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The Mailbag is stuffed like a robin after a summer thunderstorm. Infrastructure questions about a lawsuit over the Windsor Road rebuild in Urbana, the front stairs to Foellinger Auditorium, a leaky roof at a mausoleum in Champaign, a soon-to-be-demolished house in central Champaign, the old Taffie's restaurant at Country Fair and a debris-clogged bike lane. Also, pulled pork sandwiches, the plastic bag tax and (again) offensive license plates.

Foellinger Auditorium stairs

"What is happening to the steps on the north side of Foellinger Auditorium? It looks like a significant problem. Are the original stairs being replaced? How old were they?"

The work is part of the "Foellinger Auditorium — North Stairs Reconstruction" project, said Steve Breitwieser, manager of communications & external relations for the University of Illinois' Facilities & Services.

"The project will renovate the entire north stairway with new foundations, granite risers, handrails, cheek walls, doors, and light fixtures. The building's far north wall under the stairs will have the mortar joints tuckpointed," he said.

The stairs, including treads, were original to the 1907 building, Breitwieser said.

The brick foundation under the stairs will be demolished.

"With this exterior area of the facility fully exposed to outdoor elements, the condition of mortar binding the bricks in the piers was in decline, which compromised the structural integrity of the piers and caused the cheek walls to lean to the west," Breitwieser said. "The

width of the existing granite treads was not wide enough to maintain a weathertight seal and contributed to the deterioration of the brick foundations. The university is salvaging some of the treads for potential use in future landscaping and beautification work."

Another significant aspect of the project scope, he said, includes the reconstruction of the stairs and landing at the southeast Americans with Disabilities Act entrance of the facility.

New bronze ornamental handrails on the stairs will be installed, as well as new light poles with LED-type lamps, according to bid documents. English Brothers of Champaign was awarded the contract with a bid of $1.29 million.

The project is expected to be completed in August, Breitwieser said.

Windsor Road pavement update

"What can you tell us about the defective and cracked pavement on Windsor Road that happened several years ago. Has the cause been identified? Is there going to be any remediation?"

The dispute between the city and Stark Excavating Inc. has gone to Champaign County Circuit Court before Judge Jason Bohm. The city alleges a breach of and default on its contract with Stark. It wants "an amount sufficient to properly fix or remove and replace all of the cracked and defective concrete pavement" installed by Stark.

The file is several inches thick but in brief, here's the gist of the dispute:

In August 2014 the city and Stark entered into a contract to rebuild 1.4 miles of Windsor Road from Philo Road to Race Street. The work began that month. During the course of the work Stark and the city entered into 11 change orders. In December 2014 the city first observed cracking in some of the concrete panels in the westbound lanes. Stark agreed to remove and replace seven of the panels. Also at that time "the city advised Stark that if the concrete pavement cracking continued Stark would need to replace the cracked panels before the city would finally accept the construction work as completed."

As time passed the number of panels with cracks increased, including in the panels that had been replaced. As of June 1, 2018, the city's suit claims, 54.5 percent of the eastbound lanes and 68.6 percent of the westbound lanes of Windsor Road had cracks.

"Overall and when the concrete pavement panels on side roads are taken into consideration, approximately 52.1 percent of all concrete pavement panels installed by Stark are cracked," said the lawsuit.

The city says that Stark and the city were in agreement "that the cracking of the concrete pavement that Stark installed on the project was excessive significant or unusual" but that except for the seven panels that were replaced, "Stark has refused to fix or remove and replace" the other panels.

The city alleges that Stark breached the contract in several technical aspects of concrete work, such as the failure to ensure that dowel bars — short steel bars within concrete — were correctly installed and lubricated, to use a mechanical spreader for placing concrete and to ensure that the concrete "haul time" did not extend beyond specified time limits.

The lawsuit also notes that at approximately the same time as the Windsor Road project, Stark undertook the reconstruction for a part of Fourth Street in Champaign and experienced the same kind of concrete cracking. Stark removed and replace that concrete.

Urbana claims that because of defective work, "the expected lifespan of the reconstruction work performed by Stark on Windsor Road will be significantly shortened" and that the city will incur substantial costs repairing or replacing the concrete. It claims it has been damaged in excess of $2 million.

In its response Stark "admits it conferred with the city about pavement cracking but denies both that the cracking was excessive or the product of Stark's work. The city, although conferring with Stark about the pavement cracking, never definitively ordered Stark to repair or replace cracked panels."

Stark also admits that the city asked it to fix or replace the concrete panels but says "the cracked concrete pavement was not the product of any contractual breach" on its part.

It also denied all but one of the allegations of technical flaws with its concrete work on the Windsor Road project.

The company said it "substantially performed the obligations" of its contract with the city and noted that its work "was not substantially impaired, as evidenced by the fact the city put the roadway into use early to mid-November 2016 and by the fact it remains in use today."

Stark alleges a breach of contract by the city because it has incurred substantial costs and has suffered damages of more than $400,000.

Windsor Road bike lane

"Glass, glass, garbage, trash (saw a nice plaid shirt there today) and more glass. That's what we have to try to avoid on the bike lane going east from First Street on Windsor Road to Philo Road. Any chance that will be cleaned up? How often is that scheduled?"

We had a similar question about bicyclists and Windsor Road in October 2016 and the answer is the same today: both Champaign and Urbana public works departments are responsible for parts of that segment of Windsor and they are swept regularly. But if there is a hazard in the bike lanes, call the appropriate public works department and it will be addressed as quickly as possible.

Bicylists also are free to remove those larger hazards in order to help each other, I would add.

Mausoleum complaint

"I was wondering who owns the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Champaign, off of Kirby Avenue. I went there earlier this week to visit loved ones that are placed in the mausoleum and there were fans going, stains on the carpets from water leaking through he roof, musty smell. Just a little disturbing and I remember going a few years ago to visit and it was the very same thing — roof was leaking and the carpet was wet and stained. Who is in charge of this and how can someone like me get in contact with them to see who's going to fix this?"

The cemetery is owned by Midwest Group of Illinois, a Schiller Park company that also owns the adjacent Roselawn Cemetery and Woodlawn Cemetery in Urbana, as well as the Mittendorf Calvert Funeral Home.

One of its owners, Tom Battista of Wood Dale, IL, said the problem is being addressed.

"We just learned about it so we made arrangements for the carpet shampooer to come in and we also have a roofer scheduled," he said. "It sounds like there is a problem with the roof. There must be a breach up there. We've got somebody coming out."

On the west side of South Side

"On South Pine Street next to South Side Elementary, there is a stretch of road with 'No Parking' signs posted in front of one yard on the west side of the street. Is there an official city reason that no parking is allowed there, or is it just a curmudgeonly neighbor? If the latter, are signs preventing street parking allowed?"

If those signs were the work of a curmudgeonly neighbor, it's exceptionally good work. No, those six signs on the west side of South Pine Street are city-installed.

"This is because busses load/unload on the east side of the road. Preventing parking in this area allows traffic to continue to flow as needed," explained Kris Koester of the city's public works department.

Pulled pork places

"We know that Pauly's in Arthur was picked the No. 1 pulled pork sandwich in Illinois. What are the other nine?"

There were actually 16 restaurants in the contest sponsored by the Illinois Pork Producers, said project coordinator Kelsey Burgener.

Here are their names and towns:

Pauly's BBQ, Arthur

The Pink Pig, Ogden

Carrol Lou's Smokehouse, Decatur

Cooper's AlleySide, Springfield

The Boar's Nest, Athens

Hicks BBQ Company, Belleville

Big Catz BBQ, Knoxville

Chubby's, Macomb

3-Headed Monster BBQ, ShannonFarmer Smoked BBQ, Princeton

Henn House BBQ Catering and Food Truck, Altona

Smoked on 3rd BBQ Bistro & Catering Company, Sterling

Stone Jug Barbeque, Peru

South Moon BBQ, Hinckley

Triple P BBQ, Rock Falls

Tony's Butt Shack BBQ & Catering, Peru

Plastic bag tax

"Hey Tom, about the proposed 7-cent tax on plastic bags. Is it going to include all plastic bags, like the small bags used for produce in grocery stores, the little bags that you put nuts and bolts in at a hardware store, etc?"

Let me say again that this is proposed legislation that really hasn't gone anywhere in either the House or Senate. There is language in a bill but it hasn't been subject to negotiation so all of this is transitory. In fact Rich Miller, publisher of the Capitol Fax Springfield newsletter, wrote today that the plastic bag tax probably is dead because it isn't worth upsetting so many people over the relatively meager (approximately $20 million) revenue payoff.

However, the proposed legislation mentions:

"'Auxiliary container' means, but is not limited to, a bag, cup, bottle, lid, or other packaging that is:

"(1) designed to be reusable or for single use;

"(2) made of cloth, paper, plastic, cardboard, corrugated material, aluminum, glass, extruded polystyrene, postconsumer recycled material, or similar material or substrates, including coated, laminated, or multi-layer substrates;

"(3) designed for transporting, containing, or protecting merchandise, food, or beverages from a retail establishment or restaurant;

"(4) used to package bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, or candy;

"(5) used for greeting cards or small hardware items such as nails and bolts;

"(6) used to contain or wrap frozen foods, meat, or fish whether prepackaged or not;

"(7) used to contain or wrap flowers or potted plants or other items where dampness may be a problem;

"(8) used to contain unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods;

"(9) used to contain prescription drugs;

"(10) used to safeguard public health and safety during the transportation of prepared take-out foods and prepared liquids intended for consumption away from a retail establishment or restaurant; or

"(11) a newspaper bag, door-hanger bag, laundry cleaning bag, garment bag, or a bag of any type that customers bring to a retail establishment for their own use or to carry away from the retail establishment goods that are not placed in a bag provided by the retail establishment."

House demolition

"When will the city of Champaign/Unit 4 finally demolish the house on Church Street? The two houses on either side were demolished and the large, once majestic, house still stands with windows torn out and rubbish in the backyard. I am surprised the school district is letting the eyesore and hazardous area remain so close to the high school. It's too tempting to curious and adventurous teens to explore and potential temporary living quarters to homeless. Not only is it an eyesore to those of use living nearby but dangerous too."

The house at 617 W. Church St. will be razed and the property cleaned up by mid-June, said Elizabeth Stegmaier, the director of capital projects for the Champaign school district.

"That's the last house in the near term around Central (High School) that will be demolished," she said last week on WDWS' "Penny for Your Thoughts." "But in 2022, which is the final phase of the Central project, there's the (former Christian Science Society) church which is west of Lynn Street and across from the old YMCA, and there's a house just to the west of that. Those two structures will be coming down in 2022 in preparation for the new softball and soccer fields which will sit on the Y property and span across Lynn Street. We will be vacating that street."

Old Taffies

"The old Taffies Restaurant building looks awful. Is anything happening there?"

It appears that changes are on the way to the site at the Country Fair Shopping Center.

Champaign's building safety department has received a demolition permit application for 301 S. Mattis Ave. from J P Morgan Chase Bank. It is under review. There's also a building permit application for a new J P Morgan Chase Bank at that location. It also is under review.

Criminal neglect case

"What is the status of the elder abuse case from Monticello? I believe it was supposed to go to trial in April."

The case of three people charged with criminal neglect following the death of a 64-year-old Monticello man is scheduled for the July term in Piatt County.

Charged with criminal abuse or neglect of an elderly person are Mason Brown, 34, and his mother, Christy, 61, both of Monticello, and Justin Tatman, 37, of Bement. They are charged in the Aug. 23, 2018, death of Ronald Blankenship — brother of Christy Brown and uncle of Mason Brown — in his home in the 300 block of West Monroe Street in Monticello.

License plates

"Who in the hell is offended by a 'SND NUDZ' license plate? Old people really have nothing better to do with their time out here. They should consider taking driving lessons at the DMV when they get bored."

This issue — raised in last week's Mailbag — isn't anything new. The online application for personalized and vanity plates tells applicants not to try for "obscene or offensive combinations." And there's a form on the Secretary of State's web site — the "Offensive License Plate Contact Form" — where people can snitch on license plates that made it past the secretary of state's staff.

According to a 6-year-old newspaper story there were 5,577 license plate combinations on the state's "inhibit list." You can be sure there are more today.


Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).