Illinois Public Media News
Repeated fire code violations have forced the city of Urbana to shut down a north side hotel.
Fire Chief Mike Dilley said several rooms at the Hanford Inn and Suites on North Cunningham Avenue had no working smoke detectors, and the ones that did work failed to trigger the hotel's alarm system. About 30 people were displaced after the hotel closed Wednesday. Dilley said the hotel's management has failed to respond to calls questioning when the problems might be rectified.
"The local representative would not come to the building yesterday (Wednesday), he refused to come," Dilley said. "So we're kind of at a loss for what to do at this point until we get somebody involved as a corporation, at least somebody that's involved who will come take some responsibility for this."
Owners of the hotel could not be reached for comment. Dilley said prior fire code problems at the Hanford Inn and Suites included wiring problems and fire doors not closing properly. He said it is ironic that the closure would occur on Fire Prevention Week, and urges all residents and business to make sure they have working smoke detectors. Dilley said half the hotel's guests were construction workers who were able to find another play to stay.
Kelly Hartford with Urbana's Community Development staff said the city found other families willing to take in the remaining 15 guests, and Hartford is working with the Salvation Army for long-term accommodations.
A University of Illinois faculty group investigating the suspension of an engineering professor concluded Louis Wozniak should be given a chance to defend himself.
The College of Engineering suspended Wozniak before the start of the semester for allegedly sending an e-mail to his students with sexually suggestive remarks and for videotaping them without their consent during one of his lectures.
Wozniak defended his actions, saying the e-mail in question is being taken out of context, explaining that he occasionally uses sexual innuendos to connect with his students, but he said he first checks with them at the beginning of each semester to make sure they are comfortable with that language. He added that the students who were videotaped were notified that they would be on camera.
Wozniak said after he learned about his dismissal in August, he went to the University of Illinois Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure to demand that he be given the right to tell his side of the story.
"(The College of Engineering) can't do this unless the president of the university deems it necessary for the safety of the institution and of the people around me without a hearing," he said.
In its report, the committee stated: "The issue before us is whether the university adhered to the university's statutes in acting as it did, i.e., in failing to afford him a hearing on these allegations and a faculty determination of what sanction should be imposed, if any."
It did not conclude whether action should be taken against Wozniak.
Wozniak was moved to an office away from his department where he is focusing on his research and public service. He said the dean of the College of Engineering, Ilesanmi Adesida, should allow him to clear his name in a hearing or simply put him back in the classroom.
"I would welcome the opportunity to be able to answer to these frivolous and false charges that he's made," said Wozniak.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler declined to comment on the case, simply saying, "The freedoms of tenure are not absolute, but carry with them responsibilities to respect the dignity and rights of all other members of the campus community."
A formal hearing for Wozniak has not been set. Wozniak, who has taught at the U of I for more than 40 years, said he hopes to get back to teaching by the spring semester.
(Courtesy of The Energy Development and Power Generation Comittee)
Preservationists say the University of Illinois failed to follow the proper procedure when going ahead with work on an 1870's farmhouse.
Urbana Campus Historic Preservation Officer Melvin Skvarla said the U of I decided to use $91,000 in residual money to remove the century old additions to Mumford House, based on an architect's recommendation.
Skvarla said that report has been online since early this year.
"The intent was to return the house to its original condition," said Skvarla. "That was stated over and over again - following the recommendations of (architect) Vinci Hamp. The 1892 south addition is probably worse shape than the entire house. The 1922 edition is not even compatible with the rest of the house."
A spokesman for Illinois' Historic Preservation Agency said the U of I never bothered to discuss these plans with an advisory committee appointed by the school's board of trustees. Dave Blanchette said the university should have let that panel weigh in.
"That was the entire reason for forming the advisory committee was to work hand-in-hand with the university to make sure the historic Mumford House was adequately protected," said Blanchette. "To make everyone aware in advance what was planned, and what was going to be done, and let everyone agree to a course of action. We have not had that in the last couple of days."
Urbana Historic Preservation Commission Chair Alice Novak contends removing the additions hurts the structure's historical significance.
"The west side addition is particularly nice in offering living room space, it has a large fireplace, it had a bevel glass window which was removed Wednesday morning, and I don't know where that's going," said Novak. "So if we're interested in really seeing the house used and marketed, it really would be prudent to leave those additions on there."
Novak said the additions were added by Dean Herbert Mumford around the 1900, when his family lived in the house, and are significant to the building.
The $91,000 will also go for painting and weatherization. Skvarla said a full restoration will cost one and a half million dollars, and he said there are no further plans for Mumford House when the current work is done late this month.
Landmarks Illinois President Jim Peters sits on the U of I's advisory panel for the structure. He agrees with Novak that the additions could have been utilized in some sort of reuse plan, but he said if ultimately, the U of I wants to restore Mumford House to its 1871 state, removing the additions may have been the best plan.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Communities and companies interested in hosting the CO2 storage site for the FutureGen project now have some details on what they will need to provide.
On Wednesday, the FutureGen Alliance sent out preliminary site selection guidelines for the project. CEO Kenneth Humphreys said this will give potential applicants an idea of the information they will have to provide.
According to the guidelines, the site used to store emissions from the FutureGen coal-fired power plant will need to be able to hold at least 39 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years.
All sites must also utilize the Mount Simon sandstone formation, a formation underlying a large part of Illinois and other Great Lakes states. It is considered a good site for long-term CO2 storage.
The site-selection decision also will consider protection of the environment and public health around the site, how cheaply it can be constructed, and the ability to stay on schedule. Local community support also is crucial.
Mattoon, the original choice to host the FutureGen storage hub, withdrew from the project when it learned it would no longer host the FutureGen power plant. Humphreys said both Mattoon and Tuscola --- a previous FutureGen finalist --- could be viable sites for the storage hub, if they chose to apply.
"I think that should one of the prior sites want to compete in this process, there may be some additional actions they would need to take," said Humphreys. "But they would clearly be competitive, as would many other communities that have raised their hands with an interest."
Humphreys said about two dozen communities and companies have expressed interest in the FutureGen storage hub. Once completed, the facility will hold CO2 piped in from a retro-fitted power plant in the western Illinois town of Meridosia.
Humphreys said a more detailed "Request For Proposals" will come out in a few weeks, and then the applicants will have three weeks to submit their formal proposals. He said they hope to be able to announce a site for CO2 storage in early 2011. Humphreys added that he has heard informally from some two dozen communities and companies that may be interested in applying for the FutureGen storage site.
FutureGen plans to announce the site of the storage space in early 2011.
A five year plan to move the John and Mary E. Kirby Hospital in Monticello to a larger nearby site has entered the final stage in the planning process.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded the hospital with a $31.2 million dollar mortgage loan.
The new hospital will include more surgical space and patient and procedure rooms. Inpatients will also have private suites, with a bathroom, shower and visiting space.
The current 16-bed hospital has undergone a series of renovations in the last several years, but hospital spokeswoman Michelle Rathman said the project will help the hospital address the community's changing health care needs.
"Family members will have accommodations in the rooms for them to stay with their loved ones in the hospital 24 hours," she explained. "Hospitals around the country have moved away from these things like 'visiting hours are over.' That's not the case because families are encouraged to be part of the healing process."
The loan is made possible through the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) Hospital Mortgage Insurance Program. By insuring the mortgage loan, FHA is enabling the hospital to obtain lower cost financing that is expected to save an estimated $4.6 million in interest expense over the life of the loan.
"FHA is helping to build state-of-the-art health care facilities like this all across the country," said FHA Commissioner David Stevens. "By helping to make these projects possible, FHA also contributes to the financial well-being of communities by creating jobs to stimulate local economies."
Rathman said the replacement hospital is expected to be an economic boom in Piatt County with a combination of construction jobs, more people shopping at local businesses, and new employment.
"Every new full-time employee equates to revenue spent in the community," she said. "Replacement hospital projects make a significant economic impact in so many ways."
Kirby Hospital currently employs about 200 people. Rathman said the new facility is expected to be completed by September 2011, and she projected that it will create up to 15 new full-time jobs over the next five years.
The 71,000-square-foot Kirby Medical Center will be built at the Market Street and I-72 exit northeast of Rick Ridings on a new street called Medical Center Drive. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for Saturday, Nov. 6 at 1pm.
(Artist rendering courtesy of the Kirby Medical Center courtesy of Kirby Hospital)
The attorney representing the Piatt County Clerk is contesting a claim that the clerk does not intend to live inside the county.
Pat Rhoades' qualification is being challenged by a Monticello attorney who claims Rhoades is living just across the county line in Champaign County. Dan Clifton charges that Rhoades has registered to vote in Champaign County, and that the Piatt County property she said will eventually hold her family's new home has not been developed. Cklifton had earlier alleged that the property is for sale, but he since has backed off that claim.
Rhoades' attorney Deanna Mool says Clifton has not followed the correct legal procedure. "If you want to have an official removed from office, you have to file what's called an in quo warranto action, It's provided in the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure," said Mool. "It lists certain requirements that you have to follow, one being (that) no individual can sue for that unless the state's attorney and the attorney general have declined to do so. So our motion to dismiss is based on those grounds." However, clifton says he studied the situation and concludes that he didn't have to make the filing.
Mool said she will not address Clifton's residency accusations directly until they are presented in court. Rhoades herself has not returned phone calls seeking comment.
On Wednesday, a Piatt County judge removed himself from the case. A judge from Macon County will come to Monticello to hear the complaint, but no date has been set.
A student senator on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus wants the U of I Board of Trustees to reconsider its refusal to grant emeritus status to controversial professor William Ayers.
Sophomore Max Ellithorpe said when the trustees voted to deny Ayers emeritus status, they should not have factored Ayers' decision to dedicate his Weather Underground manifesto in part to Robert Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan.
Ellithorpe said the manifesto was a political work published before the education theory professor began his academic career.
"An individual's political views have no place in determining their academic achievements," he said. "A large group of people with very different political views have all appreciated Professor Ayers' work, and I think that's the thing they should be looking at."
Board Chairman Christopher Kennedy --- the son of the late Robert Kennedy --- brought up the book dedication when he voted against emeritus status for Ayers last month. The other trustees voted with him, without comment.
Ellithorpe argues that the board's vote against the recommendation raises questions about what role trustees should play in academic decisions at the U of I.
"In the past, their role has been hiring, firing and then financial matters," he said. "I think they're moving more into interfering in the academic environment, and that needs to be cleared up."
Ellithorpe says he'll ask the university's Urbana Campus Academic Senate to pass a resolution next month, asking trustees to reconsider their vote.
Ayers taught at the U of I's Chicago campus where some faculty members ohope to get their own campus' Academic Senate to pass a resolution questioning the trustees' emeritus vote against Ayers.
There's less than a month to go until Election Day, and one of the more contentious and expensive races is in the 101st District. Adam Brown, a 25-year-old Republican who's on the Decatur City Council, is trying to unseat four-term State Representative Bob Flider of Mount Zion. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports.
A Champaign manufacturer of semiconductors for solar energy has received a more than $2 million grant.
Federal stimulus money will boost production capacity at EpiWorks, and cut down its fossil fuel consumption. The funds will also let the facility add about 30 jobs. Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Warren Ribley was at the plant Tuesday to announce the $2.5 million Green Business Development Grant. Ribley said manufacturing through green energy has been a priority for some time. He said more than $6 million set aside for East Central Illinois is primarily aimed at renewable sources, and developing companies that support them.
"We have to have a broad energy portfolio that depends on wind, solar, clean coal technology, and energy efficiency," said Ribley. "All of those things combined help reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum."
Joining Ribley Tuesday were a number of area city and school officials who have received stimulus funds to help their facilities become more energy efficient. Recipients include the cities of Tuscola and Arcola - each for building wind turbines. The Prairieview-Ogden school district is also installing a wind turbine, and Champaign's Bottenfield, Westview, and Robeson Elementary schools are getting new boilers and ventilators. Four of the grants are more than $400,000. The Arcola grant was just over $60-thousand.
During Ribley's visit to Champaign Tuesday, he also said the former Meadowbrook Farms site in Rantoul could one day soon resemble its old self. Earlier this week, Trim-Rite announced it was leasing and reopening the 2,000 acre site that closed earlier this year, and hiring 100 people when it starts operations next spring. Ribley said the newness of Trim-Rite's facilities, its size, and the state of the industry should mean more jobs soon after its spring 2011 opening.
"We are seeing a lot of interest in the food processing area, particularly in animal processing," he said. "That tells us that demand is growing, not only domestically, but internationally. So we think it's just the beginning. Illinois is a terrific workforce, it's a terrific location to move its product anywhere in the world."
Ribley added that several companies looked at the former Meadowbrook site before Trim-Rite committed to it. The company's president pledges the facility will use state-of-the-art equipment and be "the most modern hog processing facility'' in the country.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Two environmental experts will continue to keep tabs on Ameren's efforts to clean up the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
About 60 residents from the 5th and Hill Street neighborhood shared their concerns with Bob Bowcock and Mark Zeko in a community forum Monday night. The experts were brought in by New York-based law firms to address long-standing concerns of illness and contaminated soil. Much of the discussion focused on Ameren's efforts to clean the site, and whether the EPA will respond to resident's calls for soil tests at resident's homes. Ameren started its remediation of the site last year, with completion slated for 2015.
Both the experts say the biggest immediate concern is for Champaign's city council to repeal its groundwater ordinance. Zeko, who's a hydrogeologist, said reworking it would allow more flexibility for residents to pursue legal action.
"If there was no ordinance in place, they could leave it like it is," said Zeko. "Right now, basically Ameren can say 'we're complying with the ordinance - leave us alone. If you appeal the ordinance, they can say 'well, our health-based effects show that this is a problem, you need to clean it up.'"
Zeko said Illinois' EPA should require Ameren to do additional testing. Zeko also said new studies are coming out on vapor intrusions of substances like benzine, and their possible health effects. Environmental Investigator Bob Bowcock said Ameren was irresponsible for doing a slow to moderate cleanup after 20 years of the site going unnoticed. He said the groundwater ordinance needs more teeth.
"It's a very generic ordinance, as was stated by the Illinois EPA," said Bowcock. "It's very general. It's been used in 200 jurisdictions throughout the state of Illinois. So it's not site specific, and as technology and science evolves, it's being misapplied."
Champaign City council member Tom Bruno, who spoke at an earlier forum Monday, said repealing the groundwater ordinance might be the only way that Ameren will properly re-mediate the 5th and Hill area.
"It acknowledges the reality that the danger from contaminated groundwater isn't just when you drink the groundwater, but it's dangerous also when you merely breathe the vapors that are coming from that groundwater" said Bruno. "And we need to get rid of that contaminated groundwater whether people are drinking it or not."
Magnolia Cook lives in the 5th and Hill neighborhood. Cook said she has dealt with strange smells and nagging health concerns for about 50 years, so much so that it seems natural.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said the utility company considered all aspects of the environmental impacts at the site of every former manufactured gas plant. He said everything at 5th and Hill is being done within strict accordance of the Illinois EPA, and he added groundwater at the site does not pose a human health or environmental risk. He said the company was not invited to Monday's forums.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
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