Tom's Mailbag, Sept. 25, 2015

Tom's Mailbag, Sept. 25, 2015

Got a question for Tom? Ask it here.

Kind of an artsy theme to the mailbag this week — a statue in Mahomet, traffic transparencies in Champaign, a movie theatre in Urbana, makeshift roadside memorials in Champaign, the future of the Broadway Series at State Farm Center and apartment architecture along University Avenue.

Plus questions about a new restaurant in Champaign, stadium lights, Illinois football promotions, Finnish bread, so-called pure gasoline, a basketball hall of fame museum in Danville, middle school cheerleaders and why you should be careful disposing of your hazardous chemicals.

"Chief Illiniwek" statue

"What is the story behind the Chief Illiniwek statue as you drive north into Mahomet on Route 47?"

That 15-foot-tall statue of an American Indian is the work of former University of Illinois athletic department director of video Mark Herman. It stands in a corner of his back yard, welcoming people to Mahomet. Herman and his wife Julie own Flushing Peasant Digital Video.

Herman said he calls the statue "The Chief."

"You may recall that I put together the documentary on the whole history of the Chief Illiniwek tradition. I worked closely with the Honor the Chief Society people back in 1999. That was a whole summer of my life interviewing all the former Chiefs," he said. "I was really close with all of the former Chiefs.

"So after all of that went down a friend of a friend knew about this statue. It was at a Wild West-themed miniature golf course in Oak Lawn, Illinois. They had a leaping stallion and a buffalo and this Indian statue."

Herman said he bought the fiberglass statue, loaded it onto his boat that was on a trailer and hauled everything back to Mahomet. That was about 11 years ago, he said.

The statue has stood in his yard all that time, he said, but has had a sort of recent resurrection.

"There was a tree growing in front of it and it was sort of losing its impact, and it also was 10 years old," he said. "So this summer I suggested to my daughter that if she needed a little extra spending money that I thought the chief needed an extreme makeover. So we brought him into the garage, tucked him in and then my daughter repainted him from top to bottom. And for the big reveal I took the chainsaw and cut down the tree.

"He's about as loud and proud as he was originally."

The statue went back up on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, which also turned out to be Illinois' home opener this season.

Herman said he thinks the statue is a Mahomet landmark.

"I have people all over the country tell me that once they find out, they say, 'Oh yeah, I know right where you live. I've seen that as I drive from Decatur to Gibson City,' or wherever," he said.

Displeased Illini fan

"As a graduate and season ticket holder, I want the Fighting Illini to succeed. But sometimes they do things that make me scratch my balding head. The promotion for this weekend — to have people in different sections wear orange or blue — whose idea? And why for this game of all games? Maybe the person can educate me but it sounds potentially embarrassing given that they've sold so few tickets I got two freebies in the mail. Any Big 10 game, I could see. But Middle Tennessee State? Huge whiff in this fan's opinion."

"We are attempting to add an atmosphere to every game on our schedule to make it enjoyable for all of the fans in the stands," said associate athletics director Brad Wurthman. "This was a request from the student-athletes as they will wear a matching uniform combination. Everything is always under review and we will continue to improve our process to help all fans have a memorable experience. We do try to schedule promotions like Stripe the Stadium or Orange Out early in the season as once weather turns colder, a lot of fans don't have outerwear that matches the theme for the day."

New restaurant at old restaurant site?

"Tom, I see the old Prairie Fire/TGIFriday's is being worked on. Any idea who the new tenant will be?"

John Carson at Ramshaw Real Estate in Champaign said that "we're close to getting the lease completed. But I can't divulge who it is at this point."

Demolition work already has started.

"And if all goes well we'll have someone new in there right around the first of the year," said Carson, who added there's a lot of interest among nearby office workers about who the new tenant is.

Bread question

"We have an exchange student staying with us from Finland. (Essi Kettunen, our Rotary Youth Exchange Student here in Arthur). The one food she really misses is the dark, dark rye bread that is a staple of her Finnish diet. Do you know of any local bakeries or international stores that might have a similar bread?"

— From Kevin Huffman in Arthur

Lisa Morgan, owner of the Great Harvest Bread Company in Champaign, said she doesn't have that particular bread, but she does have a dark pumpernickel rye bread that she declared is "almost black." She said it is baked every Tuesday and as of Friday morning she had two loaves remaining. And the Bread Company in Urbana makes a European rye bread that its customers say is authentic.

Roadside memorials

"On Duncan Road at Stoneybrook Drive and on Interstate Drive at Newark, families have built roadside memorials on what looks like city right of way, dedicated to a family member who passed away in an accident. Both have been there for several years. What is/or is there an ordinance regarding building memorials along the road within city limits?"

The memorials are violations of the city code. Sec. 30-300. prohibits "any obstruction of any right-of-way, unless specifically authorized pursuant to the Champaign Municipal Code." Further, the code says that "(u)pon notice by the City, a person who maintains an obstruction or encroachment, including buildings and structures, must remove the obstruction or encroachment from the public way within a reasonable time period set by the Director of Public Works. A person who fails to remove the obstruction or encroachment is liable for the cost of repair or removal and for fines imposed pursuant to Article IX of this Chapter."

But I haven't been able to get a response from the city about whether it ever enforces the ordinance.

There's actually a state Department of Transportation program to officially recognize victims of fatal accidents involving reckless drivers. It costs $150 for a blue, 3 feet by 2 feet sign that says "Reckless Driving Costs Lives." A smaller plaque with the name of the victim and the date of the crash costs an additional $50.

According to IDOT, "An immediate relative of a deceased victim of a crash caused by a driver who committed an act of reckless homicide or who otherwise caused the death of one or more persons through the operation of a motor vehicle may request a fatal accident memorial along a state highway by filling out an official application form and returning it to IDOT at (2300 South Dirksen Parkway, Room 009 Springfield, IL 62704). The crash must have occurred on or after January 1, 1990.

Also, "The memorial will normally be installed at or near the location of the crash. However, IDOT reserves the right to install it at an alternate location due to restricted room, property owner complaints, interference with essential traffic control devices, safety concerns, or other restrictions."

Down the drain

"Can you find out what kinds of bad things happen down line at the sewage treatment facility if I start dumping things like used motor oil, paint solvents, insecticides, etc. down the drain? Not that I'm going to do that."

Bruce Rabe, the pretreatment coordinator for the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District, provides the response.

"I must put out two facts before I answer the question presented. First, the recommended and legal method for handling used motor oil is to recycle it. Even if you have done your own work, most oil change places and garages will take motor oil off of your hands, often for free.

"Second, the questioner wonders what happens if you put oil down a sanitary sewer, and that is not good. But what is worse is if somebody pours used oil or any waste into a storm sewer — the open grates that are in the streets. Storm sewers receive no treatment. They are pipes that move rainwater to the nearest creek. So pouring oil into that grate is the same as pouring it directly into the Boneyard.

"Now, onto the question. Wastewater treatment plants are designed to treat domestic sewage and some commercial and industrial wastes, but not all chemical wastes. Some wastes are readily digestible by the microorganisms that clean the water but this is a function of time and concentration. A small amount of any one chemical may not cause a problem for the treatment process but many small discharges combined together could overwhelm the system.

"For example, small quantities of motor oil from washing your hands or your clothes would mostly float and be skimmed off in the primary clarifiers. The portion that dissolves in water would be either be air stripped in the aeration tanks or digested by the microorganisms. However, large quantities, such as from a spill of a tanker, could exceed the capacity of system and probably would not be treated successfully. We would see some pass through and discharge into the stream.

"Other chemicals, especially insoluble ones such as metals, mostly accumulate in the biosolids. Biosolids are applied to agricultural land and small quantities of metals are beneficial as micronutrients, much like vitamins. However, large quantities of metals necessitate applying smaller amounts to each field to match crop utilization.

"The above examples highlight the importance of proper waste management, not only from commercial and industrial sources but also from each individual. A homeowner may think that a cup of something down the drain may not be a problem but multiply it by 20,000 residences, it suddenly has the potential to cause problems. The toilet is not designed to be a trash can and should not be used to dispose of items such as old medicines, paints and thinners, chemical and cleaners."

Middle school cheerleaders

"A new one for me: cheerleaders at Champaign middle school boy's basketball games. Has this been happening for a while, and why aren't there cheerleaders at middle school girl's games in Champaign?"

I talked to Jackie Borchardt, the athletic director at Edison Middle School, who said that cheerleading is a club-level activity at the school and that it is organized and led by a volunteer. Cheerleaders have been at boys' games in the past and they will appear at girls' games later this fall. The cheerleading squad was chosen just last week, she said, and is still getting organized. But it will appear at the girls' games before the season ends in late November.

Pure (ethanol-free) gasoline

"I am a long-time subscriber and enjoy your column. My question is about gasoline. Why don't any gas stations in Champaign-Urbana offer pure gasoline? There are several cities in the area, Monticello and Paxton to name a couple, that offer it. It has been well-established that gasohol is:

1. Not 'green' to produce.

2. Breaks down and separates into a watery mess in less than 30 days causing all kinds of problems, i.e. hard starting, internal rust, etc. in engines that do not get run on a daily basis, i.e. antique vehicles, lawn implements, RVs, ATVs, motorcycles, etc.

3. Has less energy and gets less mpg than pure gasoline.

4. Wastes a food source that is needed.

"This past summer when I was in the following states: Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, and most if not all gas stations gave the motorist the choice of either at the pump. Obviously it is out there and available."

The FS Fast Stop station in Monticello is about the nearest station that sells the ethanol-free gasoline. I think I can see why station owners might be reluctant to market it. Earlier this week it was selling for $3.10 a gallon versus $2.14 a gallon for mid-grade at the FS.

A web site that lists ethanol-free gas stations says that the Tuscola Airport, located west and south of Tuscola, sells the gasoline. But Jerry Adkisson, who described himself as the "volunteer interim caretaker" of the grass landing strip, said he hopes to get rid of the ethanol-free fuel.

"It's fine for lawn mowers," he said, "and for guys with old cars or for tractors. But with modern cars, I don't think I'd use it."

Why light empty stadiums?

"I have a question for your mailbag. Why are the lights kept on throughout the night at UIUC athletic facilities, and what does this cost the university? As an astronomy enthusiast, I've noticed that the lights remain on even in the pre-dawn hours. Is this to prevent vandalism? If so, wouldn't a much less powerful lighting system or motion detectors accomplish that job?"

Associate athletics director for media relations Kent Brown said, "We keep the lights on at Memorial Stadium overnight on Fridays before home games for security reasons. To come up with an actual cost by pulling a specific item out of a utility bill is pretty difficult, but this is standard operating procedure for major stadiums like this."

Church Street art

Last week's mailbag included a question about color transparencies taped to the roadway suface on Chuch Street in Champaign.

Artist Dan Boomgarden said they're part of his work in which about 700 transparencies will be scanned and made to become part of an experimental film. So far he has about 250 transparencies.

"Last year I worked on the first segment on Fourth Street near campus. This was of rubbings that I did of the street texture to create an experimental animated film; the sound for the film came from rubbing different types of objects against the surface," said Boomgarden, 31. "This film, titled 'The Texture of Fourth Street,' will be screening at the New Art Film Festival in Champaign on October 4."

The film can be found at—experimental.html

"These pieces deal with visual and auditory texture. I like the idea of taking something functional and making it into abstract art. I am working with different techniques of re-creating the textured surface in different mediums," he said. "I'd like people to take a second look at the industrial surfaces around them, maybe take them out of their regular routine, and rethink what we consider art."

There's no significance to choosing Church Street for his work, Boomgarden said. He said he chose it because "it is a one-way street, making it easier to keep track of traffic and it has a rougher surface which gives me a better image.

"In the case of the transparencies, the vehicle tires become like paint brushes, creating the texture and it is somewhat a community art project, where the drivers are contributing to the film, whether they are aware of it or not."

The Church Street transparencies will be featured in a piece he is calling "The Texture of the City." He said it will be "a combination of shorter films all dealing with a different techniques to re-create texture, the audio will be a mix of sounds of the city and the sound of objects against the surface texture."

It's "a long-term project," he said, that's going to take "a couple of years."

Boomgarden said he lives in Champaign, is a graduate of Southern Illinois University and is a freelance videographer and screenwriter who works on experimental film projects.

Basketball hall of fame in Danville

"Love the Mailbag! Some years ago, I remember hearing that Danville had acquired the rights to the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame, and this was projected to be a big tourism draw. Whatever happened with that?"

The proposed Danville project would be an Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame Museum, separate from a proposed Basketball Museum of Illinois that was scheduled to open in June at Pontiac but hasn't. That one was to be operated by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association.

The Danville museum hasn't opened either.

"We're moving along slowly but the plans are still in the works," said Ron Crick, chairman of the board of the proposed Danville museum.

He said his museum would honor all of Illinois basketball, "from grade school to high school to college to the pros, men and women."

The Danville museum has a web site:

Urbana movie theater

"When is the last time Urbana has tried to seriously recruit a movie complex to town? I can't be the only one who dreads driving on a weekend all the way to Savoy or North Prospect Avenue (for me, from outside St. Joe). I say give up on that run-down hotel and bring something people will actually use. You're an Urbanan, right? You must agree?"

From Libby Tyler, Urbana's community development director: "Urbana is very interested in attracting a movie theater to serve our community and it is one of our top target uses. In recent years, we have had a few inquiries for specialty theaters, but unfortunately these have not come to fruition.

"The Urbanalove group has started showing outdoor movies during the summer months which have been hugely popular. It would be great to have a permanent location in Urbana."

Apartment buildings under construction

"Love to know a rundown of all the construction on University Avenue in Champaign. First, what's going on with the development on University Avenue between 2nd and 3rd? Construction has been stopped for some time. Also interested to know what the building at the southeast corner of 4th and University will be. And lastly, has there ever been an artist rendering of the complex between 4th and 6th on the north side of University?


"I would like to know what is the purpose of the concrete-block structure that have been under construction for the past year at the southeast corner of University and 4th street?"

First, the building at Fourth and University is to be a five-story, mostly residential building, according to the Champaign planning department.

G.T. Hardwick Architects was issued the building permit in March for the estimated $3.84 million project.

"The ground floor will be a mix of parking and office, and the upper stories will all be residential units. The approved site plan shows 64 one-bedroom units," said Jeff Marino, a senior planner with the city.

We got a number of renderings of what the Latitude project on the north side of University Avenue will look like.

Finally, we've written quite a bit in past Mailbags about the project on the south side of University between Second and Third. The latest update, on Aug 28, was: "Originally this project — a 5-story apartment/retail development — was to be completed this month, developers told us earlier this year, but the timeline was too aggressive and they pushed the completion date to August 2016.

"Bruce Knight, Champaign's planning and development director, said the developer is finalizing financing for the project and the project's architect will resume work when the financing is set. The city expects to receive a full permit application for the revised project in six to eight weeks."

Broadway Series

"I have had Broadway Series season tickets at the Assembly Hall (State Farm Center) since they started the annual series years ago. Last year there were no shows because of the renovations to the Center and I have not heard anything about future plans for the Series. Is there a future plan for the shows to return?"

"The Broadway series will return for the 2016-2017 season," said State Farm Center director Kevin Ullestad.

Cubs magic number: 1

What happens if the Cubs and Cardinals meet in the National League Division Series, civil war in Illinois?

I have a recent poll done by Public Policy Polling that says that 40 percent of Illinoisans identify as Cubs fans, 22 percent as White Sox fans and 19 percent as Cardinals fans.

Here's the poll (read to the end) ...


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jeisom wrote on September 26, 2015 at 9:09 am

I have a recent poll done by Public Policy Polling that says that 40 percent of Illinoisans identify as Cubs fans, 22 percent as White Sox fans and 19 percent as Cardinals fans.

They polled only 931 people, probably mostly Chicago area. A lot of people  live up there around the 2 fields.  I would be more interested in more detail. Like central, southern, east central & west central Illinois fan preferances. 

They talked to 177 Cards fans, 205 White Sox fans and 372 Cubs fans. I do think central and southern Illinois has a more balanced fan base between Cards and Cubs. I did not poll though.