Tom's Mailbag Feb. 21, 2014: Urbana to rebuild Windsor

Tom's Mailbag Feb. 21, 2014: Urbana to rebuild Windsor

Questions and comment all over the board this week on items from potholes and the “cancer” on Windsor Road to the history of Marquette School in Champaign to the new food service inspection placard policy of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to “Unofficial,” and finally to whether there’s a conflict of interest at the University of Illinois College of ACES because of all its corporate support.

First up: potholes

“What is Urbana’s short-term plan for repairing Windsor Road?”


“When are they going to fix the potholes?”

Big pothole news this morning.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says that Windsor Road will be completely rebuilt this summer.

“We expect to get $3 million from other sources and we probably will have to issue $3 million in bonds. 

“We know that this has to get done. We’re doing short-term patching now but the we’ll go into a complete overhaul this summer. We’re working on it. We intend to do it this summer. We have to do it.”

Prussing said engineering planning is ongoing but that the new Windsor Road would remain four lanes and “they’re going to try to keep it open” during the reconstruction. 

“It’s going to be a completely new road in that section because the concrete failed,” she said.

“We’re either going to start it before July 1st, depending on when we get (state and federal) money, or we’ll start it by July 1st. But we want to get it done this summer,” Prussing said.

“People complain about the potholes and I understand that, but we are doing this as fast as we can,” she said.

Prussing said the city has no outstanding bonds, “so we’re in very good shape for that.”

Then she joked, “I think they should name it Carle Hospital Road and they should pay for it. Maybe we could get $6 million from Carle.”

That was in reference to Prussing’s ongoing dispute with Carle over the organization’s property tax-exempt status.

That status, granted in a state law passed in 2012, eliminated more than $6 million in property tax revenue to Champaign County governments.


I feel sorry for the public works, highways and transportation directors across Illinois. This has been a brutal winter between the need to clear roads, fill potholes, try to balance snow removal budgets and buy more road salt.

On Thursday Urbana officials announced that they would close a lane in each direction along Windsor so that road repairs could be made. Crews will first put down a temporary cold patch. Then sometime next week they hope to fill in the potholes with a more substantial and superior hot mix. But they can’t do that until asphalt plants, which are dormant in the winter, are fired up anew.

“We’re going to try to keep that open with hot mix patching,” said Craig Shonkwiler, an assistant city engineer in Urbana. 

“We’re just trying to get through this winter. It’s really played havoc with us,” he said. “The temporary stuff we’re working with now usually comes out within a day or two. So getting that asphalt plant reopened will really help.”

Shonkwiler bemoaned that public works crews have either been plowing or filling potholes for weeks.

“The operations guys plow and when they’re not plowing, they’re filling the holes,” he said. 

For some background I wrote about Windsor Road’s “cancer,” and the city’s costly dilemma, about two years ago ...


“The decision by the Champaign School Board to sell the Marquette School property adds another Champaign elementary school building to the list of old workhorse neighborhood schools lost to the community. It ended service as a regular school, grades 1-6, in 1972-73 with an enrollment of 189 students. Although Marquette was in use for many years for special purposes  

It seemed to be considered the outer edge of Unit 4. School district advisors and commentators never grew tired of suggesting that Marquette be sold. 

“I guess the time has come for Marquette to fade into local history with the other Unit 4 elementary schools that had life east of the Illinois Central Railroad tracks: Lawhead, Willard and Col. Wolfe. 

“Do you think The News-Gazette could feature one picture from the paper’s archives of Marquette School when it was living life as a vibrant, important part of Champaign-Urbana? Give the building one final salute and let former students, teachers, and all who were a part of the school community say good-bye to Marquette School? Thanks.”

We unfortunately couldn’t find a photo of Marquette with schoolchildren running in and out of the building, or on its playground. All we have is this photo of it taken in 1982.

Incidentally, if you want a piece of Champaign history, the Marquette property is for sale. Bids will be accepted until March 12. Minimum bid is $1.9 million.

Here’s some history of Marquette School, partly taken from the dedication and open house of the second Marquette building on Sunday, May 24, 1959:

“Old records do not show who the Board of Education members were who named Marquette School, honoring the famous priest who accompanied the George Rogers Clark expedition through this section of Illinois. We do know the Marquette School’s history dates back to 1872. The District was then No. 2, and a frame building, constructed in 1860 at a cost of $7,200, was the first public school in the district.”

The original Marquette building was known as East High.

The old Marquette building was used until 1908, then closed for two years and remodeled in 1910.

I found references to the remodeling in the 1910 editions of The Champaign Daily Gazette.

In June 1910: “Contractor A.W. Stoolman was awarded the contract to remodel Marquette School in Champaign, his bid for the general contract being $12,834. Other bids ranged from $14,685 to $17,533. The board voted to allow the architects 2.5 percent of the cost of the new Dr. Howard School and 5 percent of the work to be done on the Marquette remodeling.”

In December 1910: “When 300 or 400 students return to their desks in the remodeled Marquette School next Monday they will have the satisfaction of knowing they are housed in one of the prettiest and most modern school buildings in central Illinois. From all appearances the structure at Clark and Fifth streets is a new structure yet just a few months ago it was a ramshackle frame structure and an eyesore to the neighborhood. The improvement has cost taxpayers $18,000. The old frame shell has been hidden behind a veneer of brisk with Bedford stone trimmings on its first floor with green-tinted stucco on the second floor. New boilers, new plumbing, electric lights, a lavatory in each room and new playrooms complete the changes in the building. There also are new blackboards in every room.”

More remodeling of the old Marquette building was done in 1943. The stucco was replaced with asbestos shingles and a new brick facing was applied.

“After an extensive study of population trends and other factors, the Board of Education decided in 1957 that he 85-year-old building should be torn down and a new modern building erected,” said the 1959 history. “Pupils and staff moved into the present Marquette School in September 1958.”


“It is truly amazing. In the month of January, all of the restaurants and food service facilities that were inspected by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District received a passing score, and none required a reinspection, and none was closed down.

This has never happened since June 2012, when the CUPHD began posting  inspection results on their website. Is it a coincidence, considering that there is a new inspection placard system now in use?”

From Julie Pryde, director of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District: 

“This is partially true. We did have three places drop below the score of 36 threshold, however, per the direction of a board of health member, we provided notification and education in place of the yellow card. This education/notification period is to help usher in the new system, and will be in place for six months.  This is not uncommon for CUPHD to offer this with any new ordinance or food rule change. This ensures that everyone is familiar with the process, rules, etc. before expecting them to fully comply.

“With that said, if there are imminent health hazards, the place will be immediately shut down and placarded with a RED inspection notice placed upon the door.  There was one facility that was closed for 45 minutes until they were able to restore hot water.

“We are hoping that the requirement of posting the notice is helping places to be in compliance.”  

The three restaurants that fell below the 36 threshold were: Cactus Grill at 1495 N. Neil St., which scored 9 on Jan. 23; Super Taco at 519 W. Town Center Blvd., which scored a 30 on Jan. 22; and Super Wok, which scored a 31 on Jan. 27.

The Cactus Grill, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, “was closed due to the lack of hot water and inability to properly wash hands prior to handling food. Closure sign was placed on the front door and facility was instructed to close. Facility was not allowed to fulfill any orders which had been placed after the instruction to close. Upon arrival of the owner, it was discovered that the employees had deplete the majority of the hot water supply from the 19-gallon hot water heater prior to the inspection.” 

After 45 minutes, according to the inspection report, the supply of hot water was reestablished and the restaurant was allowed to reopen.


“As a lifetime Champaign resident, I would love to know: When is the mayor going to pull the plug on Unofficial? I’m so sick of hearing about these juvenile ‘Animal House’ wannabes (minus the togas).”

and this ...

“It is not time to stop Unofficial, it is past time.  As a taxpayer, I resent my tax dollars being spent to police unnecessarily bad behavior among young people who should know better.”

The bad behavior may come from the “young people” and the “juvenile ‘Animal House’ wannabes,’ but it’s been encouraged, promoted and lined the pockets of campus bar owners, in particular Scott Cochrane, who owns 100 percent of Fire Haus, The Clybourne, Red Lion and The Office II in Champaign. Cochrane’s bars promote “Unofficial” on Facebook.

“Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” was the idea of this fully grown adult. He owns it. It’s his contribution to Champaign-Urbana, the University of Illinois and the rest of society. Nice.


“The UI College of ACES accepts huge amounts of money from powerful agri-business and chemical companies such as Monsanto, Nestle, DuPont and many more corporate giants. Does anyone see a conflict of interest in such a practice?”

From Urbana campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler:

Engaging with industry is as old as the university itself. The original name “Illinois Industrial University” reflected that. As the excellence of the university has grown throughout the years, companies seek out the expertise of our faculty to put the knowledge created at Illinois to work.

University research agreements with companies follow all relevant state and federal regulations.  Gift agreements make it clear that a company supporting a research project has no say in the research itself.

Faculty involved in external corporate research file annual disclosures about those agreements, and potential conflicts are reviewed by the university. In those instances, conflict management plans are created to ensure transparency and provide for additional oversight.


Some questions had to be held over to next week. I ran out of time. Thanks for the correspondence. Keep it coming.


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Sid Saltfork wrote on February 21, 2014 at 12:02 pm

What are the "other sources" that will be on the hook for $3 million?  Are the "other sources" the state that is supposedly broke, the federal government, or the county?  If Urbana is in "good shape" for selling bonds, why doesn't Urbana pay for it's own streets?  Why should others pay for Urbana's streets while Urbana spends money on statues, and bike paths?  Other communities do not spend money on follies, and whims.

787 wrote on February 21, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Could Prussing be any more unprofessional on the Carle issue?

Laurel, sweetheart... you're beating a dead horse.   Since you are so passionate about it, then take it to the court.

Congratulations to the people of Urbana.  Apparently this is the type of mayor you wanted.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 21, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Well, we learned tonight via the televised news where the $3 million from "other sources" will come from that mayor Prussing mentioned.  It will come from the supposedly broke State of Illinois.  While Urbana spends it's money on bike paths, statues, and recreating historic hotels; the rest of the state including the other communities in the county will pay for Urbana's roads while their communities needs are ignored.

Shop in Champaign, or any other community before paying any sales taxes in Urbana.