Illinois Public Media News
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.
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.
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:
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.
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)
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.
MRI brain scans are commonly used to detect brain tumors or concussions in athletes. Now a similar scan is being tested to study Alzheimer's Disease.
An MRI shows the structure of the brain -- what it looks like. Whereas an fMRI is used to show how the brain functions. It can tell which areas of the brain are more active when you are at ease.
Researchers think the fMRI can be used to detect changes in this resting state which can indicate brain disorders such as depression, autism, and Alzheimer's.
"Before I have the symptoms, I could have an fMRI test," said Dr. Tom Ala, interim director for the Center for Alzheimer's Disease at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. "The fMRI test could say 'you are cool no problem', I'm not as worried. If the fMri test says the arrow is pointing in that direction because of this test, this biomarker, I could start treatment."
Patients cannot use this technology for Alzheimer's yet because it is still in the testing phase.
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
People who live in a city may take broadband Internet service for granted. But in many rural areas, broadband service is hard or even impossible to obtain.
The issue of broadband access was the spotlight of a recent congressional field hearing in Springfield.
As an employee for eGrain, which specializes in electronic documents for agribusiness, Drew Earles understands the importance of a good Internet connection. But he said that's not what he gets at his home in the central Illinois countryside, where he relies on a wireless transmitter mounted on the grain elevator in nearby Mechanicsburg.
"It'd be a little less than broadband," Earles said. "At times, it's comparable to dial-up, just depending on the traffic. If you catch it early in the morning, you can usually get some things done, and view some things."
Justin Green, who grows corn and soybeans near Arthur, has it a bit easier --- with a wireless connection to the DSL service at his parents' home. Green said people working in agriculture need reliable internet service as much as anyone else.
"A lot of our commodities markets and trading and access to information and communications with landowners and other businesses, a lot of that's done via email." Green said.
Earles and Green spoke at the booth they manned for the Illinois Agriculture Leadership Foundation, at the Illinois News Broadcasters Association convention in Springfield. But their comments could as easily have been made across town at the University of Illinois Springfield campus. There, Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson and other members of the House Subcommittee on Rural Development were hearing testimony on rural broadband service.
Among those testifying, Sue Campbell, the CEO for Community Memorial Hospital in Staunton. She worked with a local internet provider to obtain five megabytes of broadband service for her hospital, needed for everything from transmitting electronic medical records to supplementing their limited staff with doctors who consult from off site. But Campbell said her hospital will soon need a service upgrade.
"And it won't be too long before we're going to have to consider doubling our broadband width from five megs up to ten," Campbell said.
Rural American is well behind the country's urban areas when it comes to access to broadband Internet service. Les Fowler is with the McDonough Telephone Cooperative, which has managed to bring fiber-based broadband service to parts of western Illinois. But Fowler's co-op is not-for-profit. He told the subcommittee there's just not much money for the private sector to make in rural broadband.
"There's not going to be a huge opportunity for a lot of profit taking in those scenarios," Fowler said. "So I think it's going to take a jump start from the public sector to get this going."
In fact, Fowler said McDonough Telephone's broadband service wouldn't be possible without a Rural Utility Service loan funded by the federal Farm Bill, which is up for re-authorization. Fowler said the co-op is applying for its 2nd loan through the program, a process that has, so far, taken two years. Congressman Tim Johnson said bureaucratic problems have left much of the available money unspent.
"In some cases, only five percent of it has actually emerged from the application process to be used," Fowler said. "So upwards of 90 percent hasn't been. There's a limited amount of dollars to go around, and we need to make sure that rural America, small town America gets its share."
Johnson said efforts to reduce the federal deficit will mean less money for rural broadband service next year --- so he hopes his subcommittee can use the Farm Bill rule making process to make the loan program more efficient. The Urbana Republican said addressing the broadband shortage is just one way to reverse the population decline in rural America.
(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
People living in a city may take broadband Internet service for granted. But in many rural areas, broadband service is hard or even impossible to obtain. The problem was a topic of a recent congressional field hearing in Springfield, Ill. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows reports.
(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
University of Illinois students are taking part in a competition where they are presenting a solar-powered home that they have designed and constructed. It's part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon, an event that has attracted students from 20 universities around the world.
Graduate student Beth Neuman is the project manager for the U of I's team. She said her team's entry is designed to serve as an immediate replacement for people whose homes were destroyed by a tornado.
"Last year, multiple tornadoes came through Central Illinois, and we actually visited Streator, Illinois, and they were hit by a tornado, and a lot of families were affected by that," Neuman said. "So, we sort of wanted to focus on a market that was closer to home, and help people in our own community."
Neuman said the portable home can be shipped in two units by truck, with solar panels mounted on the roof. She estimates the cost for a single home at around $260,000. However, she said if it was mass produced, it would be more affordable. Neuman said architecture, affordability, and energy balance are just some of the factors that each home will be judged on in the competition.
The houses in the Solar Decathlon are currently on display at the National Mall's West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. A winner will be announced Oct 1.
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