Tom's #Mailbag, June 1, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, June 1, 2018

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After being away for much of May, the Mailbag staff is making progress on the backlog of questions and comments. This week, for example, we get into queries about a marker in downtown Champaign, a marker along a recreational trail in west Champaign, a new building in north Champaign, porta potties in Champaign parks and a suggestion to speed up business at the Landscape Recycling Center. Also, whether there has been an increase in attic fires, whether White Heath ever had a country club and the histories of Wilber Heights and the Brookens Administrative Center.


Attic fires

"I've been reading about so many fires recently that have started in the attic. Ask the fire department, please, what we are storing up there that is so dangerous."

"Locally, we have not seen an unusual amount of attic fires," said Champaign Fire Chief Gary Ludwig. "However, the recent apartment fire on Randolph is a prime example of fire behavior where fire can travel upwards into the attic space or roof assembly.

"Other attic fires such as the church on State and University was attributed to electrical failure. Fires can start for a variety of given reasons. Typically what is stored in a building is not attributed to a fire but it can fuel the fire and help it spread. Early detection is key with smoke alarms providing early notification so residents can safely escape and call 911 before the fire grows. The Champaign Fire Department continues to train and prepare for all possible fire scenarios regardless of their location in a building."


North Prospect addition

"What's being built out in front of Aldi and Walmart on Prospect, directly across the street from Furniture Row?"

The building at 2710-2718 N. Prospect Ave. is a "shell building for future tenants," said Larry Happ, Champaign's building safety supervisor. The first tenant likely will be an OSF health care clinic, he said.


Kaufman monument

"Across the street from The News-Gazette in downtown Champaign, there's a parking lot with a brick and stone marker that says 'Kaufman' and the years 1879 and 1910. Do you know what that represents?"

Until 1986 that was the site of the original Kaufman's clothing store, which later was purchased by Karroll's Inc. of Chicago and for a time was known as Karroll-Kaufman. The then-First National Bank in Champaign (now PNC Bank) purchased the building and razed it in 1986 to make room for more customer parking.

The clothing store began in 1879 at 18 Main St. In 1910 a new store was constructed by Jacob M. Kaufman at 16-18 Main St., approximately where the brick and stone marker sits. It had been part of the building's facade.


Landscape Recycling Center

"Urbana's Landscape Recycling Center is a community gem. I love that I can drop off my lawn bags full of leaves and then buy mature compost for $20 for almost all summer! They sell mulch too. I have one question. On busy days, the staff works hard to keep the entrance line moving. Would the center management be able to find a way to create two lines, one for drop-offs and one for pick-ups?"

Mike Brunk, the Urbana city arborist, has your answer: "This is a good idea and the LRC staff tried separate drop-off and pick-up lines through the ticket booth gate a few years back. Unfortunately, we couldn't seem to keep anxious drop off customers from invading the shorter pick-up line. We had ample signage but it is just human nature to attempt to take the shortest route to your destination.

"This had a tendency to anger the more patient drop-off customers who followed the directions and take more attendant time to manage traffic flow. So we dropped the idea and went back to a single line.

"We do have folks that zoom through the booth gate, generally when we are busy, in an attempt to sneak in, I guess, so LRC staff always has to be vigilant and the single line does help with this issue. We may attempt a double line again but have it be for both drop-off and pick-up customers. We are discussing the thought and the logistics due to this question. LRC customers come up with all kinds of great ideas and we like the 'Think Tank' concept so keep them coming."


Right of way marker

"There's an interesting marker post on the Champaign Park District walking path/trail leading from Parkland Ridge subdivision to Kaufman Lake that has long fascinated my kids. It's just north of the 72 overpass next to a large tree that was struck by lightening a year or two ago and is a small, upright concrete piece marked with the letter R.O.W. from top to bottom. We've wondered for years what this might mean, or what it's there for."

That's a state right of way surveyor's monument, confirms Andrew Weiss, director of planning for the Champaign Park District, and one of many ROW markers you'll find around town, especially by streets and roads. Although there's no date on this one it is presumably related to the construction in the 1960s of the Church Street extension that leads to interstates 72 and 57 in west Champaign.

Incidentally the overpasses near that right of way marker of which you write feature some of the finest local spray-paint graffiti I've ever seen.


Missing country club

"Can you give a brief history of the country club that existed in White Heath, IL?"

No. I searched high and low, including the Allerton Public Library in Monticello, and could find no evidence of a country club in White Heath.

I did find a reference to the formation of a community club there during World War II that held dances, suppers and other fundraising events to pay for streetlights for the unincorporated village. But alas, no country club.


Park bathrooms

"I was wondering what goes into requesting a porta potty at local parks, in particular the bigger ones like Porter or Morrissey Park. I have young kids that wouldn't make it back to the house if they were in the middle of playing and have to go! :-) It would certainly encourage me to go to those particular parks more if I knew there was a bathroom option."

"This is a great question! We actually were doing a bit of analysis on this recently," said Joe DeLuce, executive director of the Champaign Park District. "Typically community parks with heavy use get the seasonal bathroom. We also look at special features that may draw extra traffic. For example, the park the reader mentioned — Porter Park, in west Champaign — has a long walking path and large natural areas so it actually does get a seasonal porta potty as part of our annual contract. We also take into consideration budgeting, neighborhood proximity and resident feedback. "If ever the reader wants to know ahead of time, the park amenities chart in the middle of the program guide lists the parks that have permanent or seasonal restrooms. You can also search it online."


Detention basin cleanup

"The 2nd Street Retention Basin (in Champaign) is relatively low now, and one can't help but notice the ring of trash at the water's edge. Does anyone have any intention of cleaning it up this spring?"

Yes, says Kris Koester, spokesman for the Champaign Public Works Department.

"Thank you for bringing this to the city's attention. The city of Champaign is responsible for maintenance of the 2nd Street Reach Detention Basin area. Litter is collected Monday through Friday over the entire basin area," he said. "Crews make a special effort several times a week to collect litter along the water edge of the pond. In the future, please contact Public Works at 403-4700 or with service requests concerning the 2nd Street Reach."


Brookens building history

"Can you find out about the history of Brookens Administrative Center? I know it used to be a high school, but it's weird that they would convert an old high school into a county office. Why was the high school moved to a new location in the first place? Isn't the structure of the school awkward for administrative purposes?"

We have written about Brookens before ...

In brief, the building was a junior high school for 10 years, beginning in 1970. It opened because Urbana was booming at the time, chiefly because of Defense Department work at the old Magnavox plant (now Solo/Dart), and the city's only junior high was beyond capacity. Once Magnavox left town, workers and their children did as well. Later it housed a private business. It was purchased by the county in 1995. The county government's long-term goal is to get out of the building, which has a number of infrastructure problems, but it doesn't have the financial resources to do so. This is an issue that likely will move to the forefront next year after voters elect Champaign County's first county executive in November (either Republican Gordy Hulten or Democrat Darlene Kloeppel).


Wilber Heights history

"In Wilber Heights, there is a trucking company right in the middle of the residential neighborhood. This trucking company is polluting the area with oil and diesel spills. They create noise at all hours of the day and night. They are responsible for severe flooding in the streets that reaches to the door of at least one house, rendering the street impassable for days after a heavy storm. The streets are destroyed due to the heavy truck traffic. Also, the trucks create a major hazard for children in the area as well as destroying property values. Why is IDOT, the EPA, OSHA and other agencies letting them get away with this? Can something be done to force them out of there?"

They're allowed to do it because Wilber Heights is zoned for industrial use. It's the housing in the area outside the Champaign city limits and east of the Market Place Shopping Center that is "nonconforming" and probably shouldn't be there.

Wilber Heights is a zoning nightmare that has developed over almost 100 years after the Clifford-Jacobs Forging plant along the old Illinois Central Railroad tracks opened. Soon, other non-residential uses arrived, including a soybean processing plant, an Eisner Grocery warehouse and Illinois Department of Transportation garage.

Today there are garbage trucking companies and general contractors located on the same block as single-family homes.

This is another issue that should be addressed by the county — and has been on occasion — but financial challenges make it virtually impossible at this time.

Here's some more background on Wilber Heights ...


Central High traffic a community problem

"Your column recently had discussions about pedestrian safety around Central High School. I drive through there regularly, and see Central students creating dangers for themselves and vehicles. Students get off an MTD bus, cross in front of the bus at the crosswalk, and suddenly walk into the left traffic lane without warning while being blocked from view by the bus. Cars slam on the brakes while penned in by an MTD bus on the right, parked cars on the left, moving cars behind, and a student walking in front. This happens well after regular arrival time (e.g. 10 a.m.) when the school speed limit doesn't apply.

"The drivers slam on the brakes to avoid hitting pedestrians, but the pedestrians are at fault and creating the unsafe condition. 1) Crossing in front of an MTD bus is unsafe. Students are supposed to cross in front of a yellow school bus, which has laws requiring other traffic to stop and a stop arm with flashing lights alerting traffic to stop. An MTD bus has none of these warning devices or privileges. 2) The MTD itself tells students not to cross in front of the bus but to wait until it leaves. There's even a cartoon video for local students about how to ride the MTD that says not to cross in front of the bus. 3) Illinois crosswalk laws prohibit creating a hazard by suddenly walking into the path of a moving vehicle, as I often see students do. They may be in a crosswalk, but they are stepping across the center line of the road from a massive blind spot in front of a city bus that is 40 feet long and 11 feet tall where no driver has a chance to see them until the student steps right into moving traffic.

"This is a joint problem for Unit 4, MTD, and the students to address. The problem is specific to Central because the one-way street forces people to get off the bus across from the school. I worry that students think that they have the right-of-way when they cross in front of a bus (wrong for any bus that is not a yellow school bus), have right-of-way in a crosswalk (wrong when they cross recklessly), and have right-of-way in a school zone (bad idea and wrong when it's hours after school starts)."

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