Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2010

Urbana Park District Wants The Public’s Input On New Pool Designs

The Urbana Park District and the public will spend the next few months poring over three separate proposals for a new outdoor pool.

A team of consultants is putting together those three plans, along with what it would cost to build and operate each of them. Park District Executive Director Vicki Mayes says public input has already been a large part of replacing Crystal Lake Pool. She says the park district will soon be taking comments on these three proposals on line ,and through its 'neighborhood nights' events held around town this summer. Mayes says the goal of a new pool is making it unique to Urbana, striking a balance for its younger and older users. "Features that attract and are really positive for families who have children," said Mayes. "And also to hold onto those folks that are core users, which are fitness swimmers, swim lessons. It will be some combination of traditional pool elements - definitely a zero depth, which is an easy entry element."

Mayes says amenities like the 'lazy river' found at Champaign's Sholem Aquatic Center are likely too expensive for a new Urbana pool. Building a new pool will require a tax referendum, but Mayes says it's too early to say whether that will happen next spring when factoring in the economy. She says the district may also consider building the pool in different phases. At Tuesday's Park District Board study session, the board will ask consultants to come up with those three designs, a rough idea of their cost, as well as possible fee structures for pool admission. Urbana has been without a public outdoor pool since Crystal Lake Pool closed in 2008 due to electrical problems. The Park District hopes to have a new one built by late 2012 or early 2013.

Categories: Government, Recreation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2010

State Can’t Rule On Virginia Theatre’s Marquee Decision, But Remains Hopeful For the Status Quo

The state doesn't have a say as to whether the Champaign Park District replaces the marquee on the Virginia Theatre.

A spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency says things will stay that way, as long as no state or federal permits or funding is involved in any potential work. But the agency is still recommending to the Park District Board that the current marquee stay in place, rather than replace it with a replica of the original from 1921. The Virginia Theater is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its current sign was on the nomination form when it was listed. Historic Agency spokesman Dave Blanchette says the building itself is significant, with or without the sign.

"However, our removing a historic feature from the building such as the marquee would impact its historic integrity in our opinion," said Blanchette. "It probably would not jeopardize its National Register of Historic Places listing, but nontheless, it's a historic feature of the building which we think needs to retained." Blanchette says the 1940's marquee adds to the historic character of the building. Champaign's historic preservation commission is opposed to changing it to a replica of what it once looked like. The city's park district board expects to take up the issue again June 9th.

Categories: Architecture

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 28, 2010

Legislature Ends Session with Larger Gap in State Budget

Illinois lawmakers have approved a budget and returned home, but they refused to give Governor Pat Quinn all he wanted.

Over the past few weeks it became clear Governor Pat Quinn's efforts to get a tax increase were being pushed aside. Instead, Quinn pinned his hopes on borrowing nearly 4 billion dollars. The proceeds would go into public employee pension systems, freeing up tax dollars that could be used on various needs like schools. One problem was that Quinn was unable to convince enough legislators to give him borrowing authority. The majority party Democrats in the Senate still needed Republican help, and they didn't get it, angering Senate President John Cullerton. "We don't have any Republican votes like they did in the House," Cullerton said following the session.

The House narrowly approved borrowing earlier in the week, getting a pair of Republicans to go along. Cullerton says he envisions returning to the Capitol in a couple of weeks, before the new fiscal year begins.

The Senate failure means Quinn will have to try again or try to manage the state's $13 billion deficit with $4 billion to spend. Democrats could also vote to skip the payment altogether, a move Quinn says would be more costly in the long run.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 27, 2010

UI Wind Turbine Project Has New Life

University of Illinois administrators will renew their efforts to place a wind turbine on the Urbana campus.

In 2005, the U of I had initially sought three turbines for the south farms. Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Steve Sonka says cost overruns caused former Chancellor Richard Herman to put the project on hold. But administrators are now asking the Clean Energy Community Foundation to extend a $2 million grant for the turbine. The grant was set to expire July 1st... but Sonka says administrators should be able to extend the use of those funds for enough time to get the turbine in place. Sonka says turbine costs have gone down, and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter was supportive of what the U of I would make back on a single turbine over time. "Chancellor Easter asked the F&S (Facilities and Services) people to look at the return, and for our portion of the investment, it's a reasonably attractive financial and energy saving environmental return," said Sonka. "A simple payback period 7 to 8 years is pretty attractive for a capital investment."

Sonka says the campus has undertaken many energy saving projects since 2005, including the replacement of inefficient heating and cooling systems - and pursing the turbine now makes sense. The grant would be partnered with funds from a $500,000 student fee, and Sonka says U of I would sell bonds to cover the remaining cost, around $2 million. Sonka says a new state procurement law taking effect in July also forces the university to wait until then to send out requests for proposals. Members of the U of I Student Sustainability Committee applauded the move. President Suhail Barot says the turbine is another factor that will help move forward the campus climate action plan of reducing energy use by 40% by the year 2025.

Categories: Education, Energy, Environment

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 26, 2010

No Decision on Urbana Early Childhood Location, Elementary School Locations

The Urbana School Board met for more than three hours Tuesday night on plans for a new Early Childhood Center. But board members -- already worried about state education funding -- could not reach a consensus on the project, which would be funded by the countywide sales tax for school construction.

Two board members want to build a new center on a new site. A third member supports building on the site of the current Early Childhood Center on Broadway. But school board President John Dimit says the district should close one of its existing elementary schools for early childhood use.

With no agreement on where to build, the Urbana school board will vote next week to commission an architectural program -- essentially a formal description of the features the new building would contain. Dimit says they can make that move before deciding whether to build a new building or convert an old one..

"We've been operating under some assumptions of a just a general 40,000 square feet," Dimit said. "I'm concerned that we get that programming down to a little bit more detail, and that's something we can do without having a particular site in mind. As a matter of fact, it may dictate the type of site that we eventually choose."

Tuesday night's school board meeting was attended by several people who spoke against closing an existing school to convert to early childhood classes. The group "Keep Urbana Neighborhood Schools" submitted a petition with 777 signatures, asking the Urbana school board to keep all six of its current elementary schools open.

Categories: Education
Tags: education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 25, 2010

Champaign School District Dedicates Site For School in Savoy

In the fall of 2012, students attending Champaign's Carrie Busey Elementary will be going to class in Savoy.

Unit 4 board members and village officials held a dedication ceremony Tuesday at the future site of Carrie Busey Elementary School, in Savoy's expanding Prairie Fields subdivision. Champaign Superintendent Arthur Culver says the neighborhood is well prepared for a school, with an adjoining park, and streets for accommodating buses. "People like to go that's close in proximity to their homes," said Culver. "People will be excited, it will be less of a burden on transportation on the folks that live in Savoy, and of course, everybody's always excited about getting a brand new, LEED certified, state-of-the-art educational facility."

Unit 4 school Board President Dave Tomlinson credits the passage of the countywide sales tax referendum for getting the school built. He says it will also create about $80 million in construction jobs between the new Carrie Busey and renovations at other school buildings. All staff and most students from the existing Carrie Busey elementary are expected to transfer to the new school. Once it's built, the current building will serve as a transitional center while renovations at other Unit 4 schools take place.

Savoy Village President Robert McCleary says the wider streets and park in that neighborhood are ready to accommodate school buses, and more than 400 students. "As a long-term resident of this area, a lot of the old infrastructure at Central (High School) and Edison downtown (Champaign), something will have to be done," said McCleary. "So in a lot of communities, they move that sort of stuff out to the outside edge of the communities. And Savoy's definitely on the edge of the community." Carrie Busey is a 'three strand' elementary school, with three sections of each grade level from kindergarten through 5th grade. Construction on the new school starts next summer. Work is expected to wrap up by July of 2012.

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 25, 2010

UI Climate Action Plan Says Carbon-Neutral by 2050, No Coal by 2017

The University of Illinois is the first in the Big Ten to draft a long-term plan to make the campus more sustainable.

The ambitious plan calls for an end to the use of coal to provide power on the Urbana campus within seven years. It also proposes a 40 percent reduction in energy use by the year 2025 and a carbon-neutral campus by 2050. The plan is part of a nationwide effort by college campuses to make climate-action plans.

Dick Warner heads UIIUC's Office of Sustainability. He says higher education is the perfect place to begin concentrating on stemming climate change.

"I think the most important impact a decade from now will be the way these issues and concepts are in the minds of students who come here and then move onto their next chapter as citizens somewhere," Warner said. "So the way that we teach about this and behave about this is very important."

The U of I's biggest electricity and steam-heating source is the coal-fired Abbott Power Plant. Warner says in two years, the campus will add more specific details to the plan, but Abbott could either be converted to another power source or closed altogether. He says the plant needs $177 million in deferred maintenance.

Categories: Education, Energy, Environment

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 24, 2010

Urbana City Council Reviews Budget Plan, Worries More Might Be Needed

As the Urbana City Council looked over the mayor's $48 million budget plan during Monday night's Committee of the While meeting, some members wondered if they should be making plans in case they need to make some mid-year spending cuts a few months from now.

Mayor Laurel Prussing's budget plan for 2010-2011 would freeze salaries and wages, and leave several positions unfilled. But some Urbana council members worry more cuts might be needed if tax revenues don't meet projections. When city Comptroller Ron Eldridge mentioned provisional plans for mid-year staff cuts if needed, Alderwoman Diane Marlin said she needed to know more.

"I'm concerned that these optimistic projections on revenue may not come to pass", said Marlin. "And I think it's my job as a council member to kind of think of more of a worse-case scenario, and at least about being prepared for it."

But Mayor Prussing was reluctant to release details --- in part because the staff cut scenarios name specific people. Later, the mayor said if they needed to cut more, they wouldn't just consider one plan.

"There isn't just one way of doing it", said Prussing. "We'd come up with many different things, and the council would have to decide what our top priorities are."

Prussing says her administration will monitor city tax revenues carefully, to see if mid-year spending cuts are needed --- and also watch for new revenue sources. One potential source is a local motor fuels tax. The mayor says Urbana council members will discuss that idea next month.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 24, 2010

Appeal Of Champaign Officer’s 1-Month Suspension Denied

A Champaign Police officer involved in the fatal shooting of a teenager in the city last October has seen the appeal of his 30-day suspension denied.

Champaign city manager Steve Carter says the decision on Daniel Norbits was handed down on Friday. Norbits was given the month's suspension without pay last month. Carter said while Norbits didn't intend to fire his weapon, he failed to maintain control of it on October 9th when Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed following a report of a break-in. The Fraternal Order of Police then filed an appeal on behalf of Norbits, who said the suspension was unjustified. If the officer chooses to continue in the appeals process... Carter says the next step would be for Norbits to appear before an arbitrator.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 24, 2010

Urbana Parents’ Group Wants To Build New Early Childhood Center

Some Urbana residents any attempt to close a local elementary school would hamper education.

The group calling itself Keep Urbana Neighborhood Schools suggests funds from the countywide 1-percent sales tax approved last year go towards a new early childhood facility, or upgrading an existing one. The group has launched a petition drive asking the District 116 school board to use the funds as they were intended. Parent Lynda Minor is one of its members. "They did not campaign to close an elementary school," said Minor. "We feel that early childhood is a priority and they do need that new facility and we want them to use that money that way - not go backwards in all the progress we've made in our elementary schools by closing an elementary school and re-purposeing that."

Minor says shutting down an existing school would cause overcrowding in the remaining buildings. She favors District 116's option of combining early childhood with adult education to form a family education center. Minor says that would have been a great benefit for her and other parents if such a program were offered when her kids were in the early childhood program. The citizen's group plans to turn in its petitions at Tuesday night's special Urbana School Board meeting, set for 7 p.m. at the district's administrative center.

Categories: Education
Tags: education

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