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Questions for Tom?

The bad news: baseball season is over; days are getting shorter, darker and grayer; Illinois football is a Superfund site and there are four days left in this election campaign.

The good news: there are four days left in this election campaign.

Also this: answers to nearly 20 Mailbag questions including Jolly Roger glassware, an MCORE update, early voting sites, the influenza epidemic of 1918, football traffic control, a mistaken political ad, a teeth-rattling railroad crossing in Champaign, the schedule for demo work around Champaign Central, a big garage under construction in Champaign and several queries about infrastructure.

Central HS area demolitions

"I noticed the Burnham (Mansion) block is completely flat now. When

do the old YMCA, church and house that Unit 4 just bought come down by demolition?"

"We are doing hazardous material abatement in the YMCA now," said Champaign schools spokeswoman Emily Schmit. "When abatement is complete, we will move forward with demolition sometime in December.

"The Christian Science Church building is scheduled for demolition in early 2022. Demolition has not been scheduled yet for 617 W. Church Street, the property recently purchased."

Early voting sites

"How are early voting sites selected and have the powers at be gotten much grief for only having one location in the North End, where a lot of us walk a lot, and the more well-to-do part of Champaign? By my count, the two sites there — the Leonhard Recreation Center and the Meadowbrook Community Church — are barely a mile apart."

This is a good opportunity to point out that early voting continues at nine sites in Champaign County this weekend and Monday.

The county clerk's office at the Brookens Center in Urbana will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday.

Hours for the eight other locations are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday.

Any voter validly registered in Champaign County may vote at any early voting location.

For a listing of the sites consult the county clerk's web site at ...

As for how the locations were selected we asked County Clerk Gordy Hulten.

"Illinois' Election Code sets minimum standards for early voting locations and schedules. In Champaign County, we are required to have a 'permanent' early voting location in our office (starting 40 days prior to election day) and a 'temporary' location in the Illini Union to serve UI students (required to be open only for a handful of days)," Hulten said.

"As the election authority for Champaign County, since 2012, we have at our discretion added additional temporary early voting locations to provide for greater geographic access to early voting. These additional locations have remained mostly unchanged since 2012. In addition to our 'permanent' location at our office, we operate at Illini Union (Urbana), The Church of the Living God (Champaign), Leonhard Recreation Center (Champaign), Meadowbrook Community Church (Champaign), Lake of the Woods Pavilion (Mahomet), The Gathering Place at First United Methodist Church (Rantoul), Prince of Peace Lutheran Church (St. Joseph) and Tolono Public Library."

He said that because of anticipated demand the clerk's office opened all "temporary" early voting locations on Oct. 25.

"The locations have been well-received over the years, and Champaign County has among the highest rates of early voting in Illinois," he said, citing a story by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform ...

"We have made location changes as demand has increased. Leonard Recreation Center was added a few years ago in response to consistently overwhelming demand at Meadowbrook Community Church," he said. "On campus, we added a location at Activities and Recreation Center for the November 2016 election, in anticipation of very large turnout on campus."

Hulten said that as of Thursday morning, here are the early and grace period voting totals for each location for this election:

— Champaign County Clerk's Office: 6,567

— Campus (Illini Union): 2,563

— Southwest Champaign (Meadowbrook Community Church): 1,868

— Mahomet (Lake of the Woods): 1,038

— West Champaign (Leonhard Recreation Center): 984

— Rantoul (The Gathering Place): 605

— Tolono (Tolono Public Library): 473— St. Joseph (Prince of Peace): 414

— North Champaign (The Church of the Living God): 393

As of Thursday evening 22,698 ballots already had been tabulated at the county clerk's office. That's more than one-third of the 60,000 to 65,000 votes expected to be cast in the county this year. Four years ago, in a similar mid-term election, there were 55,434 votes in the county.

Nursing home proceeds

"I have a question about the (Champaign County) nursing home sale proceeds. The column last Friday said the property taxes would be collected for several years to pay back outstanding funds owed by the nursing home, as it owes various county funds $3 million. In a March Mailbag, the county auditor stated there were two general obligation issues totaling $8.2 million. Why won't these all just be paid off with the proceeds of the sale? If they won't be, where will the money go? Will it be absorbed into the general fund? I can't fathom continuing to levy property taxes to raise money for something that should be taken care of by the sale."

The $11 million from the sale of the nursing home won't cover all the outstanding costs associated with its operations and finances, said Deb Busey, the interim county administrator.

"After paying for all closing costs — which will at a minimum be $500,000 — the $11 million will first be used to pay for the defeasance and repayment of the outstanding bonds which is anticipated to be at least $6.7 million (this number is somewhat dependent on when we close)," she said. "The defeasance of these bonds does provide property tax relief to the taxpayers as soon as 2019, as we will not be levying the $1.4 million for the general obligation bonds for the nursing home construction with the 2018 property taxes to be collected in 2019.

"After those payments, the county will pay outstanding (accounts payable) obligations to outside vendors, which at this time stand at right about $1.8 million. If there are any funds remaining from the sale, those will then be applied to the $3.4 million currently owed by the nursing home to various county funds."

Add the $500,000 in closing costs, $6.7 million in outstanding bonds, $1.8 million in accounts payable and $3.4 million in repayments to other county funds and you have $12.4 million in expenses. And Busey said the closing costs for the sale of the nursing home very likely will be more than a half million dollars.

"It will be difficult to have a full and complete exact accounting until after the sale occurs — but this is generally what is anticipated at this time," she said. "Whatever is not covered of what is owed to the county's funds is what would be picked up with the redistribution of the nursing home operating tax levy in 2019 and future years until those obligations are paid."

The sale of the nursing home could be completed by the end of this year, Busey said.

Legionnaire's update

"I haven't heard anything in the last couple of weeks about the Legionnaire's scare in Champaign County. What were the results of the tests taken at First Christian Church? Have the other suspected sites been revealed?"

The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District has not received written results from the tests yet, said Julie Pryde, administrator of the public health district. She said the state Department of Public Health has taken over as the lead agency for the investigation.

"With that said the church was in compliance as soon as they drained their baptismal font. They are not allowed to reopen it without additional testing and protocol from IDPH," Pryde said.

Rebuilding Wright Street

"After all the roadwork on campus was done this year and last, it seems Wright Street is still a mess, especially where it crosses Green. Is Wright set to be rebuilt soon?"

Timely question, said Karl Gnadt, managing director of the MTD, which is the lead agency for the federally funded program to rebuild several streets in the Campustown area.

Bids for the work on MCORE's Project 4 — Wright Street south of Green Street (including the intersection) — were opened Wednesday.

Gnadt said there were three bids for the work and that he expects a contract for the work will be awarded by the end of 2018.

"The MCORE partners anticipate that this construction work will begin in the spring of 2019. Work will continue south on Wright Street including Armory Street from Wright Street to Fourth Street," he said. "The last project in MCORE will be Green Street in Urbana from Busey Avenue to Race Street, which will be bid in the fall of 2019."

It's just a garage

"What is the behemoth structure being built in the small backyard at 701 W. Hill St. in Champaign? The large dormers and extensive plumbing work indicate that it will be living quarters. And once the driveway is poured to access this new building, will the 'secret sidewalk' that runs north-south on the east side of this property be closed permanently to the public?"

The structure, said Champaign building safety supervisor Larry Happ, is a detached two-car garage with second floor storage space. The only plumbing in the structure is for the garage floor drains.

"The plans indicate that the north-south sidewalk east of this project is on private property and it will remain," he said.

Mistaken political ad

"Doesn't the FEC require political ads like Ms. Nally's (in Sunday's News-Gazette) require a disclaimer stating who's paying for it? Perhaps since she allergic to the word 'Republican' she views it as non-partisan?"


"No paid-for statement? So did The News-Gazette donate the space for this ad and will be reporting an in-kind donation?"

Traci Nally, a Republican candidate for the Champaign County Board and a News-Gazette vice president and general counsel, said she paid for the advertisement and it wasn't donated.

"The only thing I am allergic to is thimerosal in contact lens solution and some perfumes," she said. "I made a mistake by not adding the disclosure and I apologize to The News-Gazette's readers and the voters of Champaign County for not doing so. It should have said on the bottom, 'Paid for by Traci Nally for County Board. A copy of our report filed with the State Board of Elections is available on the Board's official website ( or for purchase from the State Board of Elections, Springfield, IL.'

"I'll just have to run the advertisement again the Sunday before Election Day with the disclosure on it to make up for my mistake. I am glad the mistake was noticed, and I am embarrassed that I made it. Nevertheless it is my favorite political ad because it says what is true about my candidacy, I have deep roots in this community and those who are endorsing me know it."

TV interference revisited

More on the TV signal interference in last week's Mailbag.

"On 10/27/2018 you had an item about colorful messed up screens on digital TVs. On the same day I had the same problem on one of my digital TVs and it was continuing a long time. I turned on the other digital TV to the same station and there was no problem. That seemed to narrow it down to the cable box. I powered down the cable box to the TV with the problem for about 15 seconds and powered it up again. The problem was gone and has not returned so far. AT&T may believe its rare geese explanation but that was not the problem."


"Mr. Martin is mistaken in saying this problem is unique to AT&T U-verse. As a Direct TV satellite customer I regularly have this issue and have contacted WCIA about it in the past."

1918 flu epidemic

"Historical notes in The News-Gazette say it has been 100 years since the great flu epidemic. A few historical articles in library archives relate to the local area. Broader geographical, social info would help. Personal memories of these times are passing. Your recommendations for layperson to learn more would help."

Good luck finding anyone who would have a recollection of the influenza epidemic of 1918.

There's a pretty good recap of the outbreak, if I may say so, in "Hot Type," the book published by The News-Gazette in 2002.

Let me quote myself:

"The great influenza epidemic of 1918 — perhaps the greatest public health disaster in world history — didn't arrive in Champaign County until September.

"The epidemic, which killed more than 657,000 Americans and at least 21 million worldwide, apparently started on March 11 (1918) at Fort Riley, Kansas, when more than 100 soldiers complained of fever, sore throat and headache. By the end of the week more than 500 soldiers were stricken.

"The movement of young soldiers — this particular strain of influenza struck mostly at people between the ages of 20 and 40 — aided the spread of the virus, first around the United States and then around the world. The epidemic that began in Kansas was, by late summer and fall, fully blown in the nation's biggest cities.

"The first Champaign County soldier to die in the great world war was felled not by a German bullet but by pneumonia. Joseph Leo Mattingly, 22, died before he even got to Europe."On a single day in October the University of Illinois reported four flu deaths — a young physics instructor and three male students. Chanute Field in Rantoul was placed under quarantine in September. The quarantine was lifted in early November but reinstated when the flu reappeared.

Locally, schools were closed, public funerals were prohibited, movie theaters were shuttered, churches were limited to one service per Sunday, and an emergency city hospital was opened in Champaign.

In downtown Champaign firemen literally scrubbed the sidewalks, "removing all the germ-carrying dust that might convey infection to pedestrians." In the city of Champaign Township there were more deaths that year (310) than births (301). In Illinois more than 32,000 people died of influenza.

Jolly Roger glasses

In September we took a question from a reader who wanted to purchase glassware from the old Jolly Roger restaurant in downtown Urbana. Lorayne Venable (217-898-8605) said she has several small glasses from the Jolly Roger that she would be willing to sell.

Blue over the Blues

"Will the St. Louis Blues make the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs next spring? Or will Blues fans be crying the blues once again?"

Bettors in Las Vegas do not believe it will happen, making the Blues 40-1 (same as the Chicago Blackhawks) to win the Stanley Cup.

Nineteen teams have better odds than the Blues and Hawks, and 16 teams make the playoffs so the bettors have little confidence in the two local teams. (Although Jim Rossow's Detroit Red Wings are the longest of shots at 250-1.)

I'm hopeful, though, that the offseason moves the Blues made plus the play of a bunch of new players will mean not only making the playoffs but winning at least one series.

US 45 reopened?

"Is U.S. 45 open between Rantoul and Paxton? I've seen no announcement regarding this."

It's been open for several weeks, said Jim Rusk, the supervisor in Rantoul Township.

Missing sign

"The sign for Indianapolis on I-57 North just south of the I-74 interchange is only half there. What happened?"

The sign was damaged in a crash in July, said Illinois Department of Transportation Region 3 Engineer Kensil Garnett. The sign is on a work order to be replaced, he said.

Bumpy railroad crossing

"Are there any plans to fix the railroad crossings on State street between Tremont and Maple? The right-hand side of those tracks is so bad that drivers have to crawl across them or weave int

o the bike lane / shoulder to avoid an incredibly jarring impact to their suspension."

You're right. That is a nasty-looking crater at the railroad crossing.

"Any improvement to the railroad tracks on State Street between Tremont and Maple would be completed by Norfolk Southern Railroad. Norfolk Southern has not made the city aware of any plans for improvements," said Kris Koester of Champaign's public works department.

He said that the city would pass this information on to contacts at Norfolk Southern and noted that any citizen can file an "Railroad Safety Complaint" at the Illinois Commerce Commission website

Prospect & Green signals

"What's up with the stoplights at the intersection of Prospect & Green? Green lights either way seem to last less than a minute and there isn't any traffic sensing. This is especially annoying late at night when there isn't any other traffic but you're still stuck at the light on Prospect waiting."

The signals at this intersection run on a fixed timer system to accommodate all modes of transportation, Kris Koester said.

"Without any detection equipment in place, the lights cycle through accordingly on a 60-second (late night) and an 80-second (daytime) time period for all phases," he said. "There are three separate phases (east-west, northbound only, and southbound only) and each phase is about 20 seconds on the 60-second cycle and between 20-25 seconds on the 80-second cycle."

University & Chestnut signals

"The stoplight at the intersection of eastbound University Avenue and Chestnut Street does not have a left-turn arrow. Westbound traffic backs up through the intersection with the green light making a left turn onto Chestnut nearly impossible. Is there a possibility of adding a left-turn signal?"

The city has no plans to install a left-turn arrow at this location, Koester said.

"To install one, a traffic study would first have to be conducted for this intersection. If the study determined a signal is appropriate, it would have to compete with other capital projects needing funding and placed into the city's 10-year Capital Improvement Project," he said.

Football traffic control

"When we go to football games (less than an hour before kickoff) the intersection at First and St. Mary's is usually very disorganized — cars going through the intersection and fans trying to cross in several directions all at the same time. There are usually three or four police officers on the corner observing this mess. Why are they not working the intersection and directing traffic and helping fans cross the streets?"

"While there is a perception that officers' duty is to keep traffic flowing as quickly as possible, their true focus is to keep traffic flowing as safely as possible," said Patrick Wade, communications director for the University of Illinois Police Department. "Safe traffic flow isn't always quick. And because intersections are designed to be safe and predictable by themselves, officers generally stay out of the intersection as long as everyone is following the rules.

"In the case of First Street and St. Mary's Road, the stop signs have a natural calming effect on traffic, which makes things safer for pedestrians. While this may be perceived as disorganized, that is the safest way for the intersection to flow. Officers are

tasked with standing by and monitoring so they can step in and begin directing if normal traffic flow begins to break down and starts to pose a public safety risk.

"That being said, we're always looking for ways to make things better for visitors to our campus, and we have forwarded this comment to the supervisor in charge of those traffic posts to ensure that these intersections are being monitored appropriately."


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).