Champaign's Strategic Capital Bank re-opens Tuesday today under new ownership. State banking regulators closed the ten-year-old bank on Friday, and handed it over to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Today (Tuesday), the bank reopens as a branch of Effingham-based Midland States Bank. All deposits and loans are being transferred to Midland States Banks, and officials say customers should see no disruptions in service.
FDIC spokesman David Barr says Strategic Capital apparently ran into financial trouble due to its buying so-called private label mortage-backed securities and making commercial real estate loans. He says that left the bank vulnerable when the housing market and economy suffered a downturn, with home loans and commercial real estate loans taking the biggest hit."And with this bank having a lot of its assets concentrated in those two areas, it had a really adverse impact on their financial condition", says Barr.
Barr says the FDIC will keep a toll-free phone number open this week for former Strategic Capital customers with questions about the bank takeover. Calls will be taken from 8 AM to 8 PM, at 1-866-954-9527. That's 1-866-954-9527.
Besides Strategic Capital bank, state banking regulators shut down Citizens National Bank of Macomb last Friday. That makes a total of five bank failures in Illinois so far this year.
Trustees at The University of Illinois are making some big changes to its struggling online degree program.
Trustees first approved Global Campus in 2006. It was designed to be a branch of the University of Illinois solely online, just like the Urbana-Champaign or Springfield campuses. Only 400 or so students are currently enrolled. Administrators were expecting thousands.
The new Global Campus plan will make the three U of I campuses control the online format. But Trustee Larry Eppley says he's concerned the new version will run into the same problems the program encountered when it was first created.
"We got caught up tripping over ourselves when we couldn't even convince everyone to allow their online programs to be listed on Global Campus," Eppley said. He said the new format will put more pressure on the three campuses and faculty.
The three campuses are expected to present their online programs in July.
The Champaign County Board gave a big thumbs up to wind turbine farms Thursday night. County Board members voted 24 to 2 with one abstention to approve zoning rules which will allow the construction of large wind farms on agricultural land, if a special use permit is granted.
Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz championed the wind farm ordinance in the Environment and Land Use Committee. He estimates that 200 wind turbines operating over the next 20 years in the county could bring in 250 million dollars in revenue to landowners and local governments. And Kurtz saw more benefits, noting that "there are hundreds of good-paying jobs that will be produced by green energy ... education in the form of revenue for schools and Parkland College .... clean air, displacements of tons of pollution in the air ... renewable energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
But not everyone in Champaign County is crazy about wind farms. The boards of Mahomet Township and neighboring Newcomb Township filed formal protests. Herb Schildt of the Newcomb Township Plan Commission said the ordinance was weakened when the map amendment component was removed, meaning neighbors of proposed wind farm sites cannot file formal protests. "If it is good and proper to require a map amendment for something as small as a beauty shop," said Schildt, "then it must also be good and proper to require a map amendment for something as large as a wind farm."
But representatives of two wind farm developers say the ordinance as originally presented would have been too restrictive to allow them to build in Champaign County. John Doster of Invenergy and Jeff Polz of Midwest Wind Energy said they were pleased with the ordinance in its final form. They say their companies hope to submit applications for wind farms in Champaign County sometime in late summer or fall.
It looks like improvements along Curtis Road west of Route 45 will continue without the threat of interruption from Champaign Township. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to convey county right-of-way property along Curtis Road to the village of Savoy --- so the village can annex the land and let the road project proceed.
The land in question is in unincorporated Champaign Township, which had threatened to hold up completion of the road project, unless it won concessions from the city of Champaign in their ongoing annexation dispute. But annexation by Savoy will take away Champaign Township's jurisdictional powers --- although the land will remain within the township.
County Engineer Jeff Blue says the property was scheduled to be handed over to Savoy eventually. "The county never wanted to have any interest in Curtis Road in the long term, says Blue. "It's just a matter of timing, when we were going to convey that property to the village of Savoy. And we chose to do it earlier than later."
The Savoy Village Board voted to accept the land for annexation last week.
Another piece of property needed for the Curtis Road improvement project will be annexed by the city of Champaign. The Champaign City Council approved an annexation agreement with owners of land at the Curtis and Mattis Avenue intersection earlier this week. Curtis Road west of Route 45 is being widened to take in traffic from the new I-57 interchange.
There were lots of people out on bicycles Wednesday evening in Champaign-Urbana. But for some of those people, the ride carried extra meaning. 20 cyclists rode together in a Ride Of Silence to remember those injured or killed while cycling on public roadways. The group wore black armbands as they cycled together on an 8-mile route from the U of I Assembly Hall to downtown Urbana and back.
The cyclists included Urbana schoolteacher Frank Modica, who says both cyclists and motorists need to be alert for each other when on the road. He says that when driving, the most important thing is to drive undistracted. Modica says that means "don't drive around with an iPod in your ear. Because one of the major people we remember locally was killed because of a distracted driver, who was on a cellphone downloading ringtones." Modica referred to Matt Wilhelm, who was struck and killed by a distracted driver while cycling in Urbana in 2006. Modica says such accidents show the importance of NOT using cellphones while driving.
Susan Jones of the group Champaign County Bikes says this is the third year they've sponsored the Ride of Silence locally. It's one of nearly 300 such rides that were scheduled for around the country and the world on Wednesday, May 20th. Other Illinois cities scheduled to host the Ride Of Silence included Charleston, Peoria, Joliet and Chicago.The annual Ride of Silence began in 2003, in reaction to the death of a cyclist in Dallas.
A proposal to bring a fiber-optic broadband network to Champaign-Urbana targets the use of federal stimulus money for much of the project.
The concept would form a partnership between both cities and the University of Illinois. The entities want to apply for federal grant money, which could fund up to 80% of a new broadband system. U of I Director of Networking Mike Smeltzer says it could offer service that's up to 10 times faster than anything currently offered, which might be necessary one day. "So let's say you're the typical American family and you've got 2.4 people living there.' says Smeltzer. "That might mean you have 3 television sets, and if you want to watch 3 HD television programs at the same time, that's about 60 megs of bandwith. You're not going do to that over a 6 meg connection and you're not going to even watch one HD channel over a 7 meg connection." Smeltzer also says UC2B, or Urbana Champaign Big Broadband, should be less expensive than any cablemodem or DSL service.
The federal stimulus funds are earmarked for areas underserved by broadband access. Smeltzer expects local governments, businesses, and the U of I would have to contribute about $6 million combined to match a federal grant. The fiber-optic network would require a few rounds of funding, and about two years to build.
Illinois lawmakers adopted about $16.3 billion in spending Wednesday to cover essential state expenses, such as covering state employee paychecks.
The vote in the Illinois House sends the Illinois Senate five pieces of legislation that cover payroll, basic education funding and money to pay hospitals for serving low-income patients.
But as the May 31 deadline for adjournment creeps up, the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn still have to address billions of dollars in requests for state assistance and contributions to public pension systems.
Quinn has proposed budget cuts and an increased state income tax to cover those, neither of which today's action addressed.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Senate voted 47 to 12 on a funding bill for statewide construction that that would raise liquor taxes, driver fees and enact a major gambling expansion. In eastern Illinois, Democrat Mike Frerichs voted for the bill, while Republicans Dale Righter and Dan Rutherford voted against it. The measure now moves to the House.
The aim of the bill is to pay for a $26 billion public works programs and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The legislation would legalize gambling on video poker machines already in many bars. Supporters hope that would bring in $375 million a year.
It also would raise liquor taxes, generating about $113 million.The cost of a six-pack would increase by less than three cents.
Driver's license and license plates would go up, too.
The public works program is a combination of federal and state money. To come up with its $12 billion share, Illinois would sell bonds. To repay that debt, it has to come up with new sources of money --- the gambling, taxes and fees.
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