Illinois Public Media News
The U-S Commerce Department has awarded $22.5 million for Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband project. Now, the Champaign and Urbana city councils and the university of Illinois have 30 days to decide if they'll commit matching funds to the project --- a combined total of $1.3 million.
Champaign City Councilman Will Kyles says he's looking forward to a March 16 council meeting with the consultant the two cities hired to review the Big Broadband proposal. Kyles says he wants to ask Doug Dawson about his concerns with the long-term financial viability of the Big Broadband plan.
"I think it's more the sustainability piece that we're concerned about, as in his report he's projected that we would eventually start losing money. And he also talked about how technology is always changing. So I'd definitely want to talk to him," said Kyles
The federal stimulus money announced Tuesday would fund two major components of the Big Broadband project --- the installation of underground fiber-optic rings making up the backbone of service, and fiber-to-the-home installation of the service in areas considered underserved by broadband providers.
Two other components did not win federal funding. They're both aimed at expanding computer access for underserved populations. Big Broadband proponent Mike Smeltzer says efforts are already underway to re-enter those components in the 2nd round of federal funding.
The bid has been awarded, and the long-awaited transformation of one of the University of Illinois' most-used buildings should be underway by the end of the month.
On Tuesday the state awarded the largest bid for the $66 million project to a Peoria contractor. That clears the way for work to begin on Lincoln Hall, which has been empty for more than a year because of deteriorating conditions.
Joe Vitosky is with the U of I's Office of Capital Programs and Real Estate Services. He says when Lincoln Hall is finished in the summer of 2012, it will be a completely upgraded facility.
"Classrooms on the first and second floors, with offices on the third and fourth floors," Vitosky said, listing the changes. "The closed backstage area of the theatre will be converted to a new classroom. We'll have office space on all four floors, we'll replace the floor, ceiling and wall finishes, abate asbestos materials, and we'll be purchasing movable equipment."
But Vitosky says the theater and lecture hall which hosted thousands of U of I students over its 100-year history will still be there.
The U of I unsuccessfully tried to get the classroom facility updated for more than a decade until state lawmakers funded it last year as part of a capital construction program. Vitosky says despite remaining questions over how the state will fund the capital bill, the money is in hand.
Authorities say Champaign-Urbana landlord Gabriel Omo-Osagie shot his wife before turning the weapon on himself. The 51 year old Urbana Township man died Saturday in what Champaign County Sheriff's investigators say was a result of a domestic dispute.
The sheriff's office says that Omo-Osagie and his wife Stephanie Bond argued, after which Omo-Osagie took out a firearm and shot Bond several times before shooting himself. According to a sheriff's news release, an autopsy conducted Monday morning determined that Omo-Osagie's bullet wounds were consistent with a self-inflicted injury.
Omo-Osagie was a native of Nigeria who owned several apartment buildings in Champaign-Urbana under the name Gabe's Place. Court records show that he had been charged with domestic battery last November, and ordered to have no contact with his wife. But the order was modified to allow contact, and to let Omo-Osagie visit their home on Highcross Road, but not stay overnight.
The father of speed skater and Champaign native Katherine Reutter says the amount of effort put into Winter Olympic events should be viewed as a victory in itself.
Jay Reutter says getting past the intensity level in Vancouver served as a wakeup call for a daughter whose highest competition prior to last month was in the 2009 Speed Skating World Cup. Before Reutter earned silver and bronze medals, she competed in the women's 1,500 meter finals, finishing fourth. Jay Reutter says getting anywhere near the top in that event is a struggle, with a lot of bumping and pushing along the way. "I was happy with the way she fought," says Reutter. "I was happy with the way she handled herself in the races. She never gave up. She fought as hard as she could, and that's all I could have ever asked of her. But it was probably significantly more intense than she was prepared for. And some of that she had to try to play down just to try to keep control and be able to perform well."
Reutter later won the bronze medal in the ladies' speed skating 3,000 meter relay, and the silver medal Friday night in the ladies' 1,000 meter race. Jay Reutter coached her daughter through much of her youth, but says he can't take sole credit. He says former Olympic figure skater Erin Gleason did some additional coaching, while Champaign Centennial High School football coach Mike McDonell helped out on Katherine's approach to sports. She graduated from Centennial High in 2006. Jay Reutter says his daughter probably won't be satisfied until she's recognized as the world's top speed skater, and already plans to start training for the 2014 Winter Games in Russia.
After winning the silver medal, Reutter told her parents she'd donate the monetary value of both her medals, about $25,000, to her parents to remodel their basement. But Jay Reutter says they won't hold her to that pledge.
The Prairie Meadows subdivision in Savoy is among the areas that could be annexed into the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District later this year.
Managing Director Bill Volk says the CU-MTD Board has directed his staff to prepare annexation and legal notices for five areas. Public hearings will be held before the board takes a vote on annexation.
Prairie Meadows is the first major residential area of Savoy to be considered for CU-MTD annexation since the village and the transit district signed an agreement two years ago. Volk says that agreement protects some parts of Savoy from MTD annexation --- but not new residential areas.
"There are sections in Savoy that we cannot annex for 23 years, but other areas of Savoy, as they become annexable we are allowed per the agreement to annex that territory," Volk said.
The Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana is also on the CU-MTD annexation list. Non-residential areas up for annexation include the Clearview commercial development site in northwest Champaign, some industrial tracts near the Apollo Industrial Park in north Champaign, and Willard Airport.
Volk says the CU-MTD Board will not vote on annexing the territories until after the next fiscal year begins July 1. If annexation is approved, property owners would not pay taxes to the MTD until the summer of 2012.
An Urbana man was arrested Thursday at his apartment building, after a six-hour standoff with police. 57 year old Reginald Thurston is accused of holding a woman in his apartment, and striking an officer.
The incident started shortly before noon at Steer Place, a public housing apartment building on East Harding Drive. Building management had been contacted by relatives of the woman, who they believed was with Thurston. Management then called police, saying Thurston had been belligerent and made bizarre statements.
Urbana Police say that Thurston threatened officers, and struck one of them with a length of PVC pipe after he was pepper-sprayed. Thurston then threatened officers with a pellet gun and barricaded himself and the woman in his 6th-floor apartment.
Police SWAT teams were called in to help, and negotiators spent the afternoon communicating off-and-on with Thurston. Several other residents of the building were evacuated and Harding Drive was closed to traffic.
Police say Thurston surrendered peacefully shortly after 6 PM, and the woman with him was found unharmed.
Thurston faces charges of Aggravated Battery to a Police Officer and Unlawful Restraint.
A Web site detailing Ilinois' financial outlook is now up and running. Governor Pat Quinn's office unveiled the site Wednesday.
The Website, budget.illinois.gov, opens with a video from the Governor's budget director ... David Vaught, who asks viewers, "Would you cut money from education and give more to health care? Or would reduce spending to both and spend more on road construction? Would you raise taxes? And by how much?"
Commenters can answer those questions ... or give other suggestions ... in a public comment section.
Vaught says within the first two hours ... about 250 people had done so. That's despite criticism that the graphs and figures don't make it easy enough for the average person to understand.
The site doesn't get into much detail about what the governor is planning. That will come March 10th, when Quinn gives his annual budget address.
But what it does include is telling. A reading of one table shows that the governor will suggest cutting more than two billion dollars in the next budget. Education ... from kindergarten to universities ... will have funding reduced, as well as public safety, economic development, and human services.
Vaught says it's dire, but realistic ... and says it still leaves Illinois with an 11 and a half billion dollars deficit.
Vaught says cuts will occur with or without a tax increase.
Illinois lawmakers are advancing a plan to do away with the Lieutenant Governor's office, which has been vacant for over a year.
While there have been calls to abolish the position before, there's now a powerful backer of the idea. Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan says the time has come. "Many over the years have spoken to the wisdom of eliminating the office," Madigan said. "I think this is an opportunity, and we should take advantage of the opportunity."
The often-ridiculed office has no official duties, only those assigned by the Governor. Madigan's plan would make the Attorney General the next in line in order of succession. The office of Lieutenant Governor has been under scrutiny since Scott Lee Cohen was forced to give up the Democratic nomination this month after allegations of violence against women surfaced.
Madigan's measure would take effect in 2015 and won't impact the upcoming election. A House committee has given approval over objections from Republicans concerned it could crowd out public initiatives on the fall ballot. The entire General Assembly must still pass it and 60 percent of voters would then need to agree for the change to occur.
Champaign school superintendent Arthur Culver is guaranteed to keep his job through 2014 after a school board vote.
But Culver has volunteered not to take a pay raise as Unit 4 fights budget problems like most other Illinois districts. Tuesday night, board members evaluated Culver's performance and voted 4-3 to extend his contract one additional year.
Board president Dave Tomlinson says as a rule he had voted against extensions before. But he says Culver's work in bringing a nine year federal consent decree to an end merited a second look.
"There's one way the board can acknowledge to the superintendent that he has led us through probably one of the most difficult times in Unit 4, and that is with a contract extension," Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson says Culver and other administrators turned down raises last year even though their salaries are tied to the current teachers' contract, which called for 4% raises.
The city of Champaign is looking for a new council member to represent a portion of southwest Champaign.
Dave Johnson says he will step down from his District 5 council seat after next week's council meeting - in a news release from the city, Johnson says he will be moving to Cleveland to accept a new job. Johnson was elected to his first term last April. Council members will discuss the succession process next Tuesday - whoever the full council chooses from applicants will have to have lived in Champaign for at least a year and be a District Five resident. That person would fill Johnson's seat until the next consolidated election in 2011.
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