Tom's #Mailbag, Feb. 23, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, Feb. 23, 2018

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Engaging questions in this week's Mailbag (and many more I couldn't get to) about a new ice treatment IDOT is testing on roadways this winter, the future of Milo's, "Unofficial St. Patrick's Day," a roller rink in Urbana, the News-Gazette app, sump pump discharge, the Fighting Illini, Chuck Flynn's cookbook, the Hobbico board of directors and cracks already appearing on the newly repaved U.S. 45.

Milo's future

"Milo's is closing at the end of February. What are the owners' plans for the building? Lease? Sale? Or perhaps they start a new adventure in that building or elsewhere?"

Let's give co-owner Jane Anderson a break. Running a quality, locally owned restaurant is a physically and mentally demanding, way more than full-time, job. She deserves some down time.

The building at The Pines in southeast Urbana is owned by the Atkins Group and soon will be the home of a Mexican restaurant.

The restaurateurs, who operate five other restaurants in East Central Illinois, have a goal of opening by May 1, said Mark Dixon of the Atkins Group. Remodeling will begin next week.

As for Anderson, she said she's looking for a new job, "but I hope it's not working on my feet in the restaurant business.

"It's non-stop. There's always something to worry about. People are always eating. They're never not eating, so it's not like we can take a break for a while," she said. "It's very much an ongoing business, and at some level, your body and your brain need to relax. You need to take a breath and say, 'I think I can contribute to this planet in some other way.'"

Thanks, Jane and Obdulio, for your hospitality and, especially, your wild mushroom ravioli.

Sunday is the last day of business at Milo's.

Champaign schools funds

"Where did the $3.4 million come from for Unit 4's new real estate purchase on Windsor Road? Was that coming from referendum money that was to be used for school building projects? Also, how many positions have been added as a result of the referendum's building projects? Are those salaries being paid from referendum money?"

Referendum dollars are not being used to purchase the Windsor Road property, said Emily Schmit, spokeswoman for the Champaign school district.

"The property is being paid for out of the district's operations and maintenance budget with payments being made over a 10-year period," she said. "The District has hired three employees with strong backgrounds and experience in capital planning, construction and engineering to manage the $208 million in capital construction work associated with the approved referendum projects. These employees are also being paid from the district's operations and maintenance budget."

Also, I asked Schmit if the school district had sold the bonds. It did last fall, she said, "and proceeds were received in December. Property tax bills distributed this spring will reflect the change in the extension of property taxes for debt service resulting from the approved referendum."

"Unofficial" measures

"The idea that the cities of Champaign and Urbana can't do more to end 'Unofficial' seems laughable to me. I went to college at SIU in the early 2000s when the city closed the bars on the 'strip' and banned the sale of kegs. Isn't there a liquor commissioner or someone else with similar authority to do that here and shut down all the bars in Campustown and ban kegs for a certain period of time?"

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen said that the Emergency Order she issued related to "Unofficial" (Urbana Mayor Marlin issued a similar one) limits keg sales among other restrictions.

"Each year, we adjust the order to take into account issues that occurred the prior year; this year was no exception," she said. "I suppose we could shut down all the bars on campus for a particular day but then they could also move Unofficial to a different day. I do believe that the Emergency Order along with the hard work of our first responders and, in particular, our police and fire have had an impact on Unofficial.

"Last year, the total number of incidents/tickets were down, and frankly it just doesn't seem to be quite as exciting or interesting to the students as it once was."

"Unofficial" death last year

"Once again 'Unofficial St. Patrick's Day' has arrived on the U of I campus. Each article that I read on the subject, including an article in last Saturday's News-Gazette print edition, mentions the unfortunate death of Jonathon Morales as being a result of Unofficial St. Patrick's Day. But I understood from the news articles written at the time of his death that he was preparing to go out celebrating at the time of his death, not that he had already been celebrating. Can you please clarify the situation that has resulted in his becoming the poster boy for anti-Unofficial proponents."

Mr. Morales, 23, died around 11:50 p.m. on March 3 at Carle Foundation Hospital. The cause was multiple blunt force injuries following a fall from a fourth-floor balcony at 51 E. John St., Champaign.

Although family members downplayed the role "Unofficial" played in the young man's death, a coroner's report shows that it was central. Mr. Morales' roommate told police and coroner's office investigators that they "had been drinking heavily throughout the day for the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day Celebration on the University of Illinois campus."It wasn't clear from the report where they had gone, but the roommate said "they both went to various locations throughout the day for the Unofficial celebration."

Mr. Morales' blood alcohol content was 0.178 percent, more than twice the level considered to be legally impaired.

"Super mix" ice treatment

"Has IDOT changed the way they treat bridges and overpasses for ice and snow? I noticed a darker solution. I also have noticed chemical smell in my garage after the snow has melted off the cars and turned my garage floor black."

Wow, I am impressed with your powers of observation. You are right on, said Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"We are using a different snow/ice fighting chemical this year in most of our locations in District 5 (East Central Illinois). It is a natural agricultural product derived from renewable resources. The chemical does have a brown color and what has been described as a 'sweet' odor." he said. "The brown chemical takes the place of calcium chloride in our cold weather chemical blend. It is mixed with salt brine to create what we call 'super mix.'

"Salt brine alone generally stops working in the low 20s. To melt snow/ice at lower temperatures, we must combine the brine with other chemicals.

"In the past, we used calcium chloride. Calcium chloride works down to sub-zero temperatures, but it does have issues with corrosion, and it attracts water. At freezing temperatures, a chemical that attracts water (pulls it out of the air and pavement) can cause issues with re-freeze or black ice. The new agricultural product we are using is effective to even lower temperatures, is non-corrosive, and does not attract water."

Even on the coldest nights, Garnett said, "our crews have reported good results with the 'super mix' continuing to work. We use snow/ice fighting chemicals to treat bridges and protected areas, but we also use it any time we are putting down salt. The brine or "super mix" is sprayed on the salt as it comes off the spinner on the back of the truck. Pre-treating the salt helps activate the salt and helps keep the salt on the roadway where we need it. One of the side benefits of the brown color is that our crews can see the 'super mix' applied to salt, so they know their sprayers are working."

U.S. 45 resurfacing

"There is a section of Route 45 from the Saline Branch (south of Thomasboro) to just north of I-74 in Urbana. This was just resurfaced last fall, and it is already full of splits and cracks in the new asphalt that extend completely across the pavement.

"This road was just resurfaced six months ago. Was the prep work to the road base not adequate, was the overlay of the new asphalt not thick enough, or did the contractor use poor quality asphalt? It is a shame, since this job was nearly a $5 million contract. It would seem that something went wrong here, and the taxpayers got taken."

This section of U.S 45 was completed in the summer of 2017 by Cross Construction, said Garnett of IDOT.

"The department recently instituted a strenuous quality control for performance program for rural route highways. Numerous destructive and non-destructive tests are taken of the hot mix asphalt (HMA) to determine if the HMA falls in the optimal ranges for bituminous asphalt content, air voids and in place compacted density. If the results of these tests are out of tolerance, the contractor can receive a monetary penalty. If the results are too far out of tolerance, the contractor is required to remove and replace the HMA at their own expense. If the HMA is left in place, it is deemed acceptable through this rigorous program."

"The existing HMA surface on U.S. 45 was roto-milled 2-1/2 inches deep with 1 inch of HMA level binder and 1-1/2 inches of HMA surface material placed back. The thicknesses of removal and replacement were determined through the Illinois Department of Transportation design policy. The existing condition of the pavement left in place was in such a deteriorated state, the department authorized a scratch coat of HMA in the southbound lanes, so we could maintain an open lane for traffic during construction. The department further authorized the contractor to clean out deteriorated joints and pot holes and place an HMA material in the resulting holes extra to the contract. In addition to the originally scheduled pavement patching, the department authorized an additional 185 square yards of patching to help alleviate the deteriorated existing pavement.

"Due to monetary constraints, the department cannot repair every problem with the existing road surface on this section of roadway. Therefore, the possible cracks you are seeing are a result of the existing deteriorated pavement left in place reflecting through the newly placed HMA surface. The Department will investigate the splits and cracks in the spring."

Stormwater discharge

"I have a question about homeowner responsibilities regarding proper detention/redirection of stormwater. A number of people are installing sump pumps for their basements, but instead of incurring the additional cost of linking the outflow to the stormwater system, they pump it into their backyards, and effectively into their neighbors' backyards. I just found out that a neighbor put 20 feet of piping directing his stormwater away from his house, flowing straight into a neighbor's backyard.

"I know there are rules about sump pumps emptying onto sidewalks, but are there rules against directing outflow from sump pumps onto other people's property?"

This is what happens when you live in a region that centuries ago was mostly swamp and marshland and it gets 5.46 inches of rain in a six-day period.

If you live in Champaign you need to call the Neighborhood Services Department to see if it's a problem they can resolve.

"There are certain places where stormwater can be discharged," said Kris Koester of the public works department, "but any questions should go to neighborhood services code compliance, and they'll come out and take a look."

Call 403-7070.

News-Gazette app

"I was wondering if The News-Gazette has any plans to expand the use of your app. I am surprised that breaking news updates are not available on the app. I for one would enjoy the occasional notification of breaking news stories through the app."

"Our current 'e-edition' app, which is designed solely to replicate the day's print edition, likely won't see the implementation of breaking news notifications," said News-Gazette Media CEO and Publisher John Reed. "We are, however, embarking on a project to update the underlying systems that power all of our websites this year.

"It is quite likely that we'll offer a mobile app — with the requested breaking news alerts — as part of that project, which is scheduled to be completed late in 2018."

Hobbico board

"Who are the Board of Directors of Hobbico, Inc.? They adopt resolutions to borrow on behalf of the corporation and are responsible for holding management accountable and yet no mention of them in news stories about Hobbico's demise."

According to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by the company, Hobbico's board of directors includes:

Mark Richards

Kenneth R. Cutler

Michael S. Parrett

Willard K. Muirhead

Daniel D. Bayston, chairman

Roller skating in Urbana

"What was the roller rink in Urbana called?"

It was Elmwood Roller Rink at 601 Cunningham Ave., said archives librarian Sherrie Bowser at the Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library.

"There is an article in the Courier listing the rink as beginning operation in 1941. The Courier article refers to it as Elmwood Rollerdome," she said. "The 1968 city directory lists it as Elmwood Roller Rink and it ceases appearing in the directories in 1975."

Chuck Flynn cookbook

"Seeing in today's News-Gazette (02/21/18) a recipe for Beef Burgundy reminded me of a News-Gazette recipe that I still use from many years ago. The Beef Bourguignon recipe was by Chuck Flynn and dated Sept. 17, 1986. I know his recipes were a regular feature back then. Did Mr. Flynn ever have a cookbook?"

Yes he did. It was called "Mostly for Men," and I suspect there are many people around the area who still have a copy and use Mr. Flynn's recipes. The archives at the Urbana Free Library has a copy.

Fighting Illini

"When the university was first being established were any nicknames other than the Fighting Illini proposed?"

There were no athletics programs when the Illinois Industrial University opened in 1867.

According to a "Frequently Asked Questions" section in the UI Archives ( the teams first were called "Illini" in 1907, and the term was used more frequently in the next decade (along with "Indians," "our men," "Orange and Blue," "Illinois" and "Varsity"). "Fighting Illini" wasn't used until around 1921, to honor those who had fought overseas in the world war.

A fighting Illini

"Has a soldier from Illinois (a Fighting Illini, get it?) ever been proposed as a possible logo/mascot replacement for UIUC?"


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