Illinois Public Media News
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today is expected to sign a bill that legalizes civil unions. About 1,000 people are expected to be on hand for the ceremony at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Illinois legislators approved civil unions late last year. The bill would allow same sex couples hospital visitation rights and the ability to share insurance policies. State Rep. Greg Harris was instrumental in getting the bill passed.
"This is a huge moment for people in Illinois and people feel that they have a lot of their future invested in this," Harris said.
But David Kelly, with the Illinois Family Institute, said he opposes the legislation. He said civil unions could lead to the state allowing gay marriage.
"Marriage always will be the union of one man and one woman," Kelly said.
Gov. Pat Quinn calls the legislation a civil rights issue. Once signed, the measure will go into effect June 1st.
Every two years during the last week of January, communities across the country try to answer a difficult question: How many people are living without permanent shelter? This point in time survey is the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's effort to determine the number of homeless people nationwide and understand more about their characteristics. CU-CitizenAccess reporter Dan Petrella went along on this year's count in Champaign-Urbana.
(Photo by Acton Gorton/CU-CitizenAccess)
The independent documentary, "For Once in My Life," will be screened at Illinois Public Media's Community Cinema series. The film is an infectious, expectation-defying look at the Spirit of Goodwill band, a unique assembly of singers and musicians with a wide range of mental and physical challenges. The screening will be followed by a discussion of local issues. Community Engagement Producer Henry Radcliffe talks about the documentary will Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn.
A Champaign teacher who spent three weeks in China is taking his lessons to local youth.
Doug Butler visited nine Chinese cities, as part of trip funded by the Freeman Foundation and Indiana University's National Consortium for Teaching about Asia. The 6th grade teacher at Jefferson Middle School said the goal of the rip was to create a lesson plan to bring back to local classrooms.
The trip was also supported by the University of Illinois' Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, which is now loaning out Chinese Culture Boxes to grade school through high school-age kids. Butler said he hopes sharing his experiences from his trip with his student will broaden their horizons.
"We live in a country where we seem to be a little ethno-centric to only U.S. history," he said. "Number two in the economy behind the US is China, and they're our biggest training partner, and they should be introduced to them."
Contents of the culture boxes range from Chinese coins and toys, to historical references and artifacts from the Communist era. Terms for borrowing the boxes can range from a few days to a few weeks, and should be arranged with the U of I. Anyone wishing to borrow the boxes should contact Sandy Burklund at the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies at 333-4850 or e-mail the center at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is located in the International Studies building on South Fifth Street in Urbana.
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)
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