Illinois Public Media News
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)
University of Illinois administrators want its Extension service to develop a campus-level location to better promote its mission and fundraising.
The campus review of Extension has been completed, in a year when some offices have closed and jobs have been cut. But the report does not suggest eliminating any more jobs. In the latest of cost cutting measures entitled 'Stewarding Excellence', Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Richard Wheeler said Extension should consider moving from its current location within the school of ACES to a campus level position.
The letter co-signed by Vice President and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter also suggests that would increase U of I Extension's visibility and opportunities for funding. But Wheeler says a lot has yet to be determined, including making sure that any further re-structuring be done while considering USDA regulations.
"Making sure that we are staying within the permissible ranges of that extensive regulatory system, and the funding mechanism for that matter," Wheeler said. "Most of extension money comes from outside the campus, and will be very crucial. But I don't think any of us can anticipate exactly what organization will emerge at the end."
The 'next steps' for U of I Extension also asks that its Interim Dean Robert Hoeft and Associate Chancellor Bill Adams generate a plan to implement these recommendations, which include combining the functions of Public Engagement and Extension into one office to 'bring coherence to an outreach portfolio that has traditionally been diffuse and poorly aligned.'
They are to develop a preliminary report by early spring. Wheeler says there's no clear-cut model from other states for running the extension service. He said the present model has just worked for Illinois, since the programs involve more than agriculture.
An omnibus spending bill was voted down in the U.S. Senate Thursday, because of Republican opposition to earmarks. Those earmarks included funding for three projects at the University of Illinois. Terry McLennand with the university's Office of Federal Relations said they are preparing to try again to get the funding from the new congress to be sworn in next month.
The largest of the three funding requests was $3.2 million to help pay for a cyber-security project the U of I is working on with the U-S Navy. McLennand said partnering with other agencies like the Navy could help in efforts to win federal funding through the authorization process, rather than through an appropriations process such as earmarks. But he added that it is easier in times when, in his words, "the money is cheap".
"Institutions such as the University of Illinois have tremendous faculty, and tools that can be brought to bear on national defense needs," McLennand said. "But it's a question of, is funding going to be available to do these things. You certainly would think so, but those are going to be the challenges going forward."
Besides the cyber-security project, the U of I also had earmarks in the failed spending bill to provide $617,000 for a new crop breeding program at the College of ACES; and $500,000 in continuing funding for "Cease Fire", a neighborhood crime prevention program based at the university's Chicago campus.
McLennand said the university will be working with both Democratic and Republican members of the Illinois delegation to secure funding for the projects in the new congress. And while he says the use of earmarks may decline under the new Republican leadership in the House, he still thinks Senator Dick Durbin will be able to help the university in the Democrat-led Senate.
"Senator Durbin has been very strong in his support of congressionally directed funding," said McLennand, using a term he prefers to describe earmarks. "That's how a delegation can support their state and their districts."
McLennand said funding from earmarks accounts for only about five to eight million dollars of federal funding for University of Illinois projects --- compared to $650 million secured through federal grants and contracts. As for the three projects that failed to win earmarked funding this week, McLennand said they will continue next year in smaller forms, with funding from other sources.
Wind Turbine Project Gets Smaller As Urbana Residents Learn About Energy Plan
A plan to generate renewable energy by constructing three wind turbines on the University of Illinois' South Farms site has been scaled down to one turbine located on the corner of Old Church Road and Philo Road.
The project is estimated to cost $4.5 million, and the university said it can only afford to support one tower with that budget.
"It's unlikely we'll be able to do more than one at this time," said Morgan Johnston, the University of Illinois' sustainability and transportation coordinator.
Voters in the Urbana Park District will be asked to approve an 11-cent property tax increase to help pay for a new outdoor swimming pool complex at Crystal Lake Park.
The Urbana Park Board voted Tuesday to place the question on the April 5 ballot. The increase would be added to a park district tax rate that is already higher than its counterpart in Champaign.
The old Crystal Lake Pool was shut down in 2008 due to electrical and other problems. Urbana Park Board President Michael Walker said having an outdoor pool in Urbana is important to the community, but he conceded that the tax hike request is a difficult one to make in the current economy.
"We understand it's not the best of economic times," Walker said. "The flipside of that is interest rates and construction costs are lower right now than they will be once the economy warms up a bit."
The proposed aquatic center would also be a more ambitious facility than the 1970s-era pool it would replace. Instead of a single pool, the $7.725 million aquatic center would include a multi-lane competition pool, a deep plunge pool with a drop slide, two leisure pools, and areas for picnics and sand play.
Walker says the larger facility is what Urbana needs.
"We've looked at some that were a bit more modest," he said. "The area where we're shooting for on this is about where you have to be to get the kind of usage that will justify the facility."
The Urbana Park District also operates an indoor aquatic center in conjunction with Urbana High School, but Walker said that is not enough to serve the community's needs.
If approved, the 11-cent tax referendum would come on top of a 15-cent property tax increase approved in 2009. That helped pay for park district operations, plus design work on the aquatic center. Walker says the Urbana Park District would also look for grants and private donations to help pay for the facility. Walker says the tax increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $37 a year.
A coroner said the mayor of Illinois' capital city died in his home of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Sangamon County Coroner announced the finding Wednesday after an autopsy on 53-year-old Timothy Davlin. His body was found the previous day after a 911 call directed Springfield police to the two-term officeholder's home.
The shooting happened the same day Davlin was to appear in court as ordered in a probate case involving the estate of one of his cousins. Davlin reportedly missed a court deadline for a financial accounting of the estate.
Davlin had been Springfield mayor since 2003 and has announced he would not seek a third term.
An alderman, Frank Kunz, is mayor pro tem. City law requires that a new mayor be selected within 60 days.
Funeral services for Davlin will be this weekend. Staab Funeral Home said visitation will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday at Springfield's Blessed Sacrament Church, where Davlin's funeral will be at 10 a.m. Saturday. Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery, with the procession passing Davlin's former mayoral office.
Contributions may be made to the Timothy J. Davlin Grandchildren Scholarship Fund in care of Heartland Credit Union or the Blessed Sacrament Building fund.
View Funeral Route in a larger map
The Champaign County Board has taken the initial steps towards reducing the number of its members after voters overwhelmingly supported the measure to reduce the size of the board.
The 27-member board takes a formal vote next Tuesday on a resolution to reduce that number to 22, but representing 11 districts rather than 9. The board's committee of the whole Tuesday night supported the measure on a 23 to 1 vote. Seventy four percent of voters backed the change in an advisory referendum last month, but Democrat Alan Kurtz said it is possible other proposals could come forward next week.
"People are looking for efficiency and saving of money," Kurtz said. "I think if we had put in 18, or we had put in 25, or any number, they (voters) would have voted for it. 22-11, I still have reservations about that. We can bring in othe resolutions next week. This was an advisory."
Kurtz sits on the county's redistricting commission. He said the resolution does put that panel in a bit of a quandary - since it has to wait for census numbers to determine the 11 new districts. The change would take effect with the 2012 election.
Republican Alan Nudo called a 22-member board a start and a compromise, since the county's Farm Bureau doesn't want single-member districts, but he said this change should appeal to rural residents.
"They will have the chance with smaller district size to have somebody representing them who understands agriculture and rural issues," Nudo said. "I've worked hard at it, and I'm not ashamed at what I've gotten accomplished. They just awarded a number of us the 'Friend of the Farm Bureau' award. But that being said, I would prefer to see more rural representation that's pure."
The only 'no' vote came from Democrat Lloyd Carter Jr., who said problems lie in the board's membership, not its size.
Springfield residents are shocked and grieving at the loss of Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin, who was found dead at his home on the city's west side Tuesday morning. Davlin, a son, father, and grandfather, was a popular public figure who recently announced he would not run for a third term as mayor. Officials say they will not detail a cause of death until an autopsy has been performed. One is scheduled for Wednesday. Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky has more on Davlin's life, and his death.
(Photo by Amanda Vinicky/IPR)
State Representative Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) is urging GOP Party leaders in his 105th House District to select his legislative aide to fill his seat in the General Assembly for one day as part of an honorary appointment.
Cultra said Russell Geisler, a retired employee with the Illinois Department of Transportation, has been a valuable staff member and has a long history of working with the Republican Party.
"He's gone to Springfield with me every day for eight years, and I just felt like it's a way that I could say thank you to him personally and from the party for their lifetime of service," Cultra said.
Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman is slated to be sworn into the seat on Jan. 10, a day after Cultra resigns to become a state senator. Barickman was appointed in November by Republican Party chairs in the legislative district to fill out Cultra's remaining House term. Cultra said Geisler would serve Jan. 9, and then resign from the seat to pass it on to Barickman.
Donna Giertz, a Champaign Republican committeemen, said appointing someone to the General Assembly as an award is inappropriate and hurts the Republican Party's image.
"This is a public office," Giertz said. "You don't appoint people to a public office to reward them. That's politics. Have a dinner, give them a plaque, and say, 'Thank you for all you've done.' I just can't believe he's doing that."
If Geisler's chosen for the legislative seat, he would serve on a day when the House is in session and could possible cast votes. Cultra said Giertz would have voting rights, but would not receive pension benefits or a salary. A group of Republican County Chairs in the 105th House District will vote Saturday on the special appointment. They will also decide whether to allow Barickman to take office before the new General Assembly is seated on Jan. 12.
The Urbana City Council is ready to approve historic landmark status for the old Urbana-Lincoln hotel.
Council members had held off on the vote for six months, for fear of scaring away developers for the downtown hotel, which has been closed for more than a year. But now, the Lincoln has a new owner and developer in Xiao Jin Yuan, who supports the landmark designation, according to City Planning Director Robert Myers. Myers said Yuan has already "plunged" into renovations for the 86-year-old hotel, from work on pipes wiring and other utility-related items to renovations to the building itself.
"He's (Yuan) lining up contractors for a new roof," Myers said. "He has plans to install a new porte-cochère at the entryway, and also new front doors."
The Urbana City Council endorsed local historic landmark status for the Urbana-Lincoln during a Committee-of-the-Whole meeting Monday night, with a final vote to come later. Myers said Yuan has already appeared before the Urbana Historic Preservation Commission, which must sign off on any major exterior changes to buildings with landmark status. Myers said the Lincoln is expected to be open again to receive guests sometime in 2011.
The Urbana-Lincoln Hotel was designed by local architect Joseph Royer, whose other buildings include the Champaign County Courthouse, the Urbana Free Library and Urbana High School. It is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the adjacent Lincoln Square Mall. The hotel was operated most recently as the Historic Lincoln Hotel until closing last year.
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