Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign Park Board expects to decide next month whether extensive upgrades to the Virginia Theatre will be done at all once, or in installments.
The board is still weighing which option is the best advantage in terms of cost, and the schedule of movies and live shows in downtown Champaign's old vaudeville house.
Regardless, the Virginia is expected to close for work in May, following Roger Ebert's 14th Annual Film Festival. It includes paint and plaster restoration, lighting, new seating, and handicapped-accessible facilities. In 2010, the Park District learned it had been awarded a $500-thousand state grant for some of that work. Spokeswoman Laura Auteberry says getting that money could be in question, but the $3-million in renovations will take place regardless.
"It's a reimbursement process," she said. "So there's just always some concern with the financial state that the state of Illinois is in as to whether or not we would actually get our money. But as far we've been told, the money is there, it's in the budget, it's guaranteed. And it can't be used for anything else."
Auteberry says finding the natural progression for that work has slowed things down.
"And trying to identify what that natural progression should be has taken quite a lot of time," Auteberry said. "You have ADA compliance issues, of course all the paint and plaster work that you don't necessarily want to do after you've put all new seats in. You don't want to do the paint and plaster work before you've torn the walls out do to the electrical."
With or without the grant, Auteberry says the work will get done, covering many expenses with reserves and general obligation bonds. The park board will set the theater's renovation schedule at its February 8th meeting.
Commissioner Jane Solon told the park board Wednesday night she recalls voting last year to do the work in installments. A record of that vote couldn't immediately be found, but Auteberry says the board can change its mind next month. If the Virginia work is done all at once, it's expected to take about 10 months.
And if the work is done in installments, Auteberry says one goal will always be to re-open in time for the film festival.
(photo courtesy of the Champaign Park District)
Due to the weather, Danville Mass Transit's 8 Douglas Park bus route will not operate east of Bowman in the Perrysville Road area on Thursday, January 19th. Other buses may be running late and some stops may be inaccessible. Call 217-431-0653 for more route information.
The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday that could determine a school district's responsibility to share information about teachers they have suspended or fired.
Jon White was teaching a grade school in Normal when parents complained he was abusing their daughters. He wasn't charged with a crime at the time, but the school did suspend him.
The next school year he was hired to teach second grade at Urbana's Thomas Paine Elementary. White was eventually found out, and is serving a 60-year sentence for sexually abusing 10 girls. The parents of two Urbana victims claim school officials in Normal should have alerted Urbana about the previous complaints.
Governments usually have wide immunity from lawsuits. But Sean Britton, an attorney for one of the victims, says this is not an ordinary case of government neglect.
"This is not the circumstance where a bomb squad fails to adequately cordon off a bomb and protect members of the public," Britton said. "This is a circumstance where the bomb squad takes that bomb, puts it in a package and mails it to another municipality, and says, 'We don't know what's in that package.'"
Attorney James Kearns represents McLean County District 5, where White taught when the original complaints were made. He told the Urbana school that they are at fault.
"You hired this guy without doing any kind of a check on him at all." said Kearns, who also said the Supreme Court has generally ruled employers have no responsibility in making it public why they terminated a contract with a past employee.
"This court has noted multiple times there's no duty from one employer to another to warn anything about an employee," he said.
Justices could take months to issue a ruling.
In response to this case (SCOIL Case No. 112479), Illinois has made a law that addresses the situation in the future. It requires schools that suspect an employee of abuse to report it to the state.
Plans for reducing the front desk staff and cutting lobby hours at Champaign Police Headquarters became one of the most controversial parts of budget cuts approved by the City Council last year. Now, despite the staff cuts, police officials say they've found a way to keep the front desk open to the public on evenings and overnights. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows talked with Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels about the new arrangement.
(Photo courtesy of the city of Champaign)
A center dedicated to railroad education and research is being set up on the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus thanks to a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The NURail Center will be under the director of U of I Professor Chris Barkan. He said a lot of the work that will take place will focus on improving the safety and reliability of rail transportation. Barkan explained that will include coming up with better ways to transport hazardous materials, and addressing challenges in using rail corridors for both higher-speed passenger trains and freight trains.
"As we want to operate at higher speeds, there's a continuous quest among both the industry and government to further improve safety," Barkan said. "If you look at the data on railroad safety; they've done nothing but get better and better over the last couple of decades. And the idea is that we want to continue that trend."
The U of I is leading a consortium of other universities involved in the project, including the University of Illinois-Chicago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan Technological University, University of Kentucky, University of Tennessee and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
"Illinois has the nation's best programs in rail engineering and transit system development and operation, and these UTC's (Urban Transportation Centers) will help the nation and region prepare for future freight and passenger rail needs," said U of I President Michael Hogan
There are several rail projects are underway in Illinois, including upgrading a Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor for 110 mph service.
Decatur will soon have taxi service again.
The city council Tuesday night agreed to issue a license to A1 Taxi, a company operated by Anthony Walker.
Walker previously ran AOK Taxi, but his license was revoked after he allegedly used an unregistered vehicle, and made unannounced changes to the company's fleet. City Manager Ryan McCrady said he is hopeful the same problems won't happen again.
"Many people might be surprised that we re-issued a license to a gentleman who was involved in the operations of that company, too," McCrady said. "But at the end of the day, you have to put that stuff aside and figure out what's right for your community. Our community needs a taxi service. We have transportation needs in our community that can't be fulfilled efficiently through public transit, and a taxi service is the best way to solve that need."
McCrady said the city will work with Walker closer this time around to make sure the taxis are safe and the company is well regulated. He added that A1 Taxi should be up at running within a couple of weeks.
Indiana House Democrats say they'll go to court to challenge the $1,000-a-day fines they face for their legislative boycott over the right-to-work bill.
Democratic leader Patrick Bauer says he believes the House leadership doesn't have the legal authority to deduct the fines from pay checks of members. A similar court challenge is pending from fines imposed on Democratic legislators who took part in last year's five-week boycott.
House Republicans voted Wednesday to impose the fines after Democrats skipped the House session for the fifth time in 10 days it has tried to meet this month.
Republican Speaker Brian Bosma says he intends to begin withholding the fines immediately from the boycotters' paychecks. He says the deductions are legal.
The city of Champaign has managed to avoid two cuts in public service that were proposed as part of cuts to the city budget.
One of the cuts would have involved closing the front desk at police headquarters on evenings and weekends. But Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels said the department had decided they can keep the desk open with reduced staff. Daniels says the front desk serves a vital role in public safety --- notably for people trying to reach a police officer without a phone.
"There have also been times when people ran into the police department because someone's chased, or they've recently been injured, or they've been in the area and it's freezing cold outside and there have nowhere else to go," Daniels said. "Under the new arrangements, police officers will come in off of patrol at times to fill in for front desk personnel who go on break."
At the same time, members of the Champaign firefighters union have agreed to wage and time concessions in a deal that will keep the 2nd engine company at Fire Station Four fully staffed. The union is providing 55-percent of the funding through wage and time concessions in a side-letter agreement that will run until June 30, 2013. Fire Chief Douglas Forsman said that means they can drop plans to reduce available fire companies on the west side of the city.
"We were always attempting to limit the impact by essentially browning out the least busy fire company in the city," Forsman said. "However, there was going to be an impact, no question about that. And that has been avoided."
The two proposed cutbacks had been among the most controversial ones proposed during last year's cuts to the Champaign City budget. Both became issues during last year's mayoral and city council elections.
Indiana House Republicans have approved $1,000-a-day fines against Democratic legislators who are boycotting over a right-to-work bill.
The Republicans approved the fines in a voice vote Wednesday morning as most of the Democratic representatives gathered in the Statehouse Rotunda for what they called an open caucus meeting to discuss the bill to ban union contracts with mandatory representation fees.
The Democrats began their meeting surrounded by hundreds of union supporters, with more watching from the balconies above.
Republican Speaker Brian Bosma had demanded that Democrats end their boycott and give the House enough members present to begin debating proposed amendments to the bill.
Most Democrats resumed their walkout after questions arose about the constitutionality of the statewide referendum they're seeking on the proposal. Bosma calls their action a delay tactic.
Indiana's first specialty license plate that benefits gay causes is now available for purchase.
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles says the Indiana Youth Group plate has been available since Dec. 28. The plate bears a logo with hands in rainbow colors reaching up out of a circle.
Some $25 from sales of each $40 plate goes to the group serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
Youth Group Director Mary Byrne tells The Indianapolis Star ( http://indy.st/zl90uE ) that Indiana is the second state in the nation with a specialty plate benefiting gay youths. She says Maryland was the first.
The Youth Group sued the state in 2010 after the BMV twice turned down its request for a specialty plate. Both sides later reached an agreement and the plate was approved.
(Photo courtesy of BMV)
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