Illinois Public Media News
Spending cuts and a new working cash bond issue are the recommendation from the Champaign School District's finance director as a way to get the district through the new couple of years.
Gene Logas told school board members Monday night that he thinks the district should cut two million dollars from next year's budget, while issuing 2 million in working cash bonds. Another 2 million dollars would be cut from the budget the following year. Logas says the changes are needed to counter a decrease in state aid, a declining district fund balance and falling tax revenue due to tax caps and slow growth in the Consumer Price Index.
"I looked at the possibility of making no cuts at all", says Logas. "Making no cuts at all, though, sets us up with that five-million dollar deficit for next year, and puts us in a very precarious position. I just don't think we can do that."
Logas says even with a cut in spending, Unit four's fund balance will be lowered --- but will remain at an acceptable level.
But while the Unit Four school board considered possible budget cuts, it also considered new spending, thanks to the new school construction sales tax. Architects presented initial plans for the district's new magnet schools ---- a new Booker T. Washington school and an expanded Garden Hills school.
Preliminary designs for the new Booker T Washington School calls its classrooms "learning studios" with easy access to common areas, renamed "piazzas". Meanwhile, an expanded Garden Hills school building would include large spaces for art and music studies, and a stage that could be directed to both indoor and outdoor audiences.
School board members were impressed by the designs, although some wondered if all the ideas would be practical. Board member Susan Grey said that when they take a vote November 9th, board members will keep affordability in mind.
"The architects are going to throw all this cool stuff at us, and we're going to go, 'wow, that's great!' ", says Grey. "Then, when you actually start putting dollar figures to these things, there's things that may change along the way, because we have that stewardship, that responsibility, to our taxpayers, to use those dollars in the best possible way."
Champaign County's new school facility sales tax will pay for the new school buildings. A vote on the school designs is expected November 9th. Work on next year's budget will continue through the winter.
Urbana's economic development manager says two hotel operating groups are interested in the Historic Lincoln Hotel.
Tom Carrino didn't name the two companies during Monday night's Urbana City Council meeting. But he says both are interested in possibly bringing a major hotel brand to the facility --- while preserving the building's architectural integrity.
The Historic Lincoln was designed by local architect Joseph W. Royer. It opened in 1924 and closed last March --- about the same time it was acquired by Marine Bank of Springfield in a foreclosure. Its previous owners had struggled to compete with newer hotels located closer to interstate highways. Carrino says the Historic Lincoln's location in downtown Urbana may be a plus to the two hotel groups now considering the property.
"That means that it's relatively close to the University of Illinois", says Carrino. "It's close to some major employers in downtown Urbana. The fact that it was involved in a foreclosure, the bank is motivated to sell the property. That means that a good hotel group could get the property at a relatively reasonable price.
Carrino says he expects both companies will prepare competing offers to Marine Bank for the Historic Lincoln in the coming weeks. He says both companies have discussed possible tax incentives with city officials --- those incentives would be possible due to the hotel's location in a Tax Increment Finance District and a city Enterprise Zone.
The first part of what will become a solar house will be delivered to the University of Illinois' Urbana campus today.
Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Patrick Chapman says students have so far designed the 'shell' of the Gable Home. That was put together by a builder in Goodfield, and is now coming to campus for students in engineering and architecture to finish details like painting, cabinets, heating and air conditioning, as well as special equipment like the solar array. Chapman says the house was designed specifically for Central Illinois. "This particular house has what's called super insulated walls, very specially designed windows, and so forth," says Chapman. "So you get free heating in the winter and free cooling in the summer, in effect. And according to my calculations, it only would take $75 worth of electricity to heat and cool the house for the entire year."
The passive house was also designed with the region in mind - reclaiming wood from dilapidated barns. It will be moving again this fall. The students will be taking the Gable Home to the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC in October. There, the house will be judged in 10 different areas of competition, including energy balance, comfort, lighting, and architecture. The U of I will be competing against 19 other schools. But the resting place for the Gable Home for the next few months will be south of the ACES library on South Goodwin Avenue in Urbana.
There are new signs that the University of Illinois' Lincoln Hall is going to get its long-awaited renovation soon.
Last fall the university decided to transfer all courses to other lecture halls. Now the process of moving offices out of the aging Lincoln Hall has begun, first with the political science department.
Matthew Tomaszewski is an assistant dean with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, whose offices are also being moved out. He says now is the best time to vacate Lincoln Hall in case Governor Pat Quinn signs the capital bill on his desk - the bill that includes the bulk of the 57 million dollar project.
"This is our opportunity to vacate the building, said Tomaszewski. "If we don't vacate now and the money comes through, we're stuck because we can't move in the fall -- the students are back on campus, visiting offices; the faculty are engaged."
Tomaszewski says even though the capital bill hasn't been signed yet, the U of I will start removing asbestos from Lincoln Hall over the summer - it had committed to do so before the three-year renovation begins.
An Urbana city official says the owner of the Historic Lincoln Hotel and the bank that foreclosed on the property are still in negotiations.
Economic Development Manager Tom Carrino says Marine Bank and Global Hotel Management are still talking, with hopes of transferring the bank's ownership back to the company.
Carrino says he spoke with both sides on Friday, a day after a company subsidiary that owned the hotel filed for Chapter Seven bankruptcy. The filing automatically canceled a sheriff's foreclosure sale that had been scheduled for Friday.
The Historic Lincoln Hotel closed last month, after Marine Bank foreclosed on the property. Despite that, Global Hotel Management announced plans to renovate the building and open it with a new operator next year. The hotel in downtown Urbana was designed by local architect Joseph Royer and first opened in the 1920s.
The Champaign City Council hopes to vote again next week on an agreement on what to do with Burnham 310 project. The high-rise and condo project is behind schedule, and council members are divided on whether to let other builders submit bids to complete it.
The Pickus Companies has missed construction deadlines and had trouble paying bills on the Burnham 310 building. Only 6 of its 18 floors are cleared for occupancy. And work hasn't even begun on condos and townhomes just west of the high-rise. Company principal Jeff Pickus says the upper floors will get a permit for occupancy this week, and other fixes are underway. But Councilman Tom Bruno says the city should open up the rest of the project to other bidders. "I don't think we have a valid agreement with Pickus, said Bruno. "I think they've breached the contract with the city".
But Mayor Jerry Schweighart says Pickus made a strong proposal for the Burnham site when other developers let the city down, and he wants to stand by them. "I think PIckus stuck with us," the mayor said. "That project, as far as I'm concerned, is going great on the 310. Give them a chance to show us what they can do on the rest of the project.
City council members deadlocked Tuesday night on proposals to amend the Burnham project schedule --- one with Pickus only , the other allowing bids from other builders. Councilwoman Gina Jackson was absent, so under council rules, the vote will be re-taken the next time the council meets with full attendance.
Meanwhile, council members endorsed letting Niemann Foods, owner of the County Market supermarket at the Burnham 310 site, buy the store property, as well as a lot across the street it uses for parking. The County Market will be allowed to expand its parking at the site --- crowding out a condominium that was part of the Burnham project. Those units could move to another site just west of the Burnham 310 building. But Jeff Pickus said he hoped the city would allow a revised project at the site with fewer units.
Not long ago, one of Ford County's landmarks was falling apart. But since then, two preservation groups have helped convert it into a museum that explains how the area was established. Those responsible for rehabbing the old Paxton water tower and pump house are getting a statewide honor. AM 580s Jeff Bossert reports.
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