Illinois Public Media News
The Vermilion County coroner says two young girls who died in a house fire in Danville were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Coroner Peggy Johnson said Thursday that preliminary results of autopsies conducted on 5-year-old Deziray Mott and 4-year-old Seiona Haywood showed that they had inhaled large amounts of smoke and soot from the fire in their home.
The house caught fire early Wednesday morning. Two adults and two young boys escaped the blaze.
Fire investigators have said they believe the fire was started by children playing with a lighter.
Health officials are moving forward with a plan to transfer residents living in Rantoul's Cherry Orchard apartments to new homes.
This is in response to health concerns that have marred the apartment complex for nearly two and a half years. Health inspectors learned in Sep. 2007 that there was something wrong with the Cherry Orchard apartments after discovering sewage seeping from a septic system into nearby farmland. Since then, there have been reports of mold, inadequate heating, and power outages.
The landlords of the property, Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo, promised that by late last year they would address the septic tank issue by moving tenants into housing units that were up to code. Ramos told health officials that he would vacate two of the apartment buildings (#7 and #8) by Dec. 3. Then two other complexes (#2, #3, and #4) were supposed to be unoccupied by Dec. 20. Jim Roberts is the Director of Environmental Health with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD). Roberts said there is only one building known to have a fully functioning septic system (#6).
"Ramos agreed to move people from occupied buildings to maybe another building that would have a properly treated sewage, and he failed to do so," Roberts explained. "What we're trying to do is we're trying to eliminate the people from the places that we know have raw, untreated sewage."
By Wednesday afternoon, there were still around a dozen residents living in the apartments. The landlords of the Cherry Orchard apartments are scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 24 for failing to move their tenants and fix their sewer and septic systems as originally promised.
"I don't have enough money to move to another apartment," said one tenant who has lived at Cherry Orchard with her four children for the last year and a half. "It's not good for someone to live there."
The Cherry Orchard apartments are home to many migrant workers who spend part of the year in Rantoul working for one of the large agricultural companies, like Pioneer, Monsanto, or Syngenta. Many of those workers move to Rantoul in the summer to work during the harvest season, and leave before the winter.
"We need to prevent people from moving in there until this (health) issue is addressed," CUPHD administrator Julie Pryde said.
After a meeting Wednesday night between health officials and the tenants, the Salvation Army agreed to temporarily move Cherry Orchard's current residents into hotels. The CUPHD is now trying to move those individuals into permanent homes with assistance from other human service agencies, like the United Way and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
The Cherry Orchard apartments, located on U.S. 45, are in an unincorporated part of Rantoul, making it difficult for health officials to enforce zoning ordinances. Pryde said her department is pushing to tighten the county's housing codes.
"It's not a problem that does not have a solution," she said.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District)
A longtime columnist for The News-Gazette has left the paper after nearly 60 years.
Malcolm Nygren, a former minister with Champaign's First Presbyterian Church, joined the Gazette in 1953 along with about a half dozen other ministers recruited by the paper. Each of the ministers quit after writing a single column, but Nygren stuck around.
Nygren's columns often described different aspects of his life through the lens of the Christian faith. He said his editorials were never overtly religious, but reflected his feelings about major events ranging from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the birth of his daughters. He added that many of his columns could be read and interpreted on multiple levels.
"For some people it came at a time in their life when it was something they really needed, and it was useful for them," Nygren said. "It means different things to different people."
The Gazette's opinions editor Jim Dey was the first person each week to read over the column. He praised Nygren for always meeting a deadline, and writing in clear language that rarely required an edit.
"Writers come and go, and newspapers hopefully are here for the duration, and so people will get used to it," Dey said. "Nothing good lasts forever, and (Malcolm) Nygren's column is an example of that."
Dey said the News Gazette has no immediate plans to replace the column.
In his final editorial, Nygren wrote, "For the writer, it is a lot better to quit before you have to quit." But Nygren said he is not give up writing just yet. Readers can still follow his columns on his blog, "Byline: Malcolm Nygren."
"I will write when I want to, not on a deadline," Nygren said. "I'll get the good part of the job, and not have to have the pressure of it."
(Photo courtesy of Malcolm Nygren)
Champaign's Virginia Theatre re-opens this week after six months of privately funded work to the lobby and concession stand.
The downtown facility has yet to use $500,000 in state grant dollars for plaster work and theater lighting. But Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said that work is expected to take longer, likely about eight months. With movie showings and concerts now scheduled into May, Auteberry said the park district will likely postpone closing the Virginia again until 2012. The schedule includes Roger Ebert's 13th Annual Film Festival.
Auteberry said lots of changes have already taken place since July, including paint and plaster work, a new concession stand, lighting, and carpeting extending into the upper lobby. The decision to move the state grant-funded work to will officially be made at the next park district board meeting Jan. 12. Auteberry said that is also when the board hopes to approve the design for a new marquee on the theater, after reviewing options from a sign company.
"They're going to be looking at redesigned designs, that Wagner (Electric Sign Company) has prepared, and hopefully deciding on a final design," Auteberry said. "Once we get a final design done, I don't think it will take them long to put it up."
The Virginia has been without a marquee the last several weeks. The park district board voted last summer to replace the sign with one resembling the 1921 original, despite complaints from local preservationists. The old vaudeville house re-opens Friday night for the annual Chorale concert. The park district also hopes to schedule an open house in February to show off recent upgrades.
Students Adopt StoryCorps Model to Learn English
Every week on NPR, people share their memories and stories on the long-running series, StoryCorps. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, a Champaign elementary school is adopting the StoryCorps model - complete with musical backgrounds -- as a way to teach English.
Champaign city leaders may have taken the wraps off a new public recreation space southeast of downtown, but it is still covered in a thick layer of snow.
Beneath the snow is a new detention basin, the latest phase of the Boneyard Creek flood control project that's been decades in the making. However, city councilman Michael LaDue says the 11-million dollar Second Street Reach project is much more than just a place to hold excess water.
"On the ground it looks better than it looked on paper, and every effort was made by highly trained professionals to make it look as good on paper as possible," LaDue said during Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. "This beats the schematics. This is spectacular."
The pond is surrounded by walking paths, water features and a small amphitheater. Work also surrounded a stone-arch bridge in a corner of the park, one of the original bridges over Boneyard Creek from the mid 19th-century. City planner T. J. Blakeman said some additional work still needs to be done on the site - much of it to be done in the spring. But he said the walking paths are now open to the public.
(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)
Two new reports released by the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society shed some light on the state of underrepresented minority students at the University of Illinois.
The first report, which looks at graduate education at the U of I, refers to campus data from the 2009 Strategic Plan Progress Report and population statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the study, African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians groups in 2009 comprised a little more than 30 percent of the state's population. Meanwhile, the percent of those groups represented in the U of I's graduate school was significantly lower at around seven percent.
"The University has a persistent problem of inequity," said U of I African American studies Professor Jennifer Hamer, who helped write the study. "This is a public university, a flagship public land-grant university, and we don't have a population that represents the state, let alone the nation."
The report also found that in fall 2009, there were no Hispanic, African American, and American Indian students enrolled in many graduate level programs.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler issued a statement saying the university is committed to diversity in higher education, including graduate education.
"We have worked for many years to attract the best and brightest minority students to campus," Kaler said.
Hamer said she has been encouraged by conversations with the university's administrators about diversifying the campus.
"They clearly see diversity as a value to the campus," Hamer said. "Now, the question is how do they respond to that? Well, I think once you define something as a value, you set policy and practices that emphasize it."
Kaler noted some examples of campus-wide initiatives dedicated to attracting minority students to Illinois:
"Many initiatives across campus are dedicated to bringing excellent minority students to Illinois. For example, the Young Scholars Program in ACES, LAMP (LIS Access Midwest Program) in GSLIS, SURGE (Support for Under-Represented Groups in Engineering) and SROP (Summer Research Opportunities Program) and the Graduate College Fellows program in the Graduate College. Recently, the P&G Science Diversity Summit, a collaborative event among the College of ACES, College of Engineering, College of LAS and the Graduate College, brought partners from minority serving institutions to campus to create new partnerships and initiatives to support diversity in graduate programs at Illinois."
The second report released involved 11 focus groups with 82 minority students who were interviewed about their reactions to 'racial microaggressions' made in the residence halls (elevators, chalkboards, dorm room doors) and elsewhere on campus.
The report defined racial microaggressions as "race-related encounters that happen between individuals. Individual level encounters can be verbal, nonverbal, or behavioral exchanges between people. Microaggressions can also occur on the environmental level, which are race-related messages that individuals receive from their environment."
The report is coauthored by Drs. Stacy A. Harwood who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning; Ruby Mendenhall, an Assistant Professor in the departments of Sociology, African American Studies, and Urban and Regional Planning; and Margaret Browne Huntt, the Research Specialist at the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society.
Hunt said students who were interviewed perceived racial slurs negatively, even comments that were considered harmless.
"What we were finding is that the students were receiving the various forms of racism to be as hostile, derogatory," Huntt said. "Some students actually contemplated leaving the university because of these forms of racism that take place."
Students in the study that saw racial slurs written in dormitory elevators stated that they were more upset about the slurs not being removed immediately.
"I went to the front desk and I told them about it and it was a Caucasian girl there and she was just like, we've been hearing about it all day, and she kind of blew it off," one student said. "Then my floor had a meeting about the whole situation and my RA told me that nobody told them about the racial slurs on the elevator."
The report concluded that faculty and students should undergo training to help identify and stop racism, even when it is presented in an unintentional and subtle way.
"Some students won't speak up in class cause they feel like when they do say things, students won't believe their experience," Mendenhall said.
Huntt and Mendenhall said they are not sure if offensive racial comments at the U of I correlate with the number of underrepresented minority students as this was not part of their study.
The Savoy 16 is offering monthly screenings with the volume in the theatre turned down, and the lights brought up. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, it is part of an effort by the theatre's parent company to accommodate children with neurological disorders.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Champaign's school board is scheduled to vote next week on the design of a new grade school in Savoy.
A Unit 4 board member who is an architect said the key to the new Carrie Busey Elementary building will be flexibility in educational space. Christine Chalifoux said older school facilities have a hard time helping some students, since many kids develop at a different pace while they are still in the same classroom.
The Savoy grade school will feature collaboration spaces that teachers can adjust based on different teaching styles. Chalifoux said Unit 4 is taking the right approach with this building.
"We try to teach the way the kids learn," Chalifoux said. "We need flexibility in spaces. We need places we can have break-outs so we can have large groups. We can have special projects and things like that, and that's really been important in all three of these new schools: BTW (Booker T. Washington), Garden Hills, and the new Carrie Busey."
Champaign School Board member Greg Novak said the collaborative space concept is already in place at Stratton and Barkstall elementary schools.
Savoy Village Trustee Joan Dykstra said the configuration of classroom space and open areas will pay dividends for the school district and neighborhood, but she said the school will get its share of use in evening and weekend hours as well.
"There's agreements too that the building will be able to be used for multiple events," Dykstra said.
Dykstra explained that the plans for the new grade school have also been well thought out for special education needs, adding that she appreciates the traffic pattern for buses and parents to pick up and drop off students.
The preliminary design of the Savoy school also allows the library to serve as the anchor, with classrooms grouped around it. A second story will be built to allow for additional outdoor play space. The new Carrie Busey school is scheduled to open in 2012.
The head of a Champaign social service agency said its name had become too narrow when examining its broad range of services.
New signs are up at the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, changing its name to Community Elements.
CEO Shelia Ferguson said the name change came as a result of three-year strategic plan. She said it reflects the fact that the agency does much more than help those with conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. She said it has also been reaching out to the homeless.
"We also have residential services and shelters and community kitchens," Ferguson said. "So this allowed us to have a dialogue with the community that we're more than mental health, but also to allow people to come meet us, reach out to us, if there needs were other than mental health."
Ferguson said the name change will also help the agency do more with less, by partnering with other social service groups in the community.
"We also need to partner where we can save money, where we can deliver services better, more efficiently," she said. "Where we can deliver services to the people who need then, who aren't community-based because they're limited by transportation or other resources in order to get to us. So you'll see a lot more partnership, a lot more discussing amongst social service agencies to make sure that continuum of care is available to those who need it in Champaign County."
Ferguson said Community Elements is still dealing with slow payments from the state. It's owed about $2.5 million between the last and current fiscal years.
(Photo courtesy of Community Elements)
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