Tom's #Mailbag, Oct. 20, 2017

Tom's #Mailbag, Oct. 20, 2017

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The W flag has been retired for the winter and now the St. Louis Blues flag flies at our house. Congratulations to the Dodgers, which in last week's bag I picked to take the Cubs in five. They look tough. It was a fun baseball season and the next few years should be good for Cubs and White Sox fans; I don't know that the same thing can be said about the Cardinals.

But it's always Mailbag Season and there's an interesting harvest of questions this week: a missing sign of honor to Chief Illiniwek, a missing television channel, missing apartments on Kirby Avenue, missing houses on Staley Road, the opening of the Lincoln/Olympian intersection, the hotel building at Lincoln Square, the reopened church on Church, questions on a number of streets and roads, and where to recycle cooking oil. Really.

Chief headstone

"What happened to The Chief R.I.P. headstone in front of the house at 202 W. Florida Ave. in Urbana?"

This, it turns out, is a sad little story.

The Chief headstone was stolen in late August from in front of the home of Charlie and Jean Craft at the corner of Florida and Race street.

Charlie was terminally ill at the time and died a few days later at home at the age of 81.

His obituary noted: "He enjoyed baking pastries and different breads, gardening and flower arranging, writing, reading and vacationing with his family. Charlie was a lifelong Illini fan and supporter of Chief Illiniwek, "YO CHIEF!", he liked listening to classical music and Budweiser beer."

The headstone — which is a real headstone and is very heavy — was found in the Boneyard Creek in downtown Urbana a few days later, said Scott Beaulin, a friend of the Craft family.

It was damaged but not destroyed and now sits in the foyer of the Craft home. It will be returned to Jean Craft, who now lives in the St. Louis area.

I wrote about Charlie Craft and his outspoken affection for Chief Illiniwek and other things almost exactly 10 years ago.

Here's part of that Sept. 23, 2007, column ...

"Charlie Craft says his wife and his daughter think his tiny front yard, at the northwest corner of Florida Avenue and Race Street in Urbana, looks trashy.

"But Craft thinks it's a great yard. So do I.

"It's not just a small patch of grass with some shrubbery and trees. Craft's front yard is a statement, a living, continuous embodiment of some of his beliefs and of the great American ideal of free speech. His opinions are gently stated, with an air of levity. But they also are just about in your face because there's not much distance between the streets and sidewalks and Craft's opinions about Chief Illiniwek, Illinois football, the Catholic Church (although that one's quite a bit less supportive) and the United States of America.

"He is nothing if not opinionated. Even the license plates — I LOVE CU and YO CHIEF — on the two hulking cars in his driveway let you know where he stands.

"'There's a method to my madness,' Craft says by way of introduction. 'It's all part of my ploy to resurrect the Chief.'

"The Chief is the latest addition to his yard. Craft bought a nice slab of stone, paid a friend in Westville to inscribe it for $60 and then set the stone in concrete himself. For several days there was a black shawl over the piece. But a few days ago, right at the corner of Florida and Race — just across the street from a big University of Illinois entry sign and just down the street from the UI president's home — is Chief Illiniwek's tombstone. It reads: "Yo Chief Illiniwek 1926-2007".

"'The Chief will rise again,' says Craft, a UI graduate who worked at the university for 38 years in a variety of positions. 'He will if we work hard enough.'

"Craft has a plan to print up signs in Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, French, Turkish, Polish and, of course English, that say, 'The Chief will rise again,' and to get all his friends and all the other Chief supporters to hold them up in some kind of demonstration. Someplace. Somewhere. Sometime. That part hasn't been decided.

"'The spirit of the Chief should last a long time. Generationally, I think it will. That's my feeling,' said Craft, 71. 'The Chief has been hanged, drawn and quartered by what I call despotic individuals. All they care about is what is politically correct.'

"Craft's front-yard opinions are not limited to the Chief. Three flags hanging limply on poles near his home: one for the UI, one for the Vatican (he's become horribly disenchanted with the Catholic Church but 'I believe that the spirit of the Vatican is a very good spirit') and an American flag. There are two cockeyed orange and blue birdhouses, one dedicated to Jim Grabowski, the other to Dick Butkus. ('I love those guys. Grabowski was a tremendous guy, a smart guy. Butkus was kinda dumb but what a football player!').

Olympian and Lincoln

"I thought that the fabled Olympian Drive/Lincoln Avenue project was supposed to be open by now. What's up?"

The ribbon-cutting for the $3.6 million Lincoln Avenue portion of the long-discussed Olympian-Lincoln corridor will be in a couple of weeks.

Champaign County Engineer Jeff Blue told the county board Thursday night that the ceremony would be at 11 a.m. Nov. 6 at the intersection of Olympian and Lincoln.

Urbana hotel

"Any updates on what is going on with the hotel at Lincoln Square?"

The hotel remains closed, said Urban Mayor Diane Marlin.

"In the past few months, the city has fielded inquiries from brokers and developers about the property; we refer those inquiries to the

hotel broker," said Marlin. "We've also reached out to a number of companies that specialize in redevelopment of hotel properties to gauge interest. And, of course, the city is very willing to work with anyone who brings a proposal for the property to us."

Illinois 130 speed limit

"Why is the speed limit just north of Birkey's Farm Store on Illinois 130 north to U.S. 150 (a divided 4-lane highway) set at 45 mph; yet no one seems to obey that limit. People fly by my over the limit 50 mph all of the time. Thanks."

Here's your answer from Kensil Garnett, Region 3 engineer with the Illinois Department of Transportation:

"The area in question is a curb and gutter section and because of this, policy prohibits posted speed limits above 45 mph. If drivers aren't obeying the posted speed limit that is an enforcement issue. Enforcement issues in the area in question would be handled by the Urbana Police Department."

I-57 construction

"I-57 west and south of Champaign is being resurfaced. Why is north and southbound traffic shut down to one lane? Why not put all the equipment and manpower on one direction at a time? Seems like common sense to not reduce both directions to one lane at the same time. Also why not limit the number of miles they work on, seems sometimes they close many miles and can only work on a small portion of what they have reduced to one lane. I was told IDOT policy limits construction to two miles, but it seems that is never followed."

Here's your answer from Kensil Garnett at IDOT:

"Our Standard Specifications for Road and Bridge Construction allow two-mile lane closures on two-lane roads, but traffic control used on interstate projects is different.

"Our specifications allow the contractor to close up to three miles on interstate work when performing resurfacing activities. We allowed the contractor by special provision to close more than three miles so we would have fewer tapers, which are where queues occur and can cause accidents. If we maintained the requirements of our standard specifications and in addition only allowed the contractor to close a lane in one direction at a time, we might not complete a project in one construction season, thus increasing traffic exposure to the work zone."

Garnett said the I-57 work started in April and will be completed by the end of next month.

"It may appear when a driver only drives through the work zone once or twice that the contractor is not working, but allowing them access to more work zone clearly allows the work to be completed quicker, eliminating exposure to the traveling public and the construction workers and inspectors," he said.

I-74 construction

"Is it me or are the black stripes that divide the lanes on I-74 between Lincoln and prospect feel raised? It doesn't feel safe to change lanes."

One more from Mr. Garnett:

"The black lines you refer to in this area are a microsurfacing application that was installed earlier this year. The pavement condition of I-74 in this area was beginning to show signs of normal wear and met other requirements necessary to allow this recent pavement preservation work. The treatment will preserve the pavement by resealing the joint which will limit or prevent water from entering the joint.

"The differential elevation between the pavement and the black stripes is 3 / 8 of an inch and is negligible and is totally safe to traverse across. The sensitive steering and suspension of modern vehicles make this uneven transition more noticeable. I would commend your attentiveness while driving given the fact that you have noticed."

Staley Road properties

"I'm curious as to what is planned for the land on Staley where two old houses were recently torn down."

John Hall, Champaign County's zoning administrator, said that as far as he knows the property will be returned to farmland.

"I am not aware of any planned development on those sites," he said.

Kirby Avenue apartments

"Hallelujah! The crummy apartments in the 1400 and 1500 block of West Kirby Avenue are coming down! What's the plan for that area?"

Nothing yet, said Champaign building safety supervisor Larry Happ.

"A building permit application for new construction has not been submitted yet," he said.

Building permits

"In your Sunday editions, there is a section listing Building Permits. Most of the data provided is self-explanatory, however, one is not.

"What does dollar amount shown mean? The neighbors and I have speculated (cost of materials, materials plus labor, anticipated selling price, etc.) But we just don't really know."

More from Mr. Happ:

"The dollar amount is the building's estimated construction costs as defined in section 109.2.5 of the Champaign building code. This amount is provided by the developer on the building permit application. It does not include the parking lot, landscaping, furnishing, etc.," he said.

Springfield Avenue pavement

"Springfield Avenue just east of Lincoln (in Urbana) is a disaster zone. Will they ever repave it?"

There's good news from Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray regarding both Springfield and Lincoln avenues.

"I am happy to report that Springfield Avenue between Gregory Street and Coler Avenue and Lincoln Avenue between University Avenue and Green Street will be resurfaced next summer/fall of 2018," he said.

Warning signs

"I'm sure you've seen the upgraded stop signs and warning signs at McHenry and Vine in Urbana. Was there an incident that sparked those changes? If it was due to the high number of slow and go events at that intersection, can we expect similar upgrades at George Huff and Vine and Mumford and Vine?"

More from Bill Gray:

"The warning and upgraded stop signs at McHenry and Vine streets in Urbana were installed to provide added visibility to the signs. There were reports of north and southbound vehicles not seeing the stop sign and driving through the intersection. The double faced stop signs will provide more prominent attention to motorists."

Church building at 602 W. Church

We did some follow-up on the old Christian Science Society church building at 602 W. Church, Champaign after a mailbag question a few weeks ago.

Here's what we found after filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the Champaign school district, which is the new owner of the property:

The school district agreed to temporary use of the church building to the CU Christian Church from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, although a provision says the term may be extended by mutual agreement.

The church agreed to pay the school district $21,280 for use of the building.

"The parties agree that while the compensation shall be sufficient to cover all costs which may be borne by the licensor associated with the licensee's use and operation of the property, including but not limited to any applicable taxes, insurance, building and landscape maintenance, snow removal, gas, heat, electricity, power, water,sewer, waste hauling and associated administrative costs, licensor is not profiting from the licensee's use of the property," says the contract.

Recycle cooking oil?

"Is there a facility in Champaign-Urbana that recycles used cooking oil?"

I couldn't find any local business or facility that accepts used cooking oil but Mike Lenz, one of the owners of Lenz Oil Service in Peoria, suggested you check with any restaurant you frequent and they may be willing to take it off your hands because they recycle larger amounts of cooking oil, and are paid for it.

Short of that, he said, you could drop off your used cooking oil at their office at 3001 S.W. Washington St., Peoria IL.

"We accept vegetable oils that will pour at ambient temperatures (above freezing). We do not accept lard and other solid or semi-solid wastes. Those can be deposited in the general garbage. Vegetable oils go in the 250 gallon black poly tank," said a notice on the company's web site.

No appointment is needed, he said.

Siebel Center ground-breaking

“At one point there was to be a ground breaking ceremony this fall for the Siebel Center for Design to be built on the University of Illinois campus between Huff Hall and the Art & Design building. At one point I think was supposed to be the weekend of Oct. 14. That must not have developed and there is no updated information about the project’s status on the website.  Can you find out anything?”

Yes, Urbana campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the hope had been that Thomas Siebel would be in town for last weekend’s With Illinois campaign event.

“The groundbreaking would have been part of that celebration, even though construction wouldn’t begin until next spring. Since he wasn’t able to travel to campus that week, the ground-breaking will be next spring,” she said.

Local weather channel missing

“What happened to the local weather channel that was on Comcast channel 22/430 ?Is it a contract dispute? Will it be back on the cable channel?”

Comcast pulled the plug on the channel and they’re hearing a lot of complaints, according to a customer service rep I spoke to at the Urbana office.

But Jack Segal, regional vice president of Communications for Comcast’s Greater Chicago region, said customers are able to get their weather information from a number of other sources.

“We continually evaluate the content we deliver to our customers. As part of this ongoing evaluation, we decided to discontinue offering the Weatherscan channel, because customers can find the same or similar information on a wide variety of other channels and apps,” he said.





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