Members of state preservation group are trying to save ten of what they say are the most endangered places in Illinois. Most of the structures on the list are threatened with demolition as development projects expand. Some are falling into disrepair due to a lack of funds or mismanagement.
President of Landmarks Illinois Jim Peters says in the case of some structures, community meetings are being held to decide the building's fate.
"That's kind of an imminent threat, that doesn't mean it'll be demolished tomorrow, but there's a decision that could impact it's future," Peters said at a Wednesday news conference. "I think that's the case with all of these; there's some kind of threat."
The vacant Sheriff's Residence and Jail in Ford County made the list of endangered buildings. County officials purchased the building a few years ago and may be planning a demolition.
Susan Satterlee of the Ford County Preservation Coalition says the building's more than 100 year history deserves protection.
"Up until 1992 it was used as a functional jail and our county sheriff actually lived there," Satterlee said. "At one point, the spouse of the sheriff was responsible for feeding all the inmates."
Satterlee says the combined use of the building in Paxton makes it one of the oldest of its kind in the state. It sits next to the Ford County courthouse. If demolished, the space it is on would likely be used for a new county building.
Also on the list is the Will Rogers Theatre in downtown Charleston, an Art Deco building from 1938. It was still showing movies until last year, when it was closed and sold. Tom Vance does historic preservation consulting, and recently helped with a petition drive to get the theater named to that list. He says the facility could ideally become an entertainment venue for different acts, much like the Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.
"There may be somebody out there who has the investment capital to come in, buy it, and restore it," said Vance. "There are TIF (Tax Increment Finance) funds available to help with the exterior restoration of it, and put in a venue of performing arts and movies. That would be the ideal thing."
The current owners, American Multi-Cinema, is also looking to sell the theater and adjoining commercial block. Vance says if a buyer doesn't come forward, the other option is for a local non-profit group to form and re-open the theater. But he estimates the restoration would cost three quarters of a million dollars. The Charleston City Council has yet to decide whether to recommend the Will Rogers Theater for local landmark status, protecting it from further demolition.
Six years ago, voters in the Rossville-Alvin School District approved the deactivation --- that is the closing --- of their high school. And for the past five years, students from the rural Vermilion County district have attended high school in Hoopeston, to the north, and Bismarck, to the south.
But Rossville-Alvin voters indicated Tuesday that they're ready for a change. They voted 353 to 295 --- or by a 54% majority --- in favor of a referendum to reactivate their high school.
Rossville-Alvin School Superintendent Randy Hird says cost was a major factor. The district pays tuition to send its high school students to the neighboring high schools ...
"The tuition became a little bit more expensive, more expensive that has originally been planned," Hird said. "And there was just some question on the school board's mind what the input of the community would be. So the whole purpose of the vote was to gauge what the community support would be to reactivate the school or not."
Hird says they've been paying about $7,000 per student per year to send the district's high school students to other schools. The total cost to the Rossville-Alvin district has been 700-to-900 thousand dollars annually. Hird says a study prepared for the district by consultants from Eastern Illinois University concluded that the cost of tuition and the cost of hiring staff to reopening the high school was "about the same".
Hird says he expects the Rossville-Alvin school board will seek more detailed information over the next few months about the costs of reopening the high school. But he says if they decide to do so, it would be the fall of 2012 at the earliest before classes could resume.
The Rossville-Alvin high school building is located across the street from Rossville-Alvin Elementary School in Rossville. Hird says the building is still being used, for pre-school and daycare programs, while its cafeteria is used by the elementary school at lunchtime. He says the high school gym is also used for musical programs and graduation ceremonies.
In just a couple of years, Urbana is expected to have a new outdoor aquatic center at Crystal Lake Park.
There's been talk about building a new outdoor pool in Urbana ever since Crystal Lake pool closed in 2008. Voters that year rejected a 25-cent property tax increase that would have helped fund a new outdoor aquatic center. But on Tuesday night, voters backed an 11-cent property tax increase supporting one.
The Urbana Park District's Executive Director Vicki Mayes credits the success of this year's referendum to outreach for the project.
"The money in the taxes that people will pay will be right here in this community, and it will benefit them directly," she said. "So, it's something that they wanted, and it's something that they really would be willing to pay for."
The property tax increase will provide enough funds for the park district to sell and pay back bonds to finance the project's construction and maintenance.
The new aquatic center priced at $7.725 million will include three pools - one that's shallow, one that's deeper, and one reserved for fitness. It will be built where Crystal Lake pool once operated. The design for the center begins this spring, and it is expected to open sometime in 2013.
The Cherry Orchard Village apartments lie just south of the abandoned Chanute Air Force Base near Rantoul - and like the base itself, Cherry Orchard has seen better days. Now the two landlords who manage the eight-building complex are charged with failing to maintain it - to the detriment of its tenants, mainly migrant worker families. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers has been collaborating with the investigative journalism group CU-Citizen Access. He reports on the legal battle to bring Cherry Orchard up to code.
(English language voice over by Jenn Kloc)
(With additional reporting from Pam Dempsey and A. H. Gorton of CU-CitizenAccess)
Mayor Scott Eisenhauer brushed back three challengers to his office on Election Day, winning with 42% of the vote.
Eisenhauer beat Vermilion County Board member James "Mouse" McMahon, who received 34%. Rickey Williams Junior received 13% of the vote, followed by David Quick with 10%.
Eisenhauer says he was overwhelmed to see the support he got in his third bid for mayor. He says it was good to see that "although the community certainly doesn't like everything you do as mayor ,they at least have confidence in our team to appreciate what we've done for eight years, and more importantly the confidence that we've been moving the city in the right direction and will continue to do that over the course of next four years."
new aldermen will join the City Council under Eisenhauer, including longtime State Representative Bill Black, who retired from his post late last year. He soundly defeated incumbent 7th ward alderman Ron Candido. Kevin Davis, Michael O'Kane and Thomas Stone won seats, joining victorious incumbents Rick Strebing and Jon Cooper. City Treasurer Linda Monson defeated challenger Carol Nichols.
University of Illinois employee Don Gerard will become the next mayor of Champaign, defeating three-term incumbent and retired police officer Jerry Schweighart.
Gerard picked up 51% of the vote in a race that at times had turned testy over budget issues and campaign funding.
"It's all been a process of being prepared. To see it to fruition is just remarkable," Gerard said after his win. "I think it's a real testament to our team and to the community. People really got out and supported us and worked really hard. I think we had a lot of numbers pushed up in a lot of different places, and I think we really made a statement."
Speaking by phone after the vote count, Schweighart blamed lack of union support and very low turnout in Champaign, which he called "pathetic."
When asked if he had any words of advice for the new mayor, Schweighart responded, "He's smarter than I am. I'll let him figure it out."
There was also one Champaign City Council seat left open by resignation -- state economic development official Paul Faraci has won that seat, defeating two other write-in candidates. Faraci received 787 votes to Cathy Emanuel's 518 and James McGuire's 415.
Just hours to go before polls close, the Brookens Center in Urbana lost power, but power has now been restored.
On his Twitter page, Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said all election operations after 7 PM will occur at Brokens as planned. For a short time, Hulten had said the outage may affect the release of unofficial results, but that doesn't appear to be the case anymore.
Ameren has not yet released a cause for the outage.
University of Illinois freshman guard/forward Jereme Richmond will enter the 2011 NBA draft, and he says he doesn't plan on returning to school
Richmond earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors after averaging 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 31 games for the Illini during the 2010-11 season. Richmond is working out in Chicago and will weigh his options regarding signing with an agent.
"I enjoyed my time at the University of Illinois and would like to thank the coaching staff and my teammates for everything they've done for me," Richmond said. "At this time, I'm ready to follow my dreams and achieve my life-long goal of playing in the NBA."
Richmond earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors after averaging 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 31 games for the Illini during the 2010-11 season. He shot 52.8 percent from the field and ranked third in the Big Ten in field goal shooting during conference play at 60.4 percent. Richmond scored in double figures 10 times, led by a career-high 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting against Ohio State on Jan. 22. The team's third-leading rebounder on the season, Richmond led the Illini in rebounding in six games, highlighted by a career-best 12 boards versus UIC on Dec. 18.
"Jereme is an extremely talented player who helped us at nearly every position," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "His versatility and ability to impact the game in a number of different areas are skills that will help him greatly as he pursues his dream of playing professional basketball."
The head of Caterpillar says the company intends to stay in Illinois while working with the governor to improve the state's business climate.
CEO Doug Oberhelman met with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn today to discuss a letter he recently sent Quinn. It warned that other states were trying to lure his company away because Illinois increased its income tax rate on corporations and individuals.
The Peoria-based company has more than 23,000 employees in Illinois.
Quinn says he understands Illinois must do more to improve its economy and image. He is seeking to overhaul the workers' compensation system and encourage the greater export of Illinois goods.
Oberhelman has agreed to serve on a council that will try to strengthen the export business.