Illinois Public Media News
Champaign city officials say they did what they could to help residents of Gateway Studios, who were forced to move out when Ameren turned off the gas and electricity yesterday (Tuesday). The owners had fallen behind in its utility bills, but residents paying for rooms by the week or the month didn't learn about the impending shutdown until late last week.
Neighborhood Service Director Kevin Jackson says the city worked with local service agencies to make sure everybody who lived at the Gateway had a place to stay last night, and help in finding more permanent living quarters. Now, Jackson says he now wants to look to the future. "I know, going forward, we want to learn from this to see if there is something we could do from a local policy standpoint to prevent something like this from happening again," Jackson said.
Prevention was also on the minds of several people who came to last night's city council study session, but were not allowed to speak. After the meeting, they met in small groups with Jackson and about five city council members. The group was organized by Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice. Many of them said the city of Champaign should have a policy in place to identify motels and apartment complexes in danger of closing, so residents have more advance warning. They also called for a special city fund help people who face motel or apartment closings through no fault of their own.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he's going to appoint a new head of the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Quinn refused Tuesday to divulge who he would name, but he said an announcement was likely later this week.
The governor says a priority will be looking at operations at the Tamms Correctional Center. Some question the long hours inmates spend in solitary confinement at the Alexander County prison.
The corrections department has been run by former Macon County Sheriff Roger E. Walker Jr. since 2003. Department spokesman Derek Schnapp says Walker has no immediate comment.
Quinn didn't say why he was making the appointment.
Walker was an appointee of ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but Quinn has kept other Blagojevich hires in his administration.
Mahomet Aquifer Consortium Still Looking for Money to Finish Its Study
Public donations are being sought with hopes of completing an extensive study on the Mahomet Aquifer in just over six weeks.
The Baltimore Aircoil plant in Paxton will close its gates by the end of June, and all 223 workers will be laid off. But the city says it can save at least some of the jobs.
Mayor William Ingold says another manufacturing company ... Colmac Industries... will locate in the city and is going to use parts of the Baltimore Aircoil building:
"They're going to retain one of the lines that was used by Baltimore Aircoil, and they'll retain 20 to 25 employees right away with more coming online later on and keeping the plant going to a certain extent," Ingold said.
Ingold says the city council has approved a $375,000 low-interest loan to create jobs at the Colmac Industries plant - he says former Baltimore Aircoil workers may qualify for those jobs. The company plans to start manufacturing as soon as possible.
Ingold says he still doesn't understand why Baltimore Aircoil feels the need to close.
Five months after the closing of Columbia Center, the Champaign School Board has confirmed that a regional program will teach most of its students expelled from school for the foreseeable future.
Unit Four school board members voted unanimously Monday night to pay 43-thousand dollars over the next two years for an expanded READY program. The Regional Office of Education for Champaign and Ford Counties operates READY as an alternative program for middle and high school students with behavioral problems. School Board President Dave Tomlinson says READY will be the first choice in such cases. "(The READY program has) been doing a good job for several years," says Tomlinson. "We've transitioned in that (alternative education) category already to READY for this year, so we're going to continue to do that for the foreseeable future."
READY didn't have the capacity this semester to accept all the students that Unit Four wanted to send to it. A few receive home instruction instead --- a program actually designed for students forced to stay home due to medical conditions.
Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services Michael McFarland says the expansion of READY should make it big enough to accept all Unit Four students needing alternative education. He says a few with special education needs will continue to be sent to the Circle Academy at the Cunningham Children's Home in Urbana, or the Pavilion Foundation School in Champaign
A federal judge has turned down a request from the plaintiffs in the Champaign Unit Four Consent Decree case for more hearings.
Attorneys for plaintiffs in the racial equity case had requested hearings on its motions to extend the Consent Decree past June 30th. They also wanted a comprehensive hearing on whether the Champaign school district had been acting in good faith in all its actions to meet the requirements of the decree. But Judge Joe Billy McDade ruled Monday that the decree does not require such hearings.
Unit Four School Board President Dave Tomlinson says he's pleased with the judge's decision. He says the move will limit hearings in the Consent Decree case to whether the district has met specific requirements in special and alternative education and building new classrooms on the north side of Champaign. He denied charges from the plaintiff's attorney that opposing a comprehensive hearing was an attempt to shut out public comment. "This is a court document and we have to fight this in court," Tomlinson said.
Plaintiffs' attorney Carol Ashley could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
An astronaut from Central Illinois will lead NASA's space shuttle mission this afternoon.
The commander leading a seven-member crew on the shuttle Atlantis to the Hubble Space Telescope is University of Illinois graduate Scott Altman. This mission has been long-delayed, originally scheduled for last October. On-board equipment that transmits data back to Earth broke down, and it's taken months for engineers to prepare replacement equipment that the Atlantis crew will take to the Hubble.
This is one of 8 or 9 final missions for the Space Shuttle program. It's expected to be phased out either next year or early 2011, depending on government funding. Altman, who was on three other shuttle missions, says he'd like to believe the U of I could play a role when the Orion space capsule resumes manned missions around 2015.
"When I came to NASA, I'd hoped I would be one of the first people to visit Mars and go beyond where we've been. Now I realize it's the next generation that's going to do that, and it's the people I talk to at Illinois who are going to make that happen and be a key part of that," Altman said. "I kind of envy them (for) that opportunity."
Altman says he's happy to pass the torch to potential astronauts, but he admits he's envious of them when making return visits to his alma mater. Altman received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U of I in 1990. He's a native of Pekin.
The Champaign County Board is expected to vote this month on a proposal to allow the development of wind turbine farms on agricultural land. Some Champaign city officials say that's fine with them --- if the county inserts a new rule to keeping the wind farms further away from the city.
Champaign and other communities already have a mile and a half around their borders where they can overrule the county on zoning. It's called 'extra-territorial jurisdiction" or ETJ. For wind farms, Champaign city planners and the city Plan Commission recommend asking the county for an additional mile of ETJ. Land Development Manager Lorrie Pearson says they want to make sure the city can grow without bumping up against a wind farm. "Whereas today if a wind farm is located immediately adjacent to the ETJ, in the future it may actually be within the ETJ or perhaps even within our growth area," Pearson said. "So we want to really look at how our city grows and have that be more consistent with our comprehensive plan rather it be regulated by wind farms that are existing within our county."
The Champaign City Council hasn't discussed the matter yet, but the County Board's Environment and Land Use Committee will look at the ETJ request at their meeting tonight, prior to a county board vote next week. Committee Chair Barb Wysocki isn't commenting on the idea. But she says the current proposals for Champaign County wind farms would be built well away from Champaign.
Injuries are being reported in southern Illinois in the wake of thunderstorms that packed 100-mph winds that moved across the area Friday.
Health officials say a truck driver who had to be extricated from an overturned semitrailer was in serious condition at a local hospital.
Rosslynd Rice of Southern Illinois Healthcare says about six other patients with minor injuries were being treated at the Memorial Hospital of Carbondale.
Carbondale Township Fire Captain Mark Black says trees are down and siding from homes is strewn everywhere. He says his firefighters are cutting trees out of the roadway so they can get their trucks out.
The storms forced the cancellation of some commencement ceremonies Friday at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus.
University spokesman Rod Sievers says power is out, hundreds of trees are down and many dorm windows are broken. But there were no injuries on .
Sievers says if power returns, commencement ceremonies scheduled for Saturday will go on as planned.
It's finals week at SIU-Carbondale, and many students have left campus because they were finished with tests.
More than 33,000 Ameren customers are without power, mostly around Carbondale, Marion and Herrin.
Sales tax money from new retail development has helped the city of Urbana avoid any cuts to services or staff in a proposed $48 million budget.
Revenues from the new Meijer store are part of the reason city leaders expect income to exceed expenses for the current fiscal year by $750,000.
But because of the economic downturn, city comptroller Ron Eldridge expects them to break even in the year ahead, meaning the city will hold the line on expenses. But Eldridge admits the city could be face problems within another fiscal year if the economy doesn't bounce back. "It makes no sense to add on a bunch of expenditures if you really, truly think you maybe you've going have to be cutting those expenditures the following year," says Eldridge. "Now nobody really knows, and so it certainly it is cautioned, but I think that's the reasons we try to do those long-term projections - to give people an idea of where we're heading in the future." At the end of the next fiscal year, Urbana will have to negotiate new contracts with its police, fire, and AFSCME unions. And Eldridge says pensions continue to be a problem, as the city can expect to pay 6-million dollars or more in fiscal 2009-10.
The assessed value of property is expected to increase by nearly 6%, largely due to new construction. Mayor Laurel Prussing says Urbana is getting another boost through federal stimulus money. More than a million dollars will cover highway projects on Windsor Road and Goodwin Avenue, freeing up local funds for other repairs.
The city council will hold two study sessions on the proposed budget this month, and will vote to approve the budget at a June 1st public hearing.
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