Tom's Mailbag, Oct. 2, 2015

Tom's Mailbag, Oct. 2, 2015

Got a question for Tom? Submit it here and he'll chase down an answer

I learned a lot from this week’s mailbag questions: that the Olympian Drive and Windsor Road projects are almost finished, that there are plans for a new brewery at the old TK Wendl’s, that Morrissey Park once was a kids’ construction site, that harvest has changed enormously in 50 years, that the website “mug shots” have moved and much more. Here we go:

Update on Olympian

“Whatever happened to the Olympian Drive project? I haven’t heard anything about it for at least a year.”

Out of sight, out of mind. The $7 million Olympian Drive project is, for the most part, in a remote area north of Urbana and away from any major highways. It’s a 1.2-mile-long extension of the existing Olympian at Apollo Drive, north of Champaign, to Lincoln Avenue in Urbana.

And it’s almost finished. 

“With good weather we could open Olympian in December,” said Jeff Blue, Champaign County’s highway engineer. 

Bridge work over the Illinois Central/Canadian National railroad tracks is ongoing and most of the concrete has been poured.

“Mainline concrete paving is complete. There is still some minor paving, shoulders and entrances to complete,” said Blue. “We are on schedule as of now.”

But that’s just the Olympian Drive work. The extension of Lincoln Avenue, from Interstate 74 up to Olympian, is scheduled for next year.

The overall project was conceived as a way to more conveniently connect businesses along North Lincoln Avenue with Interstate 57. Longer term, it is seen as part of a beltway around Champaign-Urbana. Eventually Olympian is supposed to run from U.S. 45 to Duncan Road.

Missing mug shots

“What has happened to the Champaign County Jail arrest records?”


“I see the mug shots are missing from the website again. At least I cannot find them. What gives?”

They’re in a new spot on The News-Gazette website. Right under The News-Gazette logo is the word “News.” Click on that and a drop-down box appears. Click on “Bookings” and you’ll see the most recent Champaign County Jail bookings.

Early days of Morrissey Park

“While reminiscing with some old friends, they fondly remembered Morrissey Park in Champaign in its early days. They recalled a structure that was supplied with hammers, nails, screwdrivers, lumber and other building materials. They went on and on about what fun they had building things and using the tools. Were they pulling my leg, or did the Champaign Park District really provide those things? One of the friends was Mark Toalson, son of famed Robert Toalson of the Champaign Park District. This would have been in the early to mid-1970s.”

They weren’t pulling your leg. I found a newspaper story detailing the “Adventure Playground” that developed at Morrissey Park in the summer of 1974.

“To the pint-sized builders who have spent the past six weeks concocting the development, they are imposing fortresses, gracious homes, and even a stout, sea-worthy ship,” wrote Darlene Napady in the old Champaign-Urbana Courier. “The idea for Adventure Playground, as the park district calls it, originated in post-war Europe when youngsters were forced to build their own play areas among the rubble of bombed-out buildings.

“It has since developed into a program for teacjing children some of the dangers they can encounter working with tools and buiding materials while allowing them to create a world of their own.”

The story said that more than 50 children, ages 8 to 14, were enrolled in the park district program that was overseen by two on-site adult coordinators.

“It changes every day out here and never looks the same twice,” said Tony Scott, one of the adults. 

Some structures were abandoned when their builders lost interest, and the materials then were reused for new projects.

Although working with tools like hammers and saws involve certain risks, the program has resulted in only a few minor injuries, wrote Napady.

“It’s not really as dangerous as it looks,” said Scott.

Speed limit in school zones

“I enjoy your mailbag a lot. Don’t know if this question fits but: traffic signs near schools usually say speed limit is 20 mph when children are present. Does this mean when you can see children outside or during the hours and days when school is in session even if no children are visible?”

Urbana Police Chief Pat Connolly says that children “need to be present on the street or on the walks. Simply inside the building does not apply.” But he adds, “I will say that we always encourage folks to be extremely vigilant anytime they are near a school.” Amen to that, brother.

Harvest decisions

“As a town kid, I’ve always wondered how our local farmers decide when to harvest. I’ve seen harvesting equipment out already in various cornfields for the past week or two, yet if previous years are any indication the harvest will continue at least into November. Are different fields actually ready at such different times? Or is the harvest window so large because of limited equipment/manpower? (And how come it looks like everything in the field is dead before harvesting occurs?) Please educate me and my fellow non-farmers.”

We got help answering this question from two veteran Champaign County farmers, Chris Hausman and Lin Warfel, both of whom farm in southern Champaign County.

Let’s let Lin go first:

“Experience teaches us how long the growing season lasts here. Weeds tell us in the spring when the soil is warm and our seeds would be happy planted. We pay close attention to soil temperatures, checking daily. Corn is a grass relative, so is happy with cool temps with good moisture. Corn can even tolerate a late frost. Not so with soybeans. They require warmer soil to plant, and frost kills soybeans. We select several maturities of both corn and beans, so they don’t all mature at once, and also so adverse weather doesn’t impact a whole crop.

“The percent of moisture in seeds determines harvest. To store without rotting, corn needs to be 15 percent moisture or less. Soybeans 12 percent. Corn is often artificially dried in bins by forcing dry warm air through. That, of course, costs the farmer for electricity and propane. The wetter the corn, the more it costs to dry. Farmers continue to speed up harvest with larger and more efficient machines. Most crops are harvested by the end of October. Weather plays a big role. Many things come together in America to help our farmers be world leaders in productivity. In one minute I harvest what would be one year’s harvest for an average family farm in most of Africa. One American farmer feeds himself or herself and 155 other people, freeing those people for other jobs. We are 2 percent of the population.”

Fifty years ago harvest usually lasted until after Thanksgiving, Warfel said. 

“Today I am harvesting 70 bushels per acre beans in the same field my dad and grandpa were trying to harvest on Dec. 7, 1941. Muddy that fall. Got stuck a lot! Those beans probably yielded 32 bushels per acre,” he said. “They had a 9-foot-wide platform combine, pulled by a tractor. My platform is 25-feet-wide, my combine self-propelled. I have huge tires. I haven’t been stuck since 1972!”

In 1941, he said, 80 bushels of corn per acre was considered good. Today he is getting 200 to 230 bushels per acre.

“When grandpa was a strong young man he was an outstanding corn picker, one of the best at 100 bushels in a very long day. I do 1,000 bushels per hour with a medium-sized combine,” he noted.

Warfel said he lives at the 160-acre field his grandfather bought.

“That was a big farm then. I’m trying to slow down gradually, so I farm half as much as I used to, down to 800 acres,” he said. 

Here’s Chris Hausman:

“I will answer the last first. As corn and soybeans matures the plant will end its cycle and die, since they are annual crops and as such, the brown material is dead material with the seeds left for harvest. Farmers will plant different maturities of both corn and soybeans in order to spread out the harvesting season. 

“With large acreages that farmers harvest, you don’t want all of your acreage maturing at the same time. As to which fields are harvested first, in corn, it will be which is the lowest in moisture and in soybeans it will also be based on low moisture and also lack of green stems and pods that can cause harvest problems.”

Thanks, gentlemen, and we wish you and all your colleagues a safe and profitable harvest.

Neil and Devonshire

“How many more weeks is it going to take to complete the new right-turn lane onto Devonshire Drive, from southbound Neil Street (U.S. 45)? Because of this work, southbound Neil Street has been reduced to just one lane for several weeks now, north of Devonshire. Finally completing this small job and not having a one-lane bottleneck on southbound 45 at 5 p.m. would be a bonus.”

  It turns out that this is neither a city nor a state project, but a “permit job,” one undertaken by the developer at the old Carriage Center development, said Kensil Garnett, the deputy director of the Illinois Department of Transportation in Region 3 at Paris.

But our friends at the city of Champaign say it’s their understanding that the lane could be reopened sometime this weekend. A sidewalk ramp being constructed there could require more intermittent lane closures too.

County control

“Hi, Tom. I had a discussion on social media about Kim Davis and I want to make sure I understand something about local government correctly. Are elected officials at the county level essentially their own bosses? Can the Champaign County Board give orders to (County Clerk) Gordy Hulten? Do they have any control over the budget for the county clerk’s office? Other than losing an election, how can an elected county official be removed from office? Kentucky probably has some differences from Illinois, but I’d like to make sure I have the basic idea right about the relationship between the different institutions at the county level. Thanks.”

Yes, countywide officials in Illinois are essentially their own boss. Aside from controlling their budgets, the county board can’t do anything about a countywide official. We saw that in Champaign County about five years ago when county board members knew that former County Auditor Tony Fabri wasn’t working, but they were powerless.

There are two ways to get rid of a countywide official: on Election Day or by conviction for official misconduct, malfeasance or some other related charge.

Champaign County Administrator Deb Busey adds: “Focusing on the county clerk, no, the county board cannot tell the county clerk what to do except in certain instances like establishment of polling places and approving election judges, where the county clerk is statutorily required to bring those issues to the County Board for final approval.

“In terms of running his office, by statute (55 ILCS 5/3-2003), the county clerk shall appoint his deputies, assistants and personnel to assist in the performance of his duties, and the compensation of deputies and employees shall be fixed by the county clerk, subject to the budgetary limitations established by the county board. So the clerk is responsible for all of his own decisions on personnel management, but ultimately he cannot hire more people or pay higher salaries than what he is able to do under the budget set by the county board.”

Also, for the state’s attorney and the sheriff, “state law gives the county board the authority to determine how many assistant state’s attorneys and how many sheriff’s deputies there will be, but their salaries can be set by the state’s attorney and sheriff (again subject to the budget approved by the county board). By statute, the judges determine how many assistant public defenders there will be, but the county board sets their salaries,” Busey said.

New Art Mart

“Do you have an opening date for Art Mart at their new location in Champaign?”

Tim Mitchell reported last month that the businesses’ co-owner, Brian McKay, expected it would be open at 1705 S. Prospect Ave. by mid-November.

That’s still the case, he said today.

But the current store at Lincoln Square will be “open throughout the Christmas season for this year only,” he said.

New liquor licenses

“In regards to the Class A liquor licenses that were auctioned Sept. 8, when will it be announced who purchased them? If it has been decided, who owns them?”

There were a dozen applicants for the liquor licenses and the Liquor Commissioner, Mayor Deb Feinen, drew two names out of the bowl and two alternate names.

The first name drawn was Scott Cochrane, for a property at 1914 D Round Barn Road (not far from the new secretary of state’s drivers service facility), and the second was Jeff Mellander for 51 E. Logan St., at Logan and Water streets.

The first alternate was Tifani Moot and the second was Dario Vullo.

Ameren project (again)

“Ameren has added extensively to the electrical substation on the east side of Sidney, which is located on the south side of the Homer/Sidney Road. What prompted the expansion, where is the transmission lines coming from and going to and does it involve the transmission line located in one of the counties south of Champaign County?”

I believe this is a new “maibag” record for question asked most often. The mailbag has addressed Ameren’s $1.1 billion Illinois Rivers project four times this year: 

April 17:

June 5:

July 31:

And now this one.

In brief, that’s the 24-mile-long, Sidney-to-Rising segment of the larger 400-mile-long Illinois Rivers project, being built by Ameren Transmission Company. Illinois Rivers is the longest single transmission line in Illinois history. Its goal is to improve transmission sources and provide Illinois customers with greater access to renewable energy from North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota, said Ameren Transmission spokesman Leigh Morris. The entire project, which runs from Palmyra, Mo., to Sugar Creek, Ind., is expected to be completed by November 2016.

Road question

“What is the expected completion date for the road work on Windsor Road in Urbana?”

Windsor Road still is expected to be completed by around Nov. 1, said Craig Shonkwiler Urbana’s assistant city engineer

“We still have quite a bit of work to do before the project is complete. The major remaining items are the installation of traffic signals at Windsor Road & Race Street, installation of a new vehicle detection system at Windsor Road & Philo Road, installation of rectangular rapid flashing beacons at the Windsor Road & Vine Street intersection, final inspection of the concrete pavement and repair of any non-acceptable pavement sections, smoothness testing of the pavement, grinding of the pavement surface to meet smoothness requirements, placement of pavement markings, placement of dirt backfill, final grading of dirt backfill and seeding of the entire project,” he said. “The asphalt approaches to the concrete pavement also need to be installed at the north leg of Philo Road, the north leg of Vine Street, the south leg of Race Street, and the west leg of Windsor Road at Race Street.  At this time we are expecting this work to take up to a month to complete, weather permitting.”

TK Wendl’s property

“I live close and wondered if you knew or could find out what is going on at the former Village Inn Pizza place on High Cross Road in Urbana. The baseball fields have been plowed over and it looks like the building might be in the process of being demolished. Will it be farmland or is something else going to be built on that land? Thanks!”

Here’s some good news: Chuck Wendling, who has been trying to get someone into the old TK Wendl’s building on High Cross Road for years, finally has done so.

The new occupants are a couple of young veterans from Champaign County who have a lease with an option to purchase the building with hopes of opening a micro-brewery there.

“Both of them were born and raised about a quarter-mile from my house,” said Wendling, who lives in the Broadlands area in southeast Champaign County. “They have a good background. We just signed the papers and they are proceeding,” Wendling said of Matt and Darin Riggs. “I’ve known them all my life. They’re both hard workers. They’re very intelligent. I hope and I think they’ll be able to swing it.”

Wendling said he’s overjoyed about selling the building. He still owns the surrounding farmland and has sowed it in oats.

“I was worried about that building. There hadn’t been anybody in it for a couple of years, and I could just see all kinds of bad things happening out there eventually,” he said. “So this is good.”

Wendling has sold or given away to local park and school districts and youth sports groups almost all of the equipment that had been at the outdoor sports complex at TK Wendl’s: poles, lights, fencing, scoreboards, bleachers, benches. 

Meanwhile, Matt Riggs said he and his brother hope to open the brewery in the late spring or early summer of 2016.

“For the last 10 years or so we’ve had the idea of wanting to do a more value-added product that we could integrate our farm into,” he said. ”We’re fifth-generation farmers. We both did the military thing and a couple of years ago we got out at just about the same time. Then we both got into the brewing industry to get a bit of professional experience before we took the dive and did our own thing.”

Matt Riggs, 31, said he worked at a mid-sized regional brewery in northwestern Bavaria. It made about 50,000 barrels of beer a year.

Darin Riggs, 34, worked at an Anheuser-Busch brewery in northern California that made about 4 million barrels a year.

Matt Riggs acknowledged that “we still have a lot of hurdles to jump through.”

iHotel specialty

“My question is a little strange, but I figure if anyone can get the answer, you can. I recently attended a function at the iHotel which featured chicken with a cream sauce. The sauce was amazing! Any chance the talented chef who created it might be willing to share the recipe?”

Sorry, but I pretty much struck out on this one. 

The only piece of information I could get from University Catering, which does the food service for IHotel events, is that it was “a seasoned cream sauce that was reduced a little bit.”

I’m not sure I even know what that means.


Great questions again, folks. As usual, there were several I was unable to get to. We’ll try next week.

Just think, a week from today we may be looking forward to the first-ever National League Divisional Series game between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. 

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Lostinspace wrote on October 02, 2015 at 3:10 pm

"There are two ways to get rid of a countywide official: on Election Day or by conviction for official misconduct, malfeasance or some other related charge."

Isn't refusal to perform the duties of the office misconduct and nonfeasance?

enoughalready wrote on October 02, 2015 at 4:10 pm

You could try to FOIA the cream sauce recipe.


EdRyan wrote on October 02, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Maybe they'll just give it up and save us all the expense this time.