Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 15, 2010

Champaign School Board Approves All But Two Construction Bids for BTW Rebuild.

The Champaign School Board received a promise of a classroom boycott if the new Booker T. Washington School project on the north side goes ahead without significant changes.

Terry Townsend and Robert Brownlee say the new Washington School's parking requirements and bus traffic will cause congestion. Townsend says he fears the school will lead to forced buyouts of homes to make room for parking, and higher property taxes that will lead to gentrification.

"They're going to force poor people out of their homes", says Townsend. "They're going to make it so it's very difficult for people that live there to continue to live there. And it's changing the character of that neighborhood.

Townsend wants a smaller Washington School to be built, and guarantees that neighborhood children be guaranteed seats in the new school. He says if the district doesn't change its plans, he'll organize a classroom boycott for the first week of school in August. But Champaign school board members are defending the new Washington School plans. Vice-President Susan Grey says the building will be an asset that local residents can use themselves.

"It can be a place for gatherings and community meetings", says Grey. "And I would certainly hate to think that the community in the Douglass Park area would think that we wouldn't want to open our school for community use. Because I think we will."

Meanwhile, the Champaign School Board approved bids Monday night for eight of the ten construction contracts for the new Washington School. The other two contracts came in over budget, and the district is downsizing some of its building plans in hopes of attracting lower bids.

Architects for the new north side school presented proposals last (Monday) night for using cheaper building materials in some parts of the new building, in the hopes of shaving 1-point-7 million dollars off the building's cost. Board member Greg Novak endorsed the changes --- but he warned against going too far.

"I mean the fact that we never did the grading we were going to do at Barkstall", says Novak. "It's come back to haunt us. There's been some things at Stratton that have come back to haunt us. So in some ways, I understand we need to make some cuts, and we need to do some trimming. And in some ways, I don't want to go too far in that direction."

Unit Four school board members voted unanimously to accept eight construction bids, while rejecting two. Changes will be made to the two outstanding projects, to make sure those two projects are less expensive, before resubmitting them for bids.

Categories: Education, Race/Ethnicity

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 14, 2010

More Than 100-Year Old Construction Problem At U of I Leaves Research, Fall Classes in Limbo

A University of Illinois Geology Professor says the discovery of a century-old construction problem in the Natural History Building produces lingering ones for research, and fall classes. Inspections of termite damage last week showed metal reinforcements were improperly placed on the building's addition in 1908. There's no time estimate yet for repairing the building.

Stephen Marshak directs the U of I's School of Earth, Society, and Environment. He says a few summer classes had to be moved immediately to another part of the building. Marshak also questions how lab research will continue when staff can't gain access, and that a lot of lab materials are delicate, and can't be easily moved. Marshak says if part of the building is still closed this fall, classes with a lot of students will have to move as well. "So we're thinking of reconfiguring some rooms that are being used for other purposes in the stable part of the building to accomodate some of the geology classes in the fall," said Marshak. "We're not going to be able to set those up though until they give us the go ahead to actually move cabinets of rock specimens and cabinets of maps and things that we need access to. And right now, we're told that we're not allowed to move those yet."

Marshak says the U of I's Facilities and Services Department will determine when materials can be moved and where. Meanwhile, Marshak several offices are looking for a place to move to. He says until his staff knows what the time frame is for repairs to the building, departments will wait until moving their research to other rooms. Marshak estimates about 25 graduate students have been displaced.

Categories: Architecture, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 11, 2010

Illinois Athletic Staff Welcome Nebraska to the Big Ten

Illinois coaches and officials are welcoming Nebraska to the Big Ten though few Illini teams have recent experience against the Cornhuskers.

Athletic Director Ron Guenther on Friday called Nebraska a good fit for the Big Ten. The Big Ten accepted Nebraska Friday after the Cornhuskers opted to leave the Big 12. The move is part of what could be major shift in college athletics. Illini football coach Ron Zook welcomed Nebraska's strong football tradition. Men's basketball coach Bruce Weber said he expects the Cornhuskers to be a tough opponent. Illinois football is 2-7-1 all time against Nebraska but the two haven't played since 1986. Illini men's basketball is 7-2 against the 'Huskers but hasn't played them since 1990.

Categories: Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 11, 2010

U of I Gets Federal Money To Start On-Line Textbook Initiative

A University of Illinois Administrator says the school can take the lead in moving some textbooks to the web.

A $150,000 grant from the U-S Department of Education will enable administrators to pick one or two books as a kind of pilot project. Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles Evans says the first advantage of the funds will be saving students the cost of a textbook. But the U of I will also be able to share these open source textbooks with other schools, like Parkland College and Northwester, where professors on those campuses can add their own lessons. The grant is intended to last one year, and could be continued... but Evans says one hope is for faculty to initiate their own on-line textbooks.

"We know how to publish a textbook," said Evans. "So we want to wet their appetites to doing more in that work.- because there are commercial entities who are in this field already. We could go back for another grant to do more, but I think there are organizations and other corporations that would be interested in working with our faculty." Evans says the on-line initiative was spearheaded by US Senator Dick Durbin, who's been vocal about the rising cost of college textbooks. Evans says another key to the grant is helping community colleges. "Once we come up with a topic, we will bring in community college faculty to say, 'how can we best work with you in this topic?," Evans said. The grant was announced by U-S Senator Roland Burris' office on Thursday.

Categories: Education, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 11, 2010

UI, Visiting Academic Professionals Come to Terms on Tentative Contract

About 350 employees on the University of Illinois campus have a tentative contract agreement with their employer. The two-year agreement would cover about 350 visiting academic professionals - on Thursday night their bargaining unit announced that members had ratified the agreement. No details have been announced yet. The U of I Board of Trustees will vote on the tentative agreement in July.

Categories: Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 11, 2010

US Attorney Appointment for Central Illinois Clears Senate Committee

The man appointed to be the next federal prosecutor for central Illinois has taken a big step toward the post. The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday unanimously approved James Lewis for the US attorney job. President Obama appointed Lewis, who's been an assistant in the US Attorney's office for the last 27 years. If the full Senate approves, Lewis would replace acting US attorney Jeffery Lang.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 10, 2010

Champaign Park District Opts For New Virginia Theatre Marquee

One of those responsible for changing the marquee on Champaign's Virginia Theatre says it needs to be recognized as more than a place for showing movies. Champaign Park District Board member Barbara Kuhl favors replacing the sign to make the theatre look more like a vaudeville house, as it appeared in 1921. Board members voted 3-2 for replacing the marquee that's been there since the 40's. Kuhl also says the current one needed replacing anyway. "The current marquee will be taken down and destroyed. It cannot be refurbished," said Kuhl. "So the question was not 'will there be a new marquee?'... it was just 'what was the shape of the new marquee going to be."

Those favoring the change say a new sign would show off more of the upper-level façade and original architecture. Urban planner Alice Novak says there's no doubt the Virginia is a beautiful building, but argues the park district is changing the most defining feature. Kuhl says the public opposition to changing the sign was blown out of proportion. But Novak says there was an obvious public sentiment for retaining the marquee, and the park district board chose to ignore it. "So I think that's very disappointing," said Novak. "And I don't know what the long-lasting implications of that kind of bad policy will be."

Novak sits on Illinois' Historic Sites Advisory Council, which reviews nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Park District Board members contend the new marquee won't change that eligibility. But Novak says once the old one comes down - she'll submit photos of the Virginia to the rest of her group to consider a change. Champaign Park District Board President Jane Solon says she initially would have preferred the Virginia's next marquee be a combination of refurbishing the existing one, with features from the original sign's 1921 design. But she says public opposition convinced her that the best marquee was the one currently in place. "You can't marry two periods together and create a new that's not the best thing to do," says Solon. "So from a historical perspective and from what citizens had said they preferred, I then became in favor of keeping the triangle marquee."

Both board members say they hope the marquee change will be done when other renovations to the theater are completed. The Virginia closes next week for upgrades to its entrances and lobby, and re-opens in November. A million dollar bequest from the estate of Michael Carragher is funding that work, while ticket sales and other private donations are paying for the new marquee.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 10, 2010

Testimony in Blagojevich Trial Continues; Wife May Be Asked to Leave at Certain Points

Prosecutors say they'll ask that the wife of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich leave the courtroom at her husband's corruption trial when testimony about her comes up.

The often stone-faced Patti Blagojevich has sat in the courtroom since the trial began. She's arrived each day with her husband, often holding hands as they enter the Chicago courthouse.

But according to procedures established earlier, she's supposed to leave when certain testimony arises.

She's in the courtroom Thursday as the former governor's first chief of staff, Alonzo Monk, testifies for a second day.

Judge James Zagel says he'll rule on whether she'll have to step outside right before the testimony that involves her. A defense attorney for Blagojevich has said she'll testify in the trial.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 10, 2010

Chamapign Co. Received $162 Million in Stimulus Money in ‘09

The federal stimulus program was lucrative for the University of Illinois, but less so for government agencies in Champaign County.

A report from the county regional planning commission says more than $162 million in stimulus funding rolled into the county in 2009. But nearly $96 million of that was for the U of I, mainly for research projects according to commission planner Susan Chavarria. $16 million of the total was for infrastructure projects, mostly road construction and improvements.

Chavarria says it's hard to compare whether Champaign County got more or less than other areas of the state or nation. "Smaller communities and smaller counties, they usually don't have the resources to go through the application processes or to take the time to look for the funding sources," Chavarria said. "So in terms of our ability to do that, I think that we have perhaps received more than some of the other downstate counties. For the $546 million that we asked for, our expectations were we'll take what we can get, so I think we've received a fair amount of funding here."

Chavarria says even the U of I assistance indirectly benefits the community in the jobs it ensures for researchers and students. She says stimulus assistance to the county also came in the form of government contracts and business loans.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 09, 2010

Champaign City Staff To Put Additional Language Into Vacant Buildings Ordinance

One Champaign city council member says she's hoping city staff will take some time to clarify a measure that seeks to speed up enforcement of standards for vacant buildings.

The plan is to remedy problems with empty commercial and residential properties without having to go through a drawn-out court process. Council member Marci Dodds says she backs the plan overall, but says the language lacked clarity as to how property owners get back into compliance after getting their building back up to standards. The city council and public discussed the measure for more than three hours in Tuesday night's study session. Dodds says neighborhood service staff should have written the ordinance to say buildings should meet fire safety codes, and not all property codes. "Do you have to bring your plumbing up to current code in a vacant building? Well, no you don't," said Dodds. "But you have to make sure that holes are patched in the wall, the roof's not going to fall in on firemen if they go in, people aren't going to fall through the floor, that kind of thing. Those are two very different standards. And I think that standard needs to be clear. I also think it needed to be clear what triggered going into a building."

Tom Bruno agrees there's a problem with irresponsible property owners and vacant structures, saying there may need to be more details in the proposal. But he says the neighborhood services department needs to be allowed to do its job. "We have inspectors in the field who are trained and comfortable and qualified at exercising some judgment," said Bruno. "And that a lot of the detailed minutia that people are seeking in this ordinance I don't necessarily needs to be there as long as our enforcement people are well-intentioned, well-trained, and well-able to exercise some discretion."

Property maintenance inspector Michael Lambert says the key is finding what triggers use of the ordinance. He says his staff will try to clarify some of its language, and have it back before the council soon.


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