Tom's #Mailbag, July 6, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, July 6, 2018

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It seems that the hot weather has people out and about because we have a lot of questions this week about sights around C-U: dead trees, an apartment complex damaged by fire, work around Champaign Central High School, whether top layers of pavements scraped off roads are reused, and what became of statues that used to be in Hessel Park.

Also, a couple of Independence Day-related questions, two more tied to governors and governor candidates and one looking far ahead to holidays in the fall and winter. Enjoy!

Drones at the fireworks

"Watched the fireworks on the 4th from Windsor Road. I noticed two or three drones flying overhead during the performance. Any idea who was flying them and their purpose or use?"

It's very likely those drone flights were illegal.

From the Federal Aviation Administration website:

"Here are general guidelines for people flying drones:

"Don't fly your drone in or near fireworks

"Don't fly over people

"Don't fly near airports"

Whoever was flying those drones was 3 for 3.

A controller at the FAA tower at Willard Airport said that drones cannot be flown within five miles of Willard Airport, and Windsor Road is clearly within that radius,

"There are waivers that can be issued and prior approval that can be issued," said the controller who declined to give his name. "I don't know offhand if any waivers were issued."

Further the FAA prohibits nighttime flight of drones:

"You can fly during daylight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) or in twilight with appropriate anti-collision lighting," say the rules.

The official sunset on July 4 was 8:26 p.m. The fireworks started at about 9:15 p.m.

Fire-damaged apartment building

"What's happening with the apartment on John and Randolph that caught fire in late April? Will it remain as it is, or will it be torn down or repaired? Also, do you know if the residents were ever able to get their belongings, such as cars that were parked in the garage underneath?"

Chris Saunders, owner of Green Street Realty, said he believes the building will have to be razed.

"We are still waiting for insurance to complete their cost estimates for the project. They have hired a third-party engineer that is determining whether the property can be rebuilt or needs to be demolished," he said. "We expect the results of this report back this month.

"We believe his report will indicate it need to be demolished and is a complete loss, but right now are waiting for their final report before we are able to move forward. Our plans would be to rebuild something new in its place."

Saunders said that "all residents, cars and belongings have been out for some time. All residents were either relocated in other properties of ours, or allowed out of their leases to find other housing options."

Champaign fire officials said the April 27 fire was of undetermined origin. It displaced 97 people.

Popular governor?

"Who was the last governor that the citizenry of Champaign-Urbana actually liked?"

Republican candidates for governor consistently win Champaign County — at least for the last five elections — with between 52 percent and 56 percent of the vote. Bruce Rauner, for example, got 54.76 percent of the county's vote four years ago.But Champaign and Urbana are a different story, consistently supporting the Democratic candidate. And you could say that Champaign-Urbana actually liked Gov. Pat Quinn four years ago. He got 53 percent in Champaign and 66 percent in Urbana.

But the last governor to truly unite the entire county was Republican Jim Edgar in 1994. He got 67 percent of the vote countywide that year (over Democrat Dawn Clark Netsch). Edgar also won big in Champaign, taking 32 or 38 precincts, and actually won Urbana, 4,408 to 4,044.

Speaking of governors ...

"Was that commercial against J.B. Pritzker with the toilets filmed at the University of Illinois President's House (above)? It sure looks like it."


"Is the commercial about J.B. Pritzker having toilets removed from his home true?"

No and yes. The commercial was shot at a private residence in the Chicago suburbs, not at the UI President's House on Florida Avenue, said Rauner campaign spokesman Alex Browning.

The "Porcelain Prince" TV ad by the Rauner campaign is based on a Chicago Sun-Time story from May 2017 that reported that Pritzker saved $230,000 in property taxes by leaving the home next door to his Chicago mansion in disrepair. Pritzker bought a three-story home for $14.5 million in May 2006, then bought a smaller mansion next door for $3.7 million. The Sun-Times reported Pritzker's attorneys argued the smaller home was "vacant and uninhabitable" with "disconnected toilets" and "no functioning bathrooms or kitchen" — leading to property tax breaks.

Missing statues in Hessel Park

"I took my grandkids to the new splash park at Hessel Park and was very disappointed to see that the seal and whale statues were not put back into the splash area. What happened to them? They have been around for a long time and many people like me will miss them."

The park district staff attempted to save them, said Bret Johnson, grounds and maintenance supervisor for the Champaign Park District, "but found that they were poured in place and tied in with the concrete pad and piping. There was no real good way to separate them without damaging them. We tried."

Library name

"I enjoyed reading your article about the Urbana library in (the June 17) News-Gazette. I actually read it twice. I was wondering when it became known as the Urbana Free Library? The article didn't tell about the name other than the Samuel T. Busey Library."

I asked Anke Voss, the director of the library's archives and special collections.

Here's her answer:

"As far as we can tell from the original records of the Library, the organization has been called The Urbana Free Library since 1874, when the institution became publicly funded by the city of Urbana. 'The Urbana Free Library' or 'Urbana Free Library' is the name found in all the official records of the institution (correspondence, minutes of the trustees, etc.). However, when the Library moved into its new home in 1918, for a while at least, the name become interchangeable with the 'Samuel T. Busey Memorial Library,' at least in the local press. 'The Samuel T. Busey Library' is indeed what is chiseled on the 1918 building above the Race Street street entrance, and occasionally, you do see a reference to 'Samuel T. Busey Memorial Library building' in some of the early records. Hope that helps answer your reader's question."Incidentally, a reminder that Saturday is the centennial celebration of the library building's dedication. From 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. events will include an exhibit about Mary Busey's gift that got the library built in her husband's honor, games and activities from the early 1900s, Dixieland music, refreshments and a presentation at 3:30 p.m. by author Brian Adams on "A Library Building Second to None."

Recycled pavement

"I see all the pavement being scraped off of Cunningham Avenue. What happens to all of that stuff? Is it taken somehow recycled?"

The pavement that is being milled off Cunningham Avenue is recycled and the contractor is hauling the material back to their asphalt plant, said Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"Our specifications allow a certain percentage of RAP (recycled asphalt pavement) to be used when new asphalt is placed on a project," he explained. "The recycled material can also be used on shoulders, driveways, etc. The recycled material is a very valuable commodity to the contractors."

Some Central High work beginning

Appears to be a lot of work being done in front of Champaign Central High School. I was wondering if it's the first stage of renovation. If not, when does that start?

"Site prep work at Central has started and will continue through the end of the year, said Emily Schmit, spokeswoman for the Champaign school district.

"In addition, hazardous materials abatement and historic preservation and salvage started on adjacent acquired properties," she noted.

Holiday dining

"With the closure of Milo's, do you have any recommendations on where those of us who want a holiday meal away from home can go at Thanksgiving and Christmas, besides a Chinese restaurant?"

A friend said that the Garden Grill at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign had gained favor for holiday meals in recent years, including a plated dinner on Thanksgiving. But this week I was told by someone at the Garden Grill that they likely won't be doing that this Thanksgiving, but to check back closer to the holiday. As for Christmas she said that they'll have a breakfast buffet from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.

If readers have any other suggestions, pass them on here.

Downtown Champaign trees

"Are the ash trees on the north side of the 200 block of West Park Street in downtown Champaign affected by emerald ash borer or do they have some other problem? The once beautiful trees have major branch dieback."

Yes, said Champaign forestry supervisor Andrew Lamoreux, the ash trees north of Park Avenue are dying due to emerald ash borer. But they're on private property so it's up to the property owners to remove and replace them.

Motorized grocery cart

"Many years ago, there was a giant shopping cart that appeared in the C-U Fourth of July parade. Who owned it, and what ever happened to it?"

That was a Schnuck Markets' motorized shopping cart. Schnucks spokesman Erica Van Ross says the grocery chains still has the big cart and used it in St. Louis' Independence Day festivities this week,

Windsor Road trees

"I have lived in Urbana for nine years now, and drive on Windsor Road almost every day. There is a line of dead trees along the north side of Windsor, just east of Lincoln Avenue, that have been there all this time, and I am just curious as to why they remain so long after they are dead. It is almost like a sculpture — a permanent display! I imagine it costs money to cut them down and since they cannot harm the wires they are under they are just left, but I am still a little curious. Hope you can enlighten me as to, perhaps, why and when they were planted and when they died."

Kevin McSweeney, director of the University of Illinois Arboretum, said he doesn't know what killed the trees because they were dead when he arrived here four years ago.

"We are planning on removing those but we need to work with the utility company," he said. "We've got to work with them and probably get them to do it.

"It's not our highest priority at the moment because actually from an ecological standpoint standing dead wood is useful habitat for certain birds and insects. It may not look that pleasant but it's actually ecologically, functionally quite valuable."

In the long term, he said, that will be an open space without new trees.

Flashing yellow arrows

"Why don't the left turn arrows on North Prospect Avenue have flashing yellow arrows so traffic could still turn left when there are no oncoming cars?"

We addressed this question about a year ago and at the time both IDOT and the city of Champaign were looking into their use locally but were waiting to see how the signals worked in other locations ...

"Nothing has changed since last year and the IDOT project on University Avenue has not taken place yet," said Chris Sokolowski, Champaign's assistant city engineer. "The examples of flashing yellow arrows I have seen are with single left turn lanes since it is a new alternative for signaling permissive left turns (lefts allowed on the green ball currently). Dual left turn lanes (like those at I-74 and Prospect) include protected only lefts (only allowed on the green arrow)."

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