Illinois Public Media News
Authorities say they hope to make more headway this week in an investigation into the death of a former chief fundraiser for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch said police on Monday plan to pursue more interviews and hospital admittance records in the possible suicide of 51-year-old Christopher Kelly. Welch also says they'll subpoena phone records and get a search warrant for a storage locker Kelly might have rented.
On Sunday, medical examiners completed an autopsy and detectives looked into whether drugs found in Kelly's vehicle may have factored into his death. Kelly died Saturday, just days before he was to report to prison to begin a three-year prison sentence on tax fraud charges. He was a native of Champaign.
Six people with diverse backgrounds came together for the first time at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus Thursday, and left their meeting as members of the school's Board of Trustees. The goal for them and their fellow members... reforming admissions and deciding if the current University leadership can guide that process. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports:
For the second time, a team of University of Illinois students is getting ready to take their solar-powered house to Washington D-C, where it will compete in the U-S Energy Department's biennial Solar Decathlon.
An open house on Thursday night served as a housewarming party. Graduate student in architecture Cam Greenlee played "Scotland the Brave" on the bagpipes, as the outdoor LED lights were turned on at the small house that's been dubbed the Gable Home.
With just 560 square feet of living space, the three-room house is small --- cozy, according to one student. Greenlee says the Solar Decathlon rules call for homes of no more than 800 square feet --- and some of that space went for things like the one-foot thick insulation to help insure energy efficiency.
"And so a lot of our design had to do with how do we use the little space that we have very efficiently", explained Greenlee. "And so, even though it's 560 square feet, I think two people could comfortably live in the house."
The south side of the Gable Home's roof is covered entirely in solar panels, the source -- both directly and indirectly --- for all of the home's power. While solar homes in past competitions used batteries at night, new rules at the Solar Decathlon allow the use of electricity from the conventional power grid. However, the house must send at least as much electricity back into the grid as it takes out. U of I Architecture Professor and Project Manager Mark Taylor says the Gable Home does that, and then some.
"If you actually go around to the east side", says Taylor, "you can see our little (electric) meter that you have on a typical house. And it's actually spinning backwards."
The U of I Solar Decathlon Team worked with area firms to build the Gable Home. Springfield-based Lamboo Incorporated developed the treated bamboo used in the home's frame. Goodfield-based Homeway Homes handled the modular construction, leaving it up to the students to design the home's interior and energy system.
Graduate student in architecture Philip Dimick helped design the Gable Home's compact bedroom. Because of the home's small size, Dimick says they used cabinets with sliding doors and wardobes to maximize space. "The challenge of the bedroom was that in order to get all the space we wanted in the main room (a combination kitchen, dining room and living room), we needed to not have a bedroom closet. And so that required the design of the cabinets."
When the U of I first entered the Solar Decathlon in 2007, their entry came in 9th place overall, out of 19 teams. This year, the U of I's Gable Home will be among 20 entries from the U-S, Canada and Europe.
The Gable Home will be transported to Washington D-C, to be set up with 19 other Solar Decathlon entries on the National Mall, October 9th through the 18th. For now, it's on display on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. It's open to the public Saturday and Sunday, September 12th and 13th, from 10 AM until 6 PM.
University of Illinois trustees have elected Chicago businessman Christopher Kennedy to be their new chairman.
Kennedy is one of six new members of the university's governing board appointed the past few weeks by Gov. Pat Quinn. Quinn made the appointments following a series of trustee resignations over the university's admissions scandal.
Kennedy was selected over Edward McMillan, a southern Illinois businessman. McMillan was among those who resigned from the board but was reappointed by Quinn.
Kennedy is a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and he runs Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago. Earlier this month, he announced that he'd considered but decided against running for Illinois governor and for the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
There were no additional arrests or weapons found after Rantoul Township High School was on a 'soft lockdown' for a second straight day yesterday. Superintendent Janet Koroscik says there will still be a police presence at the school today, but won't require that teachers or administrators accompany students that leave the classroom. There have been at least eight arrests following two fights off school grounds on Friday, and the discovery of knives on three students when searches were conducted Tuesday. Koroscik says school administrators and Rantoul police will meet soon to determine a long-term solution.
Legal video gambling at Illinois taverns is expected to be in place next year, providing tax revenue for state capital projects and local governments. But some local governments have voted to opt out of video gaming. A Champaign County Board committee will consider such a proposal this fall.
The county board's Policy Committee will hold a full discussion on video gaming in November. But committee members heard both sides of the debate over the social impact of video gambling last night. Tom Fiedler of Melody Music in Champaign is president of the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association, and he says research has shown legal video gaming adds little to a state's gambling addiction problem, thanks in part to strict limits on how many machines a bar can host. "It's a very low impact situation," said Fiedler. "It's not a destination type of thing. It's five machines. It's more for the casual player; it's a form of adult entertainment."
But University of Illinois Business Administration Professor John Kindt --- who's studied the economic impact of legalized gambling --- compares video gaming to crack cocaine when it comes to gambling addiction.
"When these come into a person's backyard, you're in fact doubling the number of addicted gamblers," said Kindt. "And among young people -- students in particular -- it's even worse. It goes up 200, 300, 400 percent."
The impact on students will mean more to the cities of Urbana and especially Champaign, where many bars specialize in serving students. But each city and village can make its own decision on whether to opt out of legal video gaming. Policy Committee Chairman Tom Betz wants local governments to act together on the issue, to avoid creating a patchwork of gambling and no-gambling areas in the county.
An administrator at Eastern Illinois University says enrollment there remains strong, despite economic struggles and the uncertain future of Illinois' Monetary Awards Program, or MAP grants. Just four shy of the optimum enrollment of 12,000 are taking courses on the Charleston campus this fall. Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Blair Lord says the numbers show that students realize the importance of a higher education. He says nearly a quarter of EIU's undergraduate population depends on MAP Grants. Just over 12,000 students attended the school a year ago.
University of Illinois negotiators and members of the union that represents graduate student employees held another bargaining session Wednesday.
Graduate Employees Organization members aren't happy with the direction talks are going -- they protested outside the Levis Faculty Center, where negotiations continued with the help of a federal mediator. The grad students' previous contract expired last month.
Carrie Pimblott is the GEO's lead negotiator. She calls the university's proposal for no raises over three years unacceptable - in fact, she claims most union requests are being rejected.
"They came back and said all of the proposals we had suggested that were monetary were untenable because they didn't have the money to do it. And a lot of our non-monetary issues they rejected for various reasons," Pimblott said. "Essentially they came back with a lot of very egregious proposals that not only rejected our central values but suggested that they would want to erode our grievance rights, erode our rights as union workers."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says they won't comment on negotiations while they're in progress.
Pimblott says the GEO wants to put pressure on the university through rallies - she says a labor action is not out of the question.
The September 10th meeting of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees in Urbana will not be business as usual. The board is meeting for the first time since Governor Pat Quinn appointed six new members --- and reappointed a 7th --- in the wake of the admissions scandal. Quinn himself will make a rare appearance at the trustees' meeting. And the board is scheduled to vote on a resolution putting the stamp of approval on admissions reforms called for by the governor's Admissions Review Commission.
U of I spokesman Tom Hardy says the first directive of the resolution is the elimination of Category I --- the infamous list of applicants with political connections --- and a ban on anything resembling it.
"We've done away with Category I", says Hardy. "But this says that anything that might appear or seem to take its place --- whether you call it something else --- anything like that tracking list would be out of bounds."
The resolution also calls for setting up written criteria for admissions that are readily accessible to all, and creating a new code of conduct for admissions that will help create a firewall that insulates admissions officers from unwarranted interference.
Hardy says these are the directives President B. Joseph White gave the administration at a special meeting last month, in line with recommendations from the Governor's Admissions Review Commission. White's goal is to have the reforms in place by the start of the new admissions cycle on September 23rd.
WILL will broadcast the U of I Board of Trustees meeting live, beginning at 9, on AM 580, FM 90.9 HD 2 and HD 3, and online at will.illinois.edu. .
Rantoul Township High School will be on a 'soft lockdown' for a second day Wednesday after two recent fights and the arrests of several students.
Superintendent Janet Koroscik says there were about five arrests following two fights outside the school on Friday. And Tuesday, Rantoul Police removed three students from the building when knives were discovered on them. The knives were found as officers went from room to room, bringing students out individually to search them. Officers and school administrators also searched backpacks and lockers. That was prompted after a rumor surfaced that a student would bring a gun to school Tuesday.
Koroscik says the fights could be connected to gang activity... noting the incidents have involved many of the same individuals. But she says they're a poor reflection of the majority of the student body:
"I really want to ensure everyone that the small group of individuals whose behavior is certainly inappropriate in no way reflects on the larger portion of our population who has amazing behavior," Koroscik said. "This is a great place to be and we want to make sure we keep it that way."
Rantoul Township High School has 787 students.
Koroscik says during a soft lockdown, no students are allowed to leave the classroom unless they're accompanied by a teacher or administrator. And extra staff and administrators are monitoring the hallways in between classes.
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