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This week's Mailbag is jammed more than a Campustown liquor store on Unofficial St. Patrick's Day.

We've got a lot of questions about the big Champaign Central High School renovation project beginning this spring and other infrastructure-related questions.

Also food service inspection procedures, I-74 traffic enforcement, goose hunting, Campustown building heights, plastic bags, 1906 W. Bradley, Flynn's famous fish and a highway sign punctuation error that will stay uncorrected.

"Regarding Combes Gym, will it be replaced as part of the (Champaign school district) renovation?"

Combes Gym, named for the Monticello native who coached Champaign High School basketball from 1938 to 1947 (and at the University of Illinois from 1947 to 1967) will remain right where it is at Champaign Central High School.

It will get a new main entrance and perhaps other "enhancements" if the construction budget permits, said John Lyday, the chief communications officer for the school district. It also will get a major addition to the north.

Construction of the gym addition is projected to start April 22, a couple weeks after a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Champaign Central High School at 10 a.m. April 8.

Here's a link to the school district's construction plans for Central ...

"I see a 'For Rent' sign on one of the apartments in between what was the Burnham mansion and the houses being torn down on Church Street. Certainly these can't be for rent, right? Who would want to live in the middle of a construction zone?"

We're about to find out. Those apartment buildings on the south side of Church Street are available for rent. In fact, the three buildings — 609, 611 and 613 W. Church — will not be demolished as part of the Champaign Central High School renovation project, according to capital projects manager Mark Roessler. None is owned by the school district.

And just next door ...

"We live on Church Street across from many of the properties that Unit 4 has bulldozed down. My question is in regards to 617 W. Church St. It has been a real eyesore to wake up to since mid-December. How long does (the Champaign school district) have to tear this down? Looking at how the city has given them the streets, the parking, and let them cut down irreplaceable trees it seems Unit 4 is getting another pass that your average citizen would not have been granted. We realize there are going to be some growing pains but this is all starting to take its toll."

Lyday said there have been some delays in the project but that 617 W. Church would be razed "in the near future."

Food service inspections

"I see the restaurant health inspection reports in The News-Gazette periodically and I wonder how the inspectors can find some of the infractions like employees not washing hands, etc. Seems like the restaurant would know when the inspectors are there. Can you find out some of the procedures they use?"

Yes, even though restaurants and other food handling facilities know that health inspectors are there, "habits come back pretty easy," said Sarah Michaels, the food program coordinator at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

"Usually you'll observe them not washing their hands when required," she said. "They're used to their schedule, their routine, and they do the things they normally do and you'll observe it during the inspection."

A typical food service inspection takes an hour to two hours, depending on the size of the facility, she said.

"And sometimes you have issues you need to resolve and you've got to be in there a little longer," Michaels said.

When inspectors notice an infraction, they call attention to it immediately.

"Hey, can you wash your hands for me? I notice you touched your face. I'll need you to wash your hands," she said as an example. "We usually have a discussion and we'll follow that up with a discussion with the person in charge so that they can look at procedures and policies there."

Pothole problems

"Is the city of Urbana planning to fix the potholes permanently on Myra Ridge Drive from Trails Drive north to Summit Drive? Last year, the city had counting tapes over that stretch. As a person who drives over this stretch often I was hoping that would lead to some improvements. The same can be said for Race Street, from Windsor Road north to George Huff Drive. Something other than the current solution needs to be done.

"That section of Myra Ridge Drive is exhibiting "D-cracking," which is a material issue with the concrete mixture, said Carol Mitten, Urbana's city administrator and interim public works director.

"The condition worsens over time by exposure to moisture and freezing/thawing temperatures," she said. "Traffic volume data was collected last year as the first step in data collection. The next step is an engineering pavement analysis to be performed to determine possible remediation options.

"Unfortunately, there are several Urbana streets exhibiting this type of distress, and a permanent fix for Myra Ridge Drive will be dependent on funding availability."

As for that stretch of Race Street, she said it "is older concrete pavement that is simply wearing out due to age. We need to conduct a pavement analysis in this area, as well, to determine remediation options and the costs thereof."

Color guard at games

"About a month ago the color guard began appearing at State Farm Center for the National Anthem. They had be missing for several years. What prompted their return?"

They haven't been missing every game, said University of Illinois Associate Athletic Director Kent Brown.

"They were at some games last season as well. There were just some challenges with schedules last year, but we appreciate the ROTC involvement this year in being able to make many of the men's and women's games," he said. "They have not always been able to do every game this year or in past seasons because of schedule conflicts, but we do our best to try to have one as often as possible."

Improper punctuation on highway sign

"For years the signs on Interstate 57 near Rantoul have read 'Lincolns Challenge' and I wondered if no one cares about the lack of an apostrophe. Seems like a program that continues to educate young people would want to be identified with proper grammar. Is there any way the Illinois Department of Transportation could get the signs corrected to read 'Lincoln's Challenge'?"

Please see the attached excerpt from the MUTCD (the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices), advised Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for IDOT: "Word messages should not contain periods, apostrophes, question marks, ampersands or other punctuation or characters that are not letters, numerals or hyphens unless necessary to avoid confusion."

"Though it seems simple enough," Garnett said, "the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices disallows the use of punctuation unless necessary to eliminate confusion. Though the sign is grammatically incorrect, it was made according to federal guidelines."

Traffic enforcement on I-74 in Champaign-Urbana

"I travel this area a lot and have noticed state police stopping semis on the outskirt of the 60 mph zone for, I assume, speeding. When will they ever target cars? Very few cars abide by the 60 mph. I have thought many times I was going to be rear-ended by motorists traveling at a high rate of speed while I'm doing 60."

"In reference to this inquiry, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Section has arranged for (Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Program) details on I-74 and the District 10 has scheduled multiple CVEP details," said Trooper Mindy Carroll of the Illinois State Police. "To the average motorist it would appear that quite a few troopers are doing enforcement to (commercial motor vehicles) in the outskirts of the 60 mph zone area, as they are very active in that area within the last two months. The CVEP stops are not necessarily speed enforcement.

"District 10 Troopers have also been increasing their normal enforcement of all traffic within the 60 mph zone on I-74 in the Champaign-Urbana area. They have been writing speeding tickets to passenger vehicles as well."

Road weight limits

"For years, Champaign County and its many townships have had weight limit signs posted. Most are posted on country roads made up of oil and rock chip. I have noticed for some time that there is 'zero' compliance and 'zero' enforcement on these roads. Large trucks and semis seem to drive wherever they want. Since weight limits are not enforced, why doesn't the county remove all the signs and save a little money?"

"Champaign County has no weight limit signs on our 200 miles of county highways," said County Engineer Jeff Blue.

He said not all township roads have weight limits.

For those that do, he said, "The township highway commissioners have a daily presence on their roads and know what is going on in their township."Rod Maddock, the St. Joseph Township road commissioner, said he has "stopped quite a few truckers, most realize they don't want to tear up the roads that they live on." He said he has never ticketed anyone, but "I have had to stop some of them from hauling in the summer when it's really hot."

Goose hunting

"Is there a geese hunting season in Illinois?"

Yes there is but it's too late to get yourself a Canada goose.

The Canada goose hunting season in central Illinois generally begins in late October and concludes Jan. 31, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The state is on a five-year schedule for waterfowl season dates and they are detailed on the IDNR website at this link ...

Also, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows hunters to shoot snow geese in Illinois through March 31.

Building height limits

"With building height restrictions in Champaign-Urbana now, is the 24-floor 309 Green Street high-rise destined to be the tallest building in Champaign-Urbana forever, or are there provisions to override this and consider a developer's request for a taller building strictly on the merits of the development?"

Buildings along Green Street now are limited to 175 feet, said Bruce Knight, Champaign's director of planning and development.

"In theory a developer could go through the Planned Development process and request additional height, but it's hard to picture a case where that would be warranted. Given that, 309 E. Green is likely to remain the tallest building in town," Knight said.

More information on UI Library bricks

University of Illinois Archivist William Maher has some more information on last week's question about the different colored bricks used in building the various additions to the UI Graduate Library. It comes from Professor of Architecture Marci Uihlein.

"In one of the 1926 drawings for the second 'unit' of the library (by architect Charles Platt and Supervising architect James White), there is a note that states, "Light face brick for court walls" thus indicating that the choice of the color of brick was intentional."

The third addition was under way (or at least the planning of it) while the second addition was being completed, Uihlein said.

"There is an identical note of 'Light face brick for court walls' on an elevation drawing for this addition, as well, indicating that a courtyard was planned," she said. "A 1927 drawing for the Second Stacks Addition calls out 'Light buff face brick thruout' but no courtyard is mentioned (by architect Platt and supervising architect White). A 1938 fifth addition drawing states the same: 'Light buff face brick thruout.'"

She said that the 1957 sixth addition drawings state that coursing should match, but nothing is noted about color.

"I think that one could safely say that there was a courtyard planned for the south with the third addition, and hence the color. (Light brick would reflect light better than the traditional red,)" noted Uihlein. "According to the National Register Nomination, Charles Platt ended his professional relationship with our campus in 1931 with the decline in building due to the Depression and he passed away in 1933. This would explain the change in direction of the building of the library. Also, according to the National Register nomination, 'Platt believed that symmetry and its effects were ideal for architecture and site development.'

"Located within this same document is the 1922 Charles Platt with 1927 revisions that shows the library as having three courtyards on each side, two new long ones (on each side) as well as the existing red ones."

Sump pump discharge

"There are several homes in southwest Champaign that have the water from their sump pumps running out into the city streets. You can actually see the pipes at the curb. When the temps dip below freezing, the streets become an ice rink. Is it legal in Champaign to do this?"

It is not. David Oliver, the city's code compliance manager, said it "is a violation for a property owner to directly discharge a sump pump onto the public right of way."

Plastic bag tax

"So, using the math in the plastic bag article our new governor (J.B. Pritzker) states there are 400,000,000 (that's 400 million bags) the stores provide each year in Illinois. Seriously?"

The city of Chicago has a 7-cent bag tax (from which the city gets 5 cents and the retailer keeps 2 cents).

The city collected $5.6 million in 2017 and $5.9 million in 2018 from the bag tax.

Since Chicago's population is about 21 percent of the state's population, Pritzker's budget team probably multiplied $5.9 million times 5, calculated for some loss from consumer behavior (primarily customers opting for reusable bags or no bags) and arrived at approximately $20 million.

Pitts defamation suit?

"Will teenager (Nick) Sandmann sue Miami Herald and Leonard Pitts? I hope so."

Don't bet on it. Pitts' pockets aren't nearly as deep as Jeff Bezos'. Sandmann's parents sued the Bezos-owned Washington Post for $250 million, but haven't said if they will sue anyone else.

The lawsuit accuses the Post of publishing seven stories with what it calls a "false and defamatory gist" about the Jan. 18 showdown between the Covington (Ky.) High School student and an Omaha Tribe elder at the Lincoln Memorial. The suit also alleges that the Post "contributed to the rampant cyber-assault and cyber-bullying" that was aimed at Sandmann after the story drew national attention.

The Sandmanns and their attorneys were pretty transparent in their filing why they targeted the Washington Post and not other media outlets.

"In order to fully compensate Nicholas for his damages and to punish, deter, and teach the Post a lesson it will never forget, this action seeks money damages in excess of Two Hundred and Fifty Million Dollars ($250,000,000.00) — the amount Jeff Bezos, the world's richest person, paid in cash for the Post when his company, Nash Holdings, purchased the newspaper in 2013," says the suit filed on behalf of Sandmann and his parents.

Flynn's fish

"I wanted to know if Steve Flynn was going to prepare the batter for his famed Deluxe Billiards fish sandwich for any local establishments to cook."

Yes, Flynn is serving his secret recipe battered fish at Sun Singer Restaurant, 1115 Windsor Road, C, every Friday for lunch only. It's not just a Lenten thing; he said he's been offering the cod sandwiches at Sun Singer for about three months.

Don't dawdle. He said supplies are limited and he's usually out of inventory by 2 p.m. every Friday.

METCAD hiring

"I'd love to know a little more about how METCAD hires their dispatchers. Do they hire folks with any particular prior training, or does METCAD do the training themselves? What sort of backgrounds do METCAD dispatchers have? And does METCAD only hire folks fresh out of school, or are people making a career shift welcome to apply when they have openings?"

Betsy Smith, the operations manager at the METCAD public safety communications agency, responded to your question.

"Our hiring is done through the city of Champaign Human Resources, as we are employees of the city. Our requirements include a high school diploma or equivalent, ability to pass a data entry test that equates to about 30-35 words per minute with 90 percent accuracy, and the ability to earn a passing score on our telecommunicator aptitude test," she said. "We have some preferred qualifications as well: prior dispatch experience, customer service experience, and experience working with computers.

"We do training (mostly in-house) that consists of three weeks of classroom training and six months on-the-job training with a communications training officer. In addition, there are a couple of required training/certifications that are needed before a telecommunicator is released to work independently, one is paper-based, one is online, and one is a three-day classroom setting.

"As far as our employees' backgrounds, we have a little bit of everything. We have some people with their G.E.D, their high school diploma, a two-year certificate/associate's degree, some with a bachelor's degree and even up to a master's degree. Their fields of study include criminal justice, health care, music majors, foreign language majors, administrative assistants, sociology, etc. Some of our employees come to us with an interest in becoming a police officer, firefighter or paramedic, and many have come from other 24-hour positions (i.e. hospital settings, alarm companies). We welcome anyone to apply who meets the minimum requirements and is willing and able to work shift work, including weekends, holiday and overtime. The applicants must have an ability to solve problems and follow standard operating procedures.

"We are currently exploring some updates to this process to make sure that we are visible and accessible to those looking for a career in emergency communications and that we are finding good people to fill the openings we have. We plan to hire again in the spring and people can always check the city of Champaign website ( to see when we start accepting applications."

Home to many businesses

"How many business have occupied the building on 1906 W. Bradley? After 51 Main announced they were relocating there, and some discussion with friends over past occupants, I got curious."

Since about 1974 it has been Big Daddies, Lava, Bradley's, Bradley's II and Rafter's.