Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Champaign County Board Unanimously Approves Wind Farm

A Chicago-based wind energy company will start preliminary work on placing 30 turbines in northeastern Champaign County.

After hours of debate in the county's Zoning Board of Appeals, the county board Thursday night unanimously approved Invenergy's special use permit and a road agreement in a matter of minutes. The company will also place 100 turbines in Vermilion County as part of what's called California Ridge Wind Farm.

But Invenergy Vice President for Development Kevin Parczyk said for a while, there will be little to see in the area north of Royal, where the wind farm is locating in Champaign County.

"Because it's spread out over such a large area, there's a lot of things that people don't even see happening," he said. "And really where it's going to be happening is probably in mid to late spring, you'll start seeing the turbines arriving, and then they'll start popping up. A lot of prep work has taken place, and it will for the next six months or so."

"Today is a momentous day," County Board Democrat Alan Kurtz said.

Parczyk said the work of wind farm construction is very sequential, and is constantly moving, but he expects work in an area north of Royal to start this spring. He said the wind farm will mean 150 to 200 construction jobs, plus those for local vendors who provide stone, concrete and other needs for completing the project.

Parczyk said public road work and foundation excavation is underway in Vermilion County, where the county board approved Invenergy's permit last month.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2011

AT&T Expands Mobile Broadband to Danville Area

An economic official in Danville says the expansion of mobile broadband in the area adds a missing sales tool in parts of rural downstate Illinois.

AT&T's mobile broadband has now expanded to rural cities like Rossville, Tilton, and Georgetown, and St. Joseph. The company is now offering a 3G network, with hopes of expanding it to 4G if AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile USA is approved.

Vermilion Advantage President Vicki Haugen says employers of all sizes, ranging from to ThyssenKrupp, to farmers, to a winery in Oakwood stand to benefit.

"So you look at communities like Hoopeston or Oakwood, off of the interstate (I-74), or some of the other communities that have business development," said Haugen. "They have been at an unfair disadvantage just because of the lack of quality connectivity. This is a key to today and in the future."

Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the legislature's 2010 vote to modernize Illinois' telecommunications act made the expansion possible. AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza says the company has boosted its infrastructure by $3-point-8 billion the last 3 years, due in part to that legislation.

Besides Danville, 11 other cities are impacted, including Hoopeston, Westville, and Tilton in Vermilion County, and St. Joseph and Gifford in Champaign County.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 14, 2011

Blue Waters Project Back on Track with Cray Inc

Work on building the Blue Waters supercomputer at the University of is back on track, with a new partner.

IBM withdrew from the project over the summer citing technical and financial difficulties. But now, the university's National Center for Supercomputing Applications has received National Science Foundation approval for a new $118 million contract with Seattle-based Cray Incorporated.

Blue Waters Project deputy director Bill Cramer said while IBM's plans for Blue Waters had certain advantages, Cray brings more computational capability, more memory and more storage capacity to the project. Cramer added that supercomputers are Cray's specialty.

"The Cray Company only does super-computing," Cramer said. "So they don't do many of the market pressures that IBM felt. The Cray company specialize s in supercomputing and doing these very, very large projects and systems. And they've had a large history of doing that."

Cramer spoke Monday from Seattle, at SC11, an annual convention for high performance computing, where the NSCA and Cray announced their plans for Blue Waters.

Blue Waters is being built to help scientists and engineers work through their most complex problems, with an expected sustained performance level of more than one petaflop. That's one quadrillion floating point operations per second.

"And those scientists will be using it to simulate the world around us in everything from earthquake engineering and the damage earthquakes might do to buildings, to epidemiology to basic chemistry," NSCA spokesman Bill Bell said.

NSCA officials say Cray will start delivering hardware to the U of I Urbana campus before the year is over. And an "early science system" of Blue Waters is expected to be running a sort of Beta version of the supercomputer in early 2012. Cramer said Blue Waters should be fully operational by next fall.

Categories: Education, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 19, 2011

Doctor Data Back Online in Illinois

Illinois patients once again can use a public website to find out whether their doctors and chiropractors have shady histories.

The Physician Profile became available Wednesday on the website for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

It allows consumers to see whether a doctor has been disciplined in Illinois or in another state. Malpractice judgments and settlements going back five years are posted.

The searchable database was taken offline last year when the Illinois Supreme Court declared a medical malpractice reform law unconstitutional.

A new law reinstated the database and gave doctors 60 days to review the information before the site went live. That review period has passed, allowing the comeback.

The website drew more than 150,000 hits weekly before it went dark in 2010.

Categories: Business, Health, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 19, 2011

Urbana School Board Ends Cell Tower Talks

By a 4-to-3 vote, the Urbana School Board decided Tuesday night to cut off negotiations with U.S. Cellular on a 150-foot cell phone tower that would have gone up next to Urbana Middle School.

School board President John Dimit had said he was concerned about aesthetics, but also felt much of the opposition to the plan was the result of misinformation he was receiving on the topic.

"For instance, some of the e-mails talked about razor wire on top of the fence, around the base of the tower" he said. "Well, nobody has talked about razor wire. As a matter of fact, the folks at U.S. Cellular first talked about putting a fence around the base of the tower that matched the fence that other e-mails have been praising us for that go around the athletic field."

Dimit supported the estimated $1 million in revenue the tower would bring over 25 years.

Champaign County board member Ralph Langenheim told the school board there could be an ethical dilemma if the District 116 rents out public property to a private company. Historic preservationist Brian Adams said he's concerned what a tower would do the neighborhood's historical character, including the Lincoln the Lawyer statue, Carle Park, and Urbana High School.

"That whole area just has a very unique character," he said. "My neighborhood consists of old houses. I live about a half mile away from this neighborhood. And unfortunately, we've lost a lot of integrity in our historic neighborhood. And I would hate to see something like that happen to this neighborhood."

School board member Peggy Patten said the tower would "certainly" be an aesthetic blight, with its height and 8-foot wide base. While it's uncommon for cell towers to fall, Patten said Urbana city planners have been told it happens on rare occasions.

Debate over the proposed tower lasted about eight months.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 15, 2011

U of Ill. Professor Joins Engineering Hall of Fame

A University of Illinois professor who created the first usable light-emitting diode will join Thomas, Edison, the Wright brothers and a select group of scientists and inventors when he's inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame next month.

The university said Friday that 82-year-old Nick Holonyak Jr. will be inducted in a ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 3. He will be added to the Hall of Fame along with Nikola Tesla and James Tsui.

Since its creation by Holonyak the LED has become commonplace. It is used in everything from instrument panels to head lamps used by joggers. His work has also helped create household dimmer switches, the lasers central to CD and DVD players, and fiber-optic communication.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 13, 2011

Champaign Introduces “Smart” Parking Meters

The city of Champaign is giving people another option to pay for parking.

On Thursday, the city installed downtown parking meters that accept credit and debit card payments, in addition to coins. Patti Anderson, a management analyst with Champaign's Public Works Department, said pay stations were originally going to be set up on each block, but she said city officials decided to go a different direction.

"The customer doesn't have to walk down the block," Anderson said. "They don't have to wait in line if there are customers from other cars waiting to get their parking paid for. It's just simpler for them, and that's one of the main reasons we went with it. We think it's a convenience for the customer."

For now, 37 parking meters have been installed downtown, but Anderson said the city will review the smart meters six months from now to determine if there should be more. She said while the technology may change, parking rates will stay the same.

Patti Anderson Demonstrates How the Smart Parking Meters Work:


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 07, 2011

U of I, Quinn Break Ground on New ECE Building

The University of Illinois has broken ground on a $95-million facility that will one day encompass all the work for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The state will foot half of the expense, through the capital bill Governor Quinn signed in 2009. The other half is coming from private donations to the university, although $10-million still remains to be raised. U of I President Michael Hogan told the gathering at Friday morning's groundbreaking that financial collaboration is making possible construction of a building that the university has sought since the 1970's.

"The state couldn't afford to foot the bill alone, nor could we, but working together, we've ensured that this great university will remain a world leader in high tech innovation and education for generations to come," said Hogan.

Gov. Pat Quinn said the building is a sharing opportunity, putting people who may be working alone into the same facility. ECE is currently split among six buildings.

"That kind of sharing of talented people can result in great things," Quinn said.

Quinn brought up the accomplishments of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

"He understood that technology is not a goal in and of itself," Quinn said. "The purpose is to communicate and bring people together. And I really see this building as doing exactly that in a living memory of what he accomplished on his days on earth."

The building will pull together electrical and computer engineering facilities currently spread throughout the U of I Urbana campus. A 400 seat auditorium in the new building will become one of the largest gathering spots on campus.

The project will create about 620 construction jobs, with completion scheduled for spring of 2014.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 07, 2011

EIU to Unveil Renewable Energy Center

Eastern Illinois University has replaced its old coal-fired steam plant with one the largest renewable energy projects in the U.S.

The school holds a grand opening Friday afternoon for its Renewable Energy Center. The facility using gasification technology will rely on more than 27,000 tons of wood chips a year to heat the campus. The chips are fed into a low-oxygen, high temperature environment, and gas emissions will generate the steam for that heat.

EIU President William Perry says just a handful of American universities have this type of plant, one that will provide some academic lessons as well.

"We can do some public service in the areas of alternative energy," he said. "We plan to use the site, which has more land available for field trips, for K-12 students, and other individuals in the community who are interested in that kind of operation."

Perry says the savings on the energy contract allowed Eastern to pay off the cost of the energy center without state money or student fees. EIU Energy and Sustainability Coordinator Ryan Siegel says a lot of things had to fall in place.

That includes two bills passed by Illinois lawmakers - one extended the payback periods for performance contracts to 20 years, and another allowed pilot projects to be paid for under that same window of time.

Siegel says those measures, and the energy savings from the Center itself, will pay for the $80-million facility.

"The entire project reduced the forward energy and water consumption of campus," he said. "It reduced our future costs, allowing us to pay off the debt over a 20-year time frame."

The facility is the result of a collaboration with Honeywell. It's expected to save EIU more than $140-million over the next two decades.

(Photo courtsey of Eastern Illinois University)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 29, 2011

Champaign Magnet Schools to Share $5 Million Federal Grant

Three magnet schools in Champaign's Unit 4 school district will split up more than $5 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Education.

The elementary schools, Garden Hills, Booker T. Washington, and Stratton will receive just over $1 million dollars each of the next three years, and part of will go for teaching specialists and a site coordinator. Unit 4 learned word of the grant late last week.

The schools had already started up modified versions of their magnet programs. Unit 4 grant writer Sue Schumacher says the district had already applied for the grant and was denied, but additional funds became available in the second year of a 3-year cycle. She says that doesn't happen often.

"We had a very competive grant, and it didn't get funded because they ran out of funds after the 36 applications that they accepted last year," said Schumacher. "So it's a relatively rare thing to get granted an off-cycle grant, but we're very thrilled."

Washington Elementary will use the funds to expand its STEM program, or science, technology, engineering and math initiative, while Garden Hills expands its international baccalaureate program with by visiting other nearby schools using the same lessons. And Stratton uses a Leadership in a MicroSociety model, in which students get real world experience, including electing leaders and starting careers.

Stratton Principal Stephanie Eckels says this year, the grant will boost the technology throughout the building.

"We want to really kind of vamp up our library so that the students have access to a lot of good media," she said. "We have smartboards in our 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classrooms. We also also received grants last year for laptops for all those students, so we hope to kind of fill in the gaps."

Likely the biggest investment for Stratton will be a full-scale TV and recording studio to boost their lessons. WILL assisted with the writing of Stratton's grant.

Garden Hills Principal Cheryl O'Leary says the funds will bring in proper science equipment for the school's lab, and staff development. But she says the funds will also help the students see other schools using the same theme.

"We'll be taking the kids on field trips to the theater districts in Chicago, to Indianapolis, to St. Louis, and working hand in hand with Krannert (the U of I's Krannert Center) to develop arts projects here in the school that will also go out in the community," said O'Leary. "Each grade level will have to work on a community service project as well now."

O'Leary says the school is also looking at using Skype to talk with classrooms around the country and abroad.


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