Tom's #Mailbag, Feb. 15, 2019

Tom's #Mailbag, Feb. 15, 2019

Have a question you want answered? Ask our veteran reporter by clicking here.

This week's Mailbag is stuffed more than a meeting of the Giorgi Bezhanishvili fan club. We answer questions about country club property tax bills, weather records by decade, the Danville prison population, distracted driving citations issued in Champaign County, roadwork on South Neil Street, vibrations from a Campustown construction project and bus wraps.

Also, whether Abe Lincoln ever visited the site of the University of Illinois, a new use for an old County Market in Champaign, a demolition job in Urbana, recycling policies, the upcoming election, candlemaking and memories of the Solon House.


Distracted driving

"With all the people you see texting and talking on their phones while driving is there any record of the local police departments issuing citations? It seems local police have no interest in enforcing this law."

We — and by that I mostly mean Champaign County Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman — answered a similar Mailbag question last April,

Here's the link ...

Thanks to Blakeman and her staff here are updated numbers. They show that you'd best not drive distracted in Urbana. More than half the citations for distracted driving have been issued in the county seat — 1,319 of a countywide total of 2,540.

Distracted driving charges by agency:

Agency — 2017 — 2018 — 2019 — Total

Champaign County Sheriff's Office — 24 —37 —8 —69

Champaign Police— 220 —271 —34 —525

Fisher Police —10 —2 —1 —13

Gifford Police —0 —1 —0 —1

Homer —11 —7 —1 —19

Illinois State Police —87 —130 —10 —227

Mahomet Police —9 —6 —6 —21

Parkland Police —11— 7— 0 — 18

Rantoul Police —133 —120 —2 —255

Thomasboro Police —2 —0 —0 —2

Tolono Police —8 —4 —0 —12

U. of Illinois Police —29 —29 —1 —59

Urbana Police —524 —761 —34 —1,319

Totals —1,068 —1,375 —97 —2,540


Lincoln at the UI

"Is there any documentation of President Abe Lincoln visiting the site of the U of I during his presidency?"

No. After Lincoln left Illinois on Feb. 11, 1861 — on his way to Washington, D.C., for his March 4 inauguration — he never returned to his home state alive.

The effort to bring the University of Illinois to Urbana didn't begin in the Illinois Legislature until after the Civil War ended in 1865. The Illinois Industrial University didn't open for business until March 11, 1868.


Demolition job in Urbana

"What is going on with the partially demolished building on the southeast corner of Washington and Philo in Urbana? It's been that way for quite some time."

A demolition permit for clearance of 1301 E. Washington was issued on Dec. 12 to Ed Salfelder, the property owner. Winter weather can sometimes delay a demolition project, noted John Schneider, Urbana's community development director.

Salfelder, who owns the adjacent Silver Bullet Bar, purchased the property and the Tri Star building on the site at an auction in November. He said at the time that he hoped to develop it for retail.

"We plan to develop a neighborhood-friendly restaurant, with some retail space added to the build, as well. We want to add something positive for the neighborhood. Something that will be engaging for the residents in the area," Salfelder said.


Upcoming election

"I see from the website (Champaign County Clerk) that the next election is (46) days away. What exactly are we voting on?"

This is a consolidated election, meaning you'll be voting for local positions such as school board, community college board, city council, park board, library board and fire protection district board.

In Champaign the mayor's position is up for election, as well as city council, four school board seats and one park board seat.In Urbana it's just three school board and two park board seats.

There's also an election for three seats on the Parkland College board.

Here's a link to all the candidates on the ballot in Champaign County ..



"I am interested in candle making and it has become one of my hobbies. I was wondering if any of the local farms produce soy wax flakes or bees wax flakes. Also, do you know of any candle making classes or local candle-makers?"

(This question came from Halle Youse, an 11-year-old who attends Montessori of C-U and is probably the youngest person ever to submit a Mailbag question. Click here for more on Halle. Her older sister, Stella, coincidentally, will be featured in Sunday's News-Gazette as the winner in the C-U's Got Talent fundraiser earlier this month at the Virginia Theatre).

"Good question," said Angie Patton, owner of Soy Fabulous Candles in Savoy. "Soy Fabulous uses soy wax flakes and when we started there were no local farms who produced soy wax flakes. We procure ours from North Carolina and Kentucky. That may have changed since 2016. We don't work with bees wax, but there are a few local farms who do beekeeping and have wax. They may be interested in working with anyone interested in pursuing. Curtis Orchard, Big Grove Apiaries, and Campbell Apiaries are a few options to look into.

"As far as workshops I know a few local bakery/markets like Art Mart and Hopscotch Bakery + Market have had local vendors in to have a variety of workshops. We would be open to holding a workshop in candlemaking and how to use essential oils to scent soy candles. We started out doing this as a hobby and it turned into a business so we know it is a great hobby. In the meantime they can feel free to contact us at if they are interested in a candle making workshop and we will try to make it happen!"


New use for old grocery store

"What's happening at the old County Market store on Kirby Avenue? They have totally gutted it."

The long-vacant County Market (and before that, IGA) at 312 W. Kirby is going to become a plasma collection facility. Champaign officials earlier this week issued a building permit to CSL Plasma of Boca Raton, Fla.

"The project work includes interior structural and non-structural demolition and complete renovation of existing building for a blood plasma collection facility," said a note on the building permit.


South Neil improvements?

"Many folks ask about various stretches of road and if/when they're included in the capital improvement plan. Is there any information for Neil Street/Route 45 in between Windsor and Curtis? That road is pretty heavily trafficked and is definitely showing signs of wear. Curious if that stretch is on the schedule or not — and if not, how are future stretches determined?"

We asked our go-to guy, Kensil Garnett at the Illinois Department of Transportation, and here's his response:

"Currently the only sections of U.S. Route 45 in the Multi-Year Program (FY 2019-2024) are Prospect Avenue to University Avenue (1.64 miles) and Springfield Avenue in Champaign to Curtis Road in Savoy (3.06 miles). These projects are in the FY 2020-2024 portion of the Multi-Year Program.

"IDOT is now focusing on asset management and we have changed from a 'worst-first' philosophy to a proactive approach to preserving our assets when scheduling construction projects. The traditional 'worst-first' strategy meant that IDOT prioritized assets that had deteriorated past the point of preservation, needing more costly repairs or total replacement.

"Under asset management, the strategy is to develop and implement a data-driven decision process that supports the use of analysis tools and life cycle strategies to reduce the rate of system deterioration as cost effectively as possible. The department will continue to address road and bridge needs to ensure our system is safe, but will also spend money on low-cost

treatments to preserve those roads and bridges to keep them in acceptable condition."


Recycling policies

"I'd like to know how materials that are picked up by waste haulers are handled, sorted, and ultimately sold or landfilled. I read that there is no longer a market for this material in China. Wouldn't it be more efficient to separate material before it is picked up? What materials should never be included in the items we put out for recycling?

"We put your question to Courtney Kwong, Urbana's recycling coordinator, who stressed that she can only speak for Urbana and its U-Cycle program.

"In the city of Urbana's U-Cycle program, recyclables are collected as a commingled mix of paper (fiber) and containers. Materials such as newspaper, office paper, cardboard, plastic and glass food and beverage containers, aluminum cans and tin are collected together in a cart provided by the city," she said. "The city contracts recycling collection with ABC Sanitary Hauling and Recycling.

"The haulers collect the recyclables curbside and at apartment complexes in Urbana using packer trucks. The materials are brought to ABC's facility in Champaign where workers hand-sort the commingled recyclables. The materials are separated into different commodity types (different paper grades, plastics, aluminum, and so forth) and then they are baled and set aside for sale. "Fortunately, the Midwest was not hit as hard as the coasts regarding the China ban. We do have mills that will accept materials domestically.

"It is more economical for the materials to be commingled and then sorted at the facility. If recyclable materials were sorted curbside, it would require more trucks to operate collection routes for specific materials. By using one truck each for the curbside and multifamily U-Cycle programs, we reduce air emissions along with reducing wear and tear on the roadways.

"Additionally, jobs were created to have workers hand-sort the recyclable materials to prepare for market."

Common materials seen in recycling containers that should not be placed in the recycling, Kwong said, include: Styrofoam(c), food packaging materials (chip bags, produce bags, candy wrappers, etc.), single-use paper products such as paper towels, tissues, paper plates and cups, and garbage bags.


Bus "wraps"

"The Surface 51 and Gies College of Business branded MTD buses look very nice. How much does a full bus wrap like that cost? Are they designed and applied by MTD?"

"The wrapped MTD buses are fun, aren't they? We hope to do more of them in the

future, as they are very eye-catching and effective for the advertisers," said MTD Managing Director Karl Gnadt. "Generally speaking, a full wrap like that costs $1,000 a month. However, we are actively in the process of dramatically changing the way we do our advertising services.

"We will soon be issuing (a request for proposals) for proposers to bid on brokering our advertising. That may result in some changes to all of the rates (up or down depending on the specific type). Those details won't be worked out until we have a broker on board.

"As far as the design and application of the wraps are concerned, each advertiser has their own designer mock up the graphics on the vehicle schematics that we provide. They then contract out to an approved sign-maker who will print out the sheets of adhesive vinyl and come to our maintenance department to apply them on the designated bus. Our body shop is certainly capable of installing them, but we prefer that they work their magic on non-advertising jobs."


State police speeding

"I have a question about state and local police driving on the interstate. Do they have to obey the same speed limits we do or are they exempt from them (even without any emergency lights on)? Wednesday I was coming in to work and I was in the new lower 60 mph area of I-74, a State Police SUV (license plate X-66) was in the fast lane and blew by me. They then exited at Neil Street exit. I have seen police go faster than the speed limit multiple times on the interstate and wondered if they were exempt or is it a 'good ol boy' rule not to pull over a fellow officer?"

We asked the Illinois State Police for a response and got this from Sgt. Jacqueline Cepeda:

"Authorized emergency vehicles, including ISP officers, per statute must always drive with due regard for the safety of others. That being said there are certain circumstances where officers are allowed to exercise certain actions while driving."

She included a link to the state law that exempts "public officers and employees" from obeying traffic laws.

Here are the highlights from that statute: "The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this Section, but subject to the conditions herein stated.

"The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may:

"1. Park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of this Chapter;

"2. Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be required and necessary for safe operation;

"3. Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he does not endanger life or property;

"4. Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.

"(d) The exceptions herein granted to an authorized emergency vehicle, other than a police vehicle, shall apply only when the vehicle is making use of either an audible signal when in motion or visual signals meeting the requirements of Section 12-215 of this Act."Here's a link to the full section ...


Bad construction vibrations

"The construction on Sixth and Green in Champaign has been causing many buildings in the surrounding area to vibrate frequently, so much so that in some cases it has caused pictures to fall off walls. We've been told that it is from pilings being driven into the ground for the new high-rise. Is there any impact on the structural integrity of the buildings in the area from the constant shaking, particularly older buildings such as Altgeld? Is someone monitoring this?"

The contractor for the project, J.H. Findorff & Sons, Inc. of Madison, Wis., told Champaign city officials that it is monitoring the vibrations from the installation of sheet pile at the site, which is destined to be the 17-story "Hub on Campus," featuring apartments, parking and commercial space.

"We are currently monitoring the adjoining properties using two different methods of monitoring systems. The first monitoring system we are using is monitoring targets that have been fastened onto the neighboring buildings. We are monitoring these targets on a weekly basis. These targets were measured for benchmark elevations prior to sheet pile installation, and they also reference coordinates to city datum," Findorff said. "The second method is vibration monitoring devices. We currently have several of this devices installed in adjacent properties. These monitors measure the frequency, and the intensity of the vibrations.

"We have also had proactive discussion with neighbors notifying them of the vibrations that will occur. We are nearing the end of our sheet pile installation, which is the bulk cause of the vibrations."


Local weather records

"Can you find out how many local weather records have been set per decade? Are there trends in that data to suggest that weather is more extreme nowadays?"

Local records date back to August 1888. Weather readings are collected and recorded at the Illinois State Water Survey near the corner of First and Windsor in Champaign.

Here's how the daily high and low temperature records kept by the water survey break down by decades:

1880s — 14

1890s — 112

1900s — 75

1910s — 55

1920s — 43

1930s — 74

1940s — 37

1950s — 68

1960s — 33

1970s — 29

1980s — 67

1990s — 42

2000s — 36

2010s — 45


Danville correctional center

"I watched a National Geographic special on San Quentin prison and was curious about the prison in Danville: who is the most famous prisoner to spend time there? And what is Danville prison's population — growing or declining?"

It is declining slightly, according to statistics provided by Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lindsey Hess.

Here are Danville's population numbers over the last 10 years:

Average Daily Population

Fiscal Year 2018 — 1,749

2017 — 1,789

2016 — 1,785

2015 — 1,832

2014 — 1,845

2013 — 1,860

2012 — 1,816

2011 — 1,824

2010 — 1,828

2009 — 1,824

Overall, according to the Corrections Department, the statewide prison population was 40,872 on June 30, 2018. That's down from an all-time high of 49,401 on Feb. 9, 2013.

The Danville prison is a medium security institution so it's not likely that many if any notorious prisoners have been held there.


Country club property taxes

"How much property tax do the local country clubs pay each year?"

These latest property tax bills (thanks to the Champaign County treasurer's office for this information) are almost painful to type:

Champaign Country Club $159,602.86

Urbana Country Club $83,967.82

Lincolnshire Fields Country Club $69,419.82


Businesses coming to Champaign? Maybe not

"Has there been any more information on when Fresh Thyme (food market) is coming to Champaign?"


"Just curious whatever happened to the buffalo wing chain that planned to open a few stores here, Buffalo Wings & Rings."

After repeated message and phone calls I've given up trying to get an answer to these questions. My guess is that means they're not coming. Champaign building officials said they've had no contact from either of them.


Solon House memories

We received the following email this week from Stan Brown, commenting on an item in last week's Mailbag ...

"I'm a subscriber in Naperville, Il. Champaign is my hometown and I still have many family there. Just wanted you to know I enjoyed your most recent Mailbag on the Solon House. My family lived at 504 S. State street. My parents were forced to sell their home when the public library was built, otherwise my 86-year-old mom would still be living there. When I stepped out my front door, the majestic house was always there to look at."

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