Illinois Public Media News
Champaign's Virginia Theatre is nearing the end of renovations to its lobby and exterior, and will open again to audiences.
However, the nearly 90-year-old facility will be closing again in the next couple of years for handicapped accessible seating, plaster work inside the theater, and electric work. The $500,000 grant was part of the Illinois Jobs Now capital program.
Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said an exact closure date will be within two years of when the grant is initiated. So it could be as soon as next summer, but she said the key is to avoid conflicting with Roger Ebert's Annual Film Festival in April. The work is expected to take at least six months.
The Park District got half of what it requested for the state grant, so Auteberry said the ADA compliance and other work will have to be pared down.
"So we're going to take a look at what we submitted, which initially included replacement of the current seating and replacement of all the plaster work inside the entire house," Auteberry said. "But it also included some acoustical infrastucture improvements upgrades, and electrical and lighting work on stage."
The next performance this year is the annual Chorale concert on New Year's Eve. Auteberry says the public will notice changes right away, including new carpeting, exterior and interior doors, and plaster work.
The Park District staff is also working with a sign company to take down the old theater marquee, and design for the new one to be put up in the next few weeks. The current work on the Virginia was paid for with a bequest from the estate of the late Michael Carragher, and other private funds.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign Park District)
The University of Illinois dedicated the Timothy Nugent Residence Hall and the Student Dining and Residential Programs Building on Friday in Champaign. The dormitory and dining hall are both handicap accessible.
The dormitory, which is University Housing's newest residence hall in more than 40 years, features proximity readers and large elevators to accommodate wheel chair bound individuals. The rooms also include technology to help students get in and out of beds and showers.
"This building was planned with the notion that students with disabilities could use each and every part of the building," explained John Collins, director of University Housing.
The new dorm's namesake is Timothy Nugent, who is director of emeritus for the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES). Nugent established the center more than 60 years ago. He said society's views of people with disabilities have come a long way.
"I never expected anything this wonderful," Nugent said.
The U of I's commitment to providing accessible facilities for students with disabilities was an important factor for student John Burton, a junior from Indiana studying engineering, when he was deciding where to go to school. Burton, who has spinal muscular atrophy, praised the University for making Nugent Hall an inclusive dormitory for students with and without disabilities.
"It allows you to make friends and meet new people, so that's kind of nice," Burton said. "Although Nugent Hall is the first of its kind, we have the opportunity to lead the way for other universities to follow."
In addition to providing independent living for students with disabilities, the new dining facility will also reduce the university's carbon foot print by using less water and electricity. The dining hall will also use leftover residue oil that is processed from fried foods, and then convert it into bio-fuel for cars and buses on campus.
University president Michael Hogan said the new dining hall is the second green building of its kind at the U of I next to the Business Instructional Facility. Hogan said he predicts the environmental impact of the dining hall will save the U of I money, especially as it looks to trim its budget.
"If you can save your energy cost, you can save a lot of money, so anything that keeps our air conditioning bills down, anything that keeps the lights off when not necessary, anything that reduces our water use," Hogan stated. "That all saves the university money, and of course saves the planet."
The new dining hall is named after former U of I president Stanley Ikenberry, who estimated that the savings generated because of the dining hall's green technology could equate to "several million dollars" within the next 50 years.
"It's not jump change," he said. "It's very important to us."
Hogan said he hopes the U of I considers making more buildings on campus environmentally friendly. The rest of Nugent Hall is currently under construction. An additional 350 beds will be added by the fall of 2012.
A federal judge in Chicago has set an April 20 trial date for the second corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Blagojevich's defense attorneys on Friday asked Judge James Zagel to put off the trial, which was originally expected as early as January. The judge agreed with the attorneys, who say they need more time to prepare now that fewer lawyers are on the Democrat's defense team.
A fund the ex-governor tapped to pay more than a dozen attorneys at his first trial has run dry, meaning taxpayers will be footing his legal bills. Because of that, Zagel has said Blagojevich can only have two attorneys and a paralegal.
Blagojevich was convicted of lying to the FBI in his first trial, but jurors deadlocked on 23 other counts.
(Photo courtesy of the Department of Justice)
A central Illinois cheese-maker is voluntarily recalling some of its cheese products, because they may contain antibiotics.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says the products from Ropp Jersey Cheese in Normal were not properly tested, and could pose a danger for people who are allergic to antibiotics. But so far, Public Health officials say they haven't received any reports of adverse reactions.
The recall involves Ropp Jersey cheese products with various sell-by dates ranging from April through September of 2011:
* 4/17/11 through 4/19/11
* 6/8/11 through 6/11/11
* 6/17/11 through 6/27/11
* 7/4/11 through 7/10/11
* 7/16/11 through 7/28/11
* 8/4/11 through 8/7/11
* 8/14/11 through 8/28/11
* 9/5/11 through 9/10/11
The cheese products were sold at stores and wineries throughout in Illinois, including Schnucks and Friar Tucks. Public Health officials say the products can be returned to the place of purchase for replacement.
A sixth year of courtwatching in Champaign County has shed new light on predominantly white and female juries.
The statistics released Thursday by the County's League of Woman Voters and University of Illinois College of Law show that a woman is 1.5 times more likely to serve on a jury than a man.
The analysis of courtroom proceedings also showed the odds of seating a white juror are nearly four times greater than having an African-American or other minority on the jury. U of I Law Professor Steve Beckett said he hopes new questionnaires and public service announcements will improve those results, but he said their efforts can only go so far.
"We have to make the decision that the courts don't belong to the judges, and the administrators, and the attorneys, and the state's attorney - they belong to the people," Beckett said. "So long as the people are satisfied by not coming to jury duty then you're not going to have diversity in your court system. When the community decides that it's going to live up to its civic responsibility and come to court, then you will have diversity."
Beckett admitted one problem is the $10 a day per diem given to jurors. He said many who are self-employed cannot afford to sit on a jury. Beckett, who is a Democratic County Board member, also pointed out that the county cannot afford to pay any more right now.
Joan Miller chairs the League of Women Voters Justice Committee. She said the imbalance of women-to-men serving on juries is a national problem, but said Champaign County may be one of the few areas trying to do something about it. Her group has prepared new public service announcements aimed primarily at young people, with hopes they will demystify the experience of serving on a jury.
"Think about what it's like for a young person who's never had experience with the courts," Miller said. "Or maybe he has to walk into the courthouse and into a courtroom and we're hoping some of these will make it less stressful to respond to jury summons."
The County Board operates an advisory committee on jury selection, seeking ways to boost minority participation. Beckett pointed out that the new juror questionnaire is being prepared by a judge, the circuit clerk, state's attorney and public defender's office. He said the old survey asked if they any family members had been convicted of a crime, which he suspected may have deterred some people from serving on juries.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The head of Illinois' economic development agency is defending the state's role in a plan that will mean a loss of jobs for central Illinois.
Warren Ribley, the director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said it was clear food processor Tate and Lyle was going to move jobs from Decatur. Ribley said the only question was whether or not the firm would relocate in Illinois or another state.
"After hearing all that we rolled up our sleeves and did what we could to make sure jobs stayed in Illinois," Ribley said. "As a result we were able to mitigate the loss of jobs out of Decatur."
Tate and Lyle, a food processor, with its U.S. operations based in Decatur will locate 160 jobs in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates. Illinois gave a mix of tax breaks and job training grants to keep the company in the state.
Ribley said it is common for large companies to want a presence near a major metropolitan area.
"Especially when you're looking at these large global international companies," he said. "Their board takes a different view and they look at different considerations. They don't have the same hometown connection."
Tate and Lyle has been in Decatur for more than 20 years after it purchased the A.E. Staley operation. Staley's ties to Decatur go back more than a century. Founder Augustus Staley started a football team in Decatur that later became the Chicago Bears.
Remarks on race made by state Senate candidate Al Reynolds (R-Danville) have prompted leaders of two county Republican organizations to call for him to withdraw from the race. Reynolds is running for the 52nd District seat, which makes up parts of Champaign and Vermilion Counties.
In response to a question about increasing minority enrollment at the University of Illinois, Reynolds said black men "find it more lucrative to be able to do drugs" or commit other crimes than get an education.
Champaign County Republican Chairman Jason Barickman says the comments are a "gross stereotype" that are a "stark contrast" to Republican values.
Reynolds has complained in the past about tepid GOP support. While Reynolds won the GOP primary in the 52nd Illinois Senate District, Barickman conceded he is never been a party favorite in Champaign County.
"Reynolds independently ran as a write-in candidate," Barickman said. "He implied that he has not been supported by the Champaign County Republican Party, and I think now people see why that is. We've long had some concerns about his candidacy. But last night's comments are just the final straw. "
Vermilion County Republican Chairman Craig Golden released a statement saying that both he and the Vermilion County Republican Executive Committee were calling on Reynolds to either suspend his campaign or withdraw from the race.
"(Reynolds') remarks were a gross generalization and dealt with racial issues which have no place in a political campaign in 2010, or any other year," according to Golden.
According to the News-Gazette, Reynolds said at a candidates' forum Wednesday night in Champaign that African-American men seem less motivated than African-American women to hold jobs. The Danville Republican said more incentives should be provided to encourage African-American men to seek an education. Reynolds could not be reached for comment.
His Democratic opponent, incumbent Senator Mike Frerichs (R-Champaign), would not comment on whether Reynolds should drop out of the race.
"I was shocked," Frerichs said. "Not that people hold these positions and believe these stereotypes, but that somebody would actually verbalize them in a public forum."
Reynolds is a co-founder of the East Central Illinois Tea Party; he resigned from that group in October, 2009. Another Tea Party organization, the Champaign Tea Party, released a statement Thursday distancing itself from Reynolds, saying it "condemns any negative racial opinion, speech, or attitude."
Barickman said if Reynolds chooses to bow out of the race, then the Republican Party will take steps to find a replacement candidate.
Meanwhile, Reynolds released a statement saying he has no intention of ending his campaign. However, Reynolds apologized for his remarks.
"I realize that my words generalized a small segment of my neighbors and I regret the inferences that it created," Reynolds said. "That was certainly not my intent."
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden said dropping out of the race is not a possibility since the September certification deadline for candidates to withdraw from political races has already passed.
"Dropping out of races and putting other people in would be chaos," Sheldon said. "Everyone has a fair timeline as to whether or not they want to be a candidate."
Vermilion County Clerk Lynn Foster said the same election rules apply in Vermilion County. More than 4,265 voters have cast ballots in Danville and Vermilion and Champaign Counties.
Frerichs and Reynolds are scheduled to take part in a town hall forum at 7pm on Thursday, October 21 in the Community Room on the second floor of the Old National Bank, 2 W. Main St. in Danville.
It was announced this week that a Decatur food processing firm is moving some of its jobs out of Decatur.
During a debate at Millikin University Wednesday night, Illinois House candidates Democrat Bob Flider and his challenger Republican Adam Brown sparred over the severity of the decision.
Tate and Lyle reported this week that a new commercial and food innovation center will be established in Hoffman Estates, bringing 160 jobs to that area.
A spokesman says 80 Decatur employees will be offered the opportunity to move. Brown slammed the move considering Decatur has among the state's highest unemployment rates.
"It's truly unreal and well beyond me that the state of Illinois is subsidizing a $15 million dollar project not to bring a company to Illinois but to move it somewhere else in Illinois at the expense of downstate voters," Brown said.
Flider said he met with representatives of the company and says other options were to move the jobs out-of-state to Nashville or Indianapolis.
"I think it's shameful to politicize community leaders working to keep jobs and a company in Illinois," Flider said. "I think it shows the immaturity of Adam Brown."
The state parties have been dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the heated campaign for the 101st House District Race.
For politicians in a supposedly "blue" state, quite a few Illinois Democrats are looking vulnerable right now. Republicans could pick up a number of statewide offices, and also a few congressional ones. In fact, as Illinois Public Radio's Sam Hudzik reports, some Illinois voters will play a large role in deciding which party controls the U.S. House and the coveted speaker's gavel.
(Photo of Congressman Bill Foster (D-14) by Sam Hudzik/IPR)
Archer Daniels Midland's plan to buy a downtown building is one in a series of moves to spur economic growth in the area, according to a Decatur city official.
The agricultural processor has entered into an agreement with Reynolds Development to purchase the building adjacent to ADM's Global Technology Center on North Water Street. Moving 350 employees there from other parts of the city will boost the company's downtown workforce to about 700 people, about 17-percent of ADM's local workforce. The company will decide which employees move to the Reynolds building by the end of the year.
Decatur Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus said ADM's agreement is moving forward as soon as possible, and helping to complete a longtime vision.
"These are folks who will shop in downtown stores, who will eat in downtown restaurants, and will hopefully visit downtown entertainment venues," Tyus said. "We think it's just one more step in our producing a downtown that will be a 24-hour living environment, which is what we've been working towards for some time now."
The new ADM facility will still house a Regions Bank branch currently in the building. Meanwhile, Reynolds Development is planning another downtown development for luring in restaurants, office, and retail development. That facility will also house an insurance company that Reynolds operates. To add to the development, the city of Decatur has been negotiating with the state to take over jurisdiction of US Route 51, and move it out of the downtown area. Tyus said that will allow for the re-routing of truck traffic.
On Thursday night, Decatur's city council will be asked to approve an agreement with ADM to allow downtown additional parking for employees that will be moving into that area.
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