Illinois Public Media News
More than 200 grade school students in Champaign are learning their way around a new building.
Unit 4 bid farewell to Booker T. Washington Elementary school before the holidays. Its students, teachers, and staff will spend the next year and a half in the Columbia Center while the Washington building is demolished and replaced.
It's a time of mixed emotions for 3rd grade teacher Julie Peoples, who's in her 21st year with Washington Elementary. She's sad to see the building go, but she also serves on a committee that will oversee the new Washington's transition to a magnet school program. Peoples notes her current students will be first to graduate from that new school:
"They want to know when the wrecking ball is going to tear down the old school, and I keep saying, 'Drive by.' I don't even have a date yet," Peoples said. "People have even been calling me -- people in the community, ex-parents -- wanting to know how they can get a brick. I talked with the principal and she said we're going to start selling bricks and make some money for the school. So it's kind of exciting."
Peoples says she can't say enough about district staff that helped with the transition over the holiday break.
Unit 4's Columbia Center was built in 1903 and has seen five additions added since then, the most recent one built in 1965. It's been used as an elementary school, middle school, and most recently for alternative education.
Christmas is often a paid holiday for many workers. But not all holidays are treated the same.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce surveyed businesses and found a majority of employees are getting paid holidays on Christmas. The same goes for Thanksgiving and New year's. But when it comes to Jewish holidays... or ethnic ones... only a small fraction of businesses pay workers to take those days off.
Liz Kern with the state's Chamber says it's difficult for employers to maneuver myriad religious and secular holidays...
"As ethnicities, religion and even the calendar changes on an annual basis" says Kern, "Illinois employers have had a hard time keeping up with what holidays they should be observing and what trends are other employers seeing."
The Chamber's survey found New Year's Day is when most workers get a paid day off... followed closely by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Christmas is still near the top of the list but as for other religious holidays.. more workers get paid to take their birthdays off.
Some regular activities sometimes get short-shrift over the busy holiday season - donating blood is one of them.
Community Blood Services of Illinois is holding two blood drives Tuesday, hoping to get people into the bloodmobile at a time when donations often trail off. Spokeswoman Ashley Davidson says her agency has tried to plan in advance, knowing that fewer donors and continued high demand combine for a seasonal problem.
"We try to schedule as many drives as possible and we do a lot of in-center calling as well," Davidson said. "We really try to increase our total recruitment around this time, especially if we need certain blood types. We do try to cushion for it because we know at this time of year, our donations do go down."
Davidson says it takes about 500 donors every day in the region to keep the supply of blood at its member hospitals in east-central Illinois adequate. Right now she says there's a fairly serious shortage of type-O blood as well as A-negative and B-positive.
Tuesday's blood drives take place at Urbana's Provena Covenant Medical Center and at the U of I Employees Credit union main office in Champaign.
A new dispute has erupted among a utility, environmental officials and neighbors near a Champaign site that decades ago hosted a manufactured gas plant.
Ameren has been treating soil and groundwater on the site but maintains that contamination from the residue buried in the soil has not leached out into the surrounding area. The Champaign County Health Care Consumers disputes that, and today they say a nearby water main replacement project is digging up some of that questionable soil.
The group's director, Claudia Lenhoff, says Illinois American Water, Ameren and the city left neighbors in the dark over the safety of the water main project.
"This corridor here should be tested in order to remove any doubt to whether it's safe or not to be digging this soil and into the groundwater," Lennhoff said. "Just a few feet that way (toward the site itself) is contaminated."
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says the water company cleared the project with them. "We were aware of what they're doing. They are aware of what we're doing," Morris said. "They know what the extent of the contamination is. And there is no contamination that they would need to be concerned about.'
But one neighbor, Magnolia Cook, distrusts whatever Ameren is saying about the site's safety. "Ameren has never told us the truth about anything, so why would we believe what Ameren is saying as far as this site is concerned, "Cook said. "How come the Illinois EPA is not out here to see what's underneath this dirt while they're digging?"
Neighbors have questioned why the Illinois EPA issued a permit for the project using Ameren's test results. However, Randy West, local field operations superintendent with Illinois American Water, says they commissioned their own soil testing along the water main site, and found no evidence of any contamination from the old gas plant.
Army Major David Audo is being remembered as a well-liked person who never changed his outlook on life.
Hundreds lined the streets of St. Joseph to honor the memory of the 35-year old native of the village who died in Baghdad a week ago. His body arrived at Willard Airport Tuesday afternoon, then a procession of police and fire personnel accompanied Audo's body from the airport to a St. Joseph funeral home.
Amy McElroy was a classmate of Audo's from Kindergarten through his graduation from St. Joseph-Ogden High School in 1992. She says he made the world a better place. "Even when he got deployed this time, he was joking about his spa treatments in Iraq, about the exfoliation and the sauna," McElroy said. "He was that kind of guy, he was always in good spirits, always wanting to make everybody else feel better. We would say 'thank you for being over there,' and he would say 'this is what I want to do with my life.'"
In high school, Audo was an honors student, and was active in track as well as drama. St. Joseph-Odgen English teacher Larry Williams knew Audo both as a student and neighbor, and he says he was full of life, even as a young child.
Funeral services for Major David Audo will be at 1 Thursday at Living Word Fellowship Church in St. Joseph, with burial in Danville National Cemetery. Visitation is from 4-30 to 8 Wednesday at the Freese Funeral Home in St. Joseph.
Sunday night, America will see the fantasy that Philo residents Nathan and Jenny Montgomery and their family have been living since last August. The ABC reality show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" destroyed the family's dilapidated home and built them a new one, filled with new furnishings. Nathan Montgomery's creation of the Salt and Light food bank helped get them selected.
"Extreme Makeover" belongs to a TV genre that's often pummeled by critics for hype, over-commercialization and lowest-common-denominator values. But University of Illinois media observer James Hay says reality TV has real roots. He tells AM 580's Tom Rogers the shows grew out of an ethic that took hold as the century changed and Americans chose a conservative government.
A homeless community in Champaign appears to have a place to stay through the winter after several moves the last few months.
This weekend, cleanup will begin on 17 vacant rooms at Restoration Urban Ministries, with hopes that the residents the Safe Haven group can move in there in about three weeks. An agreement is being finalized between those two groups and Empty Tomb, which is providing the volunteers, including many contractors. The Safe Haven community was forced to leave the backyard of the Catholic Worker House in June when the city ruled its tents violated a zoning ordinance. The group has moved twice more since then, now staying in the parsonage center of St. Mary Catholic Church.
Empty Tomb's Sylvia Ronsvalle says many hours of work will be needed to bring Restoration's rooms up to code. "Plumbing issues that need to be addressed, there are holes in the drywall, there are water heaters that will have to be replaced," says Ronsvalle. "We have a donation of carpeting as well, since that will have to be replaced, and things need to be painted. So there's definitely work to be done." It's not known if Safe Haven will need all 17 rooms - but Ronsvale says it only makes sense to renovate them, so all of them will be available next spring when that group moves out. Area churches are securing the funds to collect the materials for completing the work in those rooms. Ronsvale estimates it will cost about $1,000 per room, with about $7,000 in donations collected so far.
The University of Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team is nearing the start of a new season. But because of a new edict from the coach, you shouldn't expect to get any practice updates from players who use the social networking site Twitter. Rob McColley of the Champaign-Urbana website Smile Politely reports for AM 580.
The advent of a potentially rough flu season means restrictions on visitors at at least one hospital in east-central Illinois.
Provena United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville is forbidding anyone under 18 from visiting patients during the influenza season. Chief nursing executive Molly Nicholson says it's to protect both patients and visitors from seasonal flu or H1N1. As for adult visitors, Nicholson is asking people to exercise their better judgment.
"If they are ill, our preference would certainly be that they not be here as visitors. If they must visit, we will ask them to wear a mask and use proper hand hygiene as they are visiting the facility," Nicholson said.
Nicholson says social isolation is effective at keeping influenza from spreading, particularly among children. Provena United Samaritans is asking parents with appointments to not bring their children along. But Nicholson says the restriction does not extend to children needing treatment.
In Urbana, Provena Covenant Medical Center and Carle Foundation Hospital both say children are still allowed to visit except for certain departments such as the neo-natal unit.
A new approach to helping emotionally-disturbed young people is getting nine million dollars in federal money.
Champaign County's Mental Health Board is implementing a new effort called the Access Initiative with the help of the state Division of Mental Health. It's meant to bring families more into the process of assisting troubled youngsters, and it's especially aimed at African-American cultural sensitivities.
Peter Tracy is the director of the county mental health board. He says previous methods of treating those children have not succeeded over time.
"Office-based therapy has not often been really successful with that population," Tracy said. "The departure is that this is a kind of outreach program where services are brought to the client and family as opposed of having them go to the office."
Under the grant, those services would be funded on a per-child basis instead of as a lump sum. They hope to serve about 200 children and teens, with families helping determine what form that assistance takes.
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