Tom's #Mailbag, Jan. 15, 2016

Tom's #Mailbag, Jan. 15, 2016

To submit a question for Tom's Mailbag, click here

This week: a couple questions about towers, plus IDOT signs, clothing drop-off boxes, Custard Cup, an underground natural gas storage field in northwest Champaign County, the federal case against local architect G.T. Hardwick, Sam's security, State Farm Center seating and a lot more.

Microwave tower on the skyline

"Regarding the microwave relay towers in Champaign atop the AT&T Building on Neil Street. Are the microwave antennas still in use or have they been rendered obsolete by satellite technology? The tower is a real blight on the C-U skyline."

I talked to an AT&T engineer who said that the microwave links no longer are used but that he is not aware of any plans to remove them. They were used for office to office communications, he said, and have been replaced by fiber technology. According to the web site AT&T Towers, the structure at 200 S. Randolph St. is 210 feet high.

It's 17 degrees, how about some Custard Cup?

"Is Custard Cup going to open back up?"

It sounds like it may. I never was able to speak to anyone at Custard Cup — they don't return calls or emails — but the message on their business phone says, "watch for reopening news" in the spring 2016.

Sam's security

"Strange question that I don't know if you can answer. Every time we go to Sam's Club, after checking out they won't let you leave the store without someone checking your receipt at the door. I know of no other place that does this. What's the reason?"

From Sam's Club spokeswoman Dianna Gee: "Without bagging items, it's relatively easy for a cashier or member to accidentally not scan an item. This is just a way for us to ensure the items leaving the club have been paid and the member wasn't mistakenly overcharged for an item."

Who makes IDOT signs?

"About that embarrassing 'YEILD' sign the city spokesman conveniently passed the buck on in last week's Mailbag (it's still up): Are IDOT signs made by prisoners, like license plates, or am I confusing 'Shawshank' with reality?"

In Illinois, IDOT makes its own street/highway signs.

"Each of IDOT's nine districts has its own sign shop and we also have a Central Sign Shop located in Springfield," said Kensil Garnett, who heads IDOT districts 4 and 5, which stretch diagonally across the state from the Mississippi River to the Indiana line and include Champaign-Urbana, Danville, Bloomington-Normal, Peoria and Galesburg.

Hardwick update

"In your November 27 column you answered a question about the new building going up at 4th and University, saying it was a project by G. T. Hardwick Architects. Back in April 2015, the News-Gazette published a story saying Gene Hardwick was indicted for bank fraud by a federal grand jury (see story here:

"What happened to that case? There was never a follow up to that story, and so I am wondered how he is now putting up this new building?"

Hardwick's case is scheduled for a jury trial on April 26 in Urbana before U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce. The charges facing him allege that from 2007 through at least 2009 he participated in a scheme to defraud the Longview State Bank by diverting loan proceeds for a project in Champaign to unauthorized expenses, including a senior citizens project in Tuscola.

Tim Johnson's former property

From a recent County Star story:

"The (Sidney) village board will decide at its February meeting whether to allow retired congressman Tim Johnson's former estate to be subdivided.

"A plan commission hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 1, just before the 7 p.m. village board meeting, to discuss the de Pasquali Subdivision, located about a mile north of the village, just north of the Salt Fork River. The property is within the village's extraterritorial jurisdiction.

"Berns, Clancy and Associates Executive Vice President Ed Clancy said two of the de Pasquali heirs and trustees are in New York and one is in Seattle. They would like to divide the 14.64 acres, which were surveyed in 1926, into two lots."

Explain how this is Tim Johnson's FORMER estate?

Johnson, according to U.S. House of Representatives financial disclosure reports he had to file as a member of Congress, sold the Sidney property on March 7, 2005. Because of the way members of Congress are permitted to report assets, liabilities and transactions in ranges, the precise value of the transaction isn't known. It was listed in the range of $100,000 to $250,000.

Manlove Field

"Last week I drove near the natural gas caverns and storage tanks southwest of Illinois 47 and U.S. 136. There was a very strong gas odor, though there were also several Nicor gas employees in the area, already investigating or working on the problem. The odor was gone by the time I returned, several hours later. This, and the recent news story of the ongoing natural gas leak in California got me thinking: has there ever been any significant leaks or explosions at that facility?"

First of all, Peoples Gas spokeswoman Jennifer Block said it's unlikely the natural gas odor you smelled was from the gas at their storage facility.

"We don't inject odorant down there," she said. "That comes later in the distribution process. If your reader smelled something, it wasn't ours."

More likely it was from a Nicor Gas line, she said.

Regarding explosions at Peoples Gas' Manlove Field, I'm aware of at least one big blast there: a spectacular incident in November 1998 that originated in a 12-inch pipe 2 1/2-feet underground. No one was injured in the mammoth explosion but it damaged homes, utility lines and a county road.

I remember interviewing a couple who lived less than a mile from the site of the explosion. The siding on their home melted from the heat of the fire resulting from the blast.

Manlove Field was established in the 1960s by Peoples Gas of Chicago. About 4,000 feet beneath the northwest Champaign County farmland is a geological formation that permits the storage of natural gas, which is shipped by pipeline to Chicago. There also are two aboveground storage tanks at Manlove that hold 12 million gallons of liquefied natural gas.

People Gas now is owned by the WEC Energy Group, a Wisconsin-based energy utility.

Here's more information on the Manlove Field ...

No fan of comic strip

"If the News-Gazette can run 25-year-old comic strips on the front page of the Sunday comics, why can't we at least get another old comic strip ... namely 'Calvin & Hobbes,' as a replacement for LuAnn. Wumo was bad, but LuAnn is no upgrade."

Dan Corkery, The News-Gazette managing editor for administration, responds: "Interesting question. You are the first reader to request 'Calvin and Hobbes' in the two years that I have been handling comics and other syndicated features.

"We have no plans to change our comic strips.

"But should a reason arise we would probably conduct a reader survey to get a sense of what's popular and what's not. The last time we surveyed readers on comics was in 2012."


"Those Napleton car ads ... pronounce the dealer's name as nap-EL-ton, but grade school phonics tells me it should be nap-LE-ton. What's up with that?"

You mean you think we've been mispronouncing maple, staple, stable, table all these years?

Cell tower near Philo

"We enjoy your column very much and it answers lots of questions. I'm surprised this has not been asked ... why has the tower west of Philo not been completed? What's the deal on that? Thanks."

SBA Communications Corp of Boca Raton, Fla., which builds towers for wireless service providers, is the owner of the tower. SBA says the facility west of Philo it is an active tower and has been since March 2015.

Clothing drop-off boxes

"Just wondering where the clothes that are donated to the red or green drop-off boxes that are all around the twin cities end up. I noticed bags and bags of clothes stacked around the boxes this week getting ruined from the rain, so that is what sparked my question. Love your column. Thanks."

I think I can safely say that something is askew with the agencies that operate — or don't — these drop off boxes around town. Discarded clothing and bags of items are piling up at several of the boxes, and my repeated calls and emails over the last two weeks to the Gaia Movement in Chicago and to the unidentified owners of the increasingly unsightly blue plywood and plastic boxes around town have gone unanswered.

I'd advise local residents interested in donating used clothing to deal face to face with local people and take their items to the Salvation Army at 2212 N. Market St., Champaign, or to the Connections store in Lincoln Square.

The agencies with the unsightly clothing boxes are doing a disservice to the community and to some local property owners.

State Farm Center seating

"I love the mailbag, but I think you missed the boat on the State Farm Center's seating problems. Please find a way to take a few just a bit taller-than-average folks to the former C section and try to fit them in. The seat backs intrude so far into the row behind that it's painful and impossible for adults to sit there. You're ignoring the voices of those of us who have tried them out. Thank you!"

To be clear, the answer regarding the SFC's seats (Dec. 25) came from Kevin Ullestad, the center's director, not from me. I haven't been in the remodeled place yet, so I don't know what the seating is like.

C.S. Johnson, one more time

"I am sure you have mentioned it before, but what is the story with the building that sits off of Kenwood in Champaign and is right behind the KFC on Springfield Avenue? I know it was once some type of factory but lately I have seen a lot of cars and trucks back there. Not sure if they are emptying the building, recycling old material, or what. There is a ton of scrap metal (cabinets, shelves, chairs, etc) that has been sitting beside the building for some time now so I was just curious. Maybe if it was renovated it would make a wonderful site for a new high school."

Yep, mentioned it twice before, on Dec. 18, 2015, and March 20, 2015.

It is the old C.S. Johnson plant, now warehouse storage space for Campus Property Management and its owner, Erwin Goldfarb. It's on 9 acres and has a market value of about $1.5 million.

As for the location for a new high school, it's only a half-mile from Champaign Centennial High School so I'm not sure that's such a good idea.


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sanjuan wrote on January 15, 2016 at 2:01 pm

About 16 years ago I was working on a project at the University that included some highway quality road signs.   They were, indeed, manufactured by Prison Industries at the Pontiac Correctional Facility.  I actually had to go up there and be cleared through security to "proof" the signs.  I swear the waiting room at Pontiac was last painted in about 1915.



Son of a Barrelmaker wrote on January 15, 2016 at 6:01 pm

Fix the date in the headline.

FiberCrew wrote on January 15, 2016 at 6:01 pm

The tower at the AT&T building on randoph was part of the Long Lines system, a mesh microwave network used for early long distance calls. These towers were also built to be used by DoD in the event of a nuclear war for communicatons, there is most likely a blast hardened bunker under the tower as well.