Kathy's #Mailbag, May 24, 2024 (2024)

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If this week’s Mailbag questions are any indication, readers must be spending more time on the UI — er, Illinois — campus these days. We have answers about a new public art project near the stadium … News-Gazette content on WILL’s Illinois Radio Reader … and whether there are restrictions on what can be built on the grounds of State Farm Center. Also: some hot scoop on a new eatery coming to Campustown.

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The original home of K’s Merchandise Mart’s Champaign location opened on North Mattis Avenue in Champaign in 1973 — a “catalog showroom” retailer that carried an array of furniture, jewelry, electronics and more. Judging from the hundreds of comments on this week’s social media posts about the store, buying engagement and wedding rings there must have brought decades of good luck to many area couples.

K’s outgrew its space and moved to the former Venture store — now Hobby Lobby — near Market Place Mall in 1999. K’s closed after the Decatur-based chain went bankrupt in 2006.

In 2004, News-Gazette business writer Deb Pressey reported that Bargains Only planned to occupy 10,000 square feet of the building at 1311 N. Mattis “and will be selling department store-style merchandise — housewares and clothing for men, women and children — at discount prices.”

Parkland College purchased the1307–1315 N. Mattis Ave. facility in March 2007, according to Stephanie Stuart, Parkland’s VP for community and external affairs. “While it formerly housed the K’s Merchandise store, today it is referred to as the Parkland on Mattis building. Parkland programs operated at this location include health professions, community education, workforce development/adult education and the Construction Education Alliance (CEA).”

The college also leases space on the south side of the building to the Regional Planning Commission to house the Illinois workNet Center. Programs of the Illinois Department Human Services’ Division of Rehabilitation Services and Illinois Department of Employment Security are located there, as well.

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"Why did the line move so slowly at the electronics recycling event at Parkland last Saturday? It took more than an hour to drop off a few small boxes of items that shouldn’t go in a landfill.
"

Organizers acknowledge that last Saturday’s wait times were longer than usual. After they instituted an appointment system for both electronics and household hazardous waste collections a few years ago, the events did seem to run much more efficiently. Nichole Millage, environmental sustainability specialist with the City of Champaign, said the sponsoring agencies are analyzing why things bogged down this time and what they can do to prevent long lines next time.

“We had a lot more interest, so we registered more people than previously based off our experience. We were fortunate to have nice weather, however, the heat makes it more challenging for our volunteers/workers. Additionally, more people carpooled, which is acceptable, but then it takes longer to unload vehicles.

“All these things combined led to longer-than-normal wait times around mid-morning until the end of the event. We understand why some people were frustrated with the longer wait times.”

She said the fall electronics collection event will take place on Saturday, Oct. 12. Residents can find more information about that event, as well as where they can take unwanted electronics year-round, on the registration website (ecycle.simplybook.me).

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"Isn’t there a requirement that nothing must obstruct the view of the Assembly Hall/State Farm Center from the four streets that surround it — perhaps a stipulation from architect Max Abramovitz? If so, did the University change something to allow for construction of the new Illini wrestling center?”

When the reader posed this question, I thought “ya know … that sounds awfully familiar.” I checked with staff at UI Facilities & Services, State Farm Center, campus Office of Public Affairs and the campus architecture committee, and none of them knew the answer. The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics and Office of Historic Preservation did not respond to inquiries.

University Archivist Joanne Kaczmarek and her colleagues looked through “quite a number of sources” and she said “we can find no record of any stipulation, from architect Max Abramovitz or anyone else” of such a requirement.

She said “we did find a letter posted by Arthur Kaha on LinkedIn by retired Campus Architect Roland Kehe that seems to be related to your inquiry. The letter is advocating that the wrestling training facility currently in design phase not be located just south of the Assembly Hall and instead be placed where it had once been proposed as part of a larger plan (for) a Performance Center and Olympic Sports Arena.

“My understanding is that such a (multi-sport center) is no longer under consideration, though it was originally proposed in the campus master plan as early as 2005 and again in 2010 with a variety of options for the placement of buildings,” Kaczmarek said.

In October 2022, the UI Division of Intercollegiate Athletics announced plans to build the new Wrestling Training Center on the lawn just south of the State Farm Center. At that time, groundbreaking was set for the spring of 2024, and completion was expected in 2025. Recent inquiries to DIA about the status of the project have gone unanswered.

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"What's happening on the west edifice of campus parking deck E15, south of the UI Law School? Is it some kind of an art installation...?"

The forthcoming design on the west side of the Lot E15 Parking Structure is part of the Art-in-Architecture (AiA) program, said UI Facilities & Services spokesperson Steve Breitwieser. The AiA selection committee reviewed more than 60 applicants for this project and narrowed the applications to three finalists.

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Breitwieser said the artist selected for the work is Maxwell Emcays, who graduated from the UI School of Art & Design (New Media) in 2011. “He also went to Central High School and was a track and field athlete. Emcays has an art studio in Chicago and has developed a strong portfolio of work in community-related projects.”

Notes provided by F&S say the multi-layered abstract aluminum wall sculpture, named “The Path Forward,” “stands as a testament to the myriad experiences that converge on campus — the shared journey of students seeking knowledge, connection and purpose.”

Life’s journey is rarely linear, and each layer of the sculpture “represents a distinct path — a thread woven into the collective tapestry of our campus community. These paths intersect, diverge and reunite, much like the lives that intersect within the grounds of (the) UI campus.” Dark and light hues intertwine, reflecting the complexity of life’s choices.

The Illinois Capital Development Board website says each Art-in-Architecture project “is tied to a specific construction or renovation project funded by the state of Illinois. The CDB reserves one-half of one percent of the construction cost of state building and renovation projects to purchase public art.”

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“What’s going in where Apricot Lane used to be, on Green Street in Campustown?”

The storefront at 622 E. Green/627 S. Wright in Champaign is being remodeled to house a new Atomic Wings restaurant. In addition to — you guessed it — sauced-up chicken wings, the chain’s specialties include sandwiches, flatbreads and salads, according to the corporate website.

Michael Domico, Atomic Wings’ VP of development, said the local franchisee is Kavita Venkatesh. He said Venkatesh’s daughter is a recent graduate of the Urbana campus, and “Thefamily is very familiar with the campus and really lovesUI.” They anticipate a late June opening.

The chain’s headquarters is in College Park, MD, with 24 locations in operation and another seven opening later this year, Domico said.

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“County Market on campus had signs in the store indicating the store couldn’t sell alcohol on Friday, May 17. Someone there told me it was for a violation some time ago. Can you find out more?”

Jeff Hamilton, Champaign’s interim deputy liquor commissioner, said “I checked our records and the City of Champaign did not have any role or take any actions regarding the store not selling alcohol on May 17.”

But the Illinois Liquor Control Commission did issue a one-day suspension to the UI campus-area County Market store at 331 E. Stoughton St. The suspension was for a SAM violation — sale to a minor — according to Nicole Sanders, industry education manager at the ILCC. She said she did not know the date on which the violation took place, and that no further action will be taken as a result of this particular incident.

“What are the age requirements for independent and/or assisted living at ClarkLindsey and Windsor of Savoy? And is an exemption possible if one partner meets the age requirement and the other one isn’t quite there yet — say, five years younger?”

Jami Bowles, life enrichment supervisor at Windsor of Savoy, said the Windsor “is honored to serve community members in need of residential and assisted living services of any age.”

Karen Blatzer, ClarkLindsey’s resident and community navigator, said “at ClarkLindsey, residents need to be at least 62 years of age; however, if one member of a couple is at least 62, their partner may be as young as 55 years of age.”

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“It looks like the Illinois Radio Reader service is now available to anyone through Alexa and plain ol’ streaming audio. That’s great! But … why are only the Monday-Friday editions of the News-Gazette being read on the IRR?”

Illinois Radio Reader is a free radio service provided by Illinois Public Media for the reading-impaired community of east-central Illinois.

For many years, the only way to tune in was with special radio receivers that were available only to those who were visually impaired or had other conditions that prevented them from keeping up with their favorite print periodicals. Kathie Spegal, IRR director, told me the IRR still provides receivers free of charge for eligible persons who do not have internet access or are unable to use a computer for the livestream.

The service depends on volunteer readers who produce 80+ hours of weekly programming, including article summaries from newspapers based in Champaign, Decatur, Paxton, Monticello, Bloomington, Danville and other communities. Stories from the weekday editions of the News-Gazette are among the available offerings.

“We do not have readers for the weekend,” Spegal said. “My job is part-time, just 25 hours a week, and does not include weekends. So we use the Mind’s Eye Radio service to fill in half of Saturday and all day Sunday. We do access the (News-Gazette) weekend edition to fill out the Monday broadcast, if needed.”

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“Is there a fairly accurate virtual rain gauge app that’s available to the public for free? The one I’ve been using has been a little glitchy lately.”

Several rain gauge apps are available for iOS and Android devices. They use radar and satellite data, and ground-level observations, to estimate rainfall at the user’s precise location.

We turned to agricultural meteorologist Andrew Pritchard for his suggestions. In addition to providing weather coverage for WILL Radio, he serves as senior meteorologist at Nutrien Ag Solutions. As you might guess, he’s partial to the new-ish Nutrien HUB app that incorporates the features of the popular Pocket Rain Gauge app.

Pritchard said that HUB app “offers enhanced weather data, including rainfall forecasts, hourly and daily weather updates, soil temperature, moisture levels, and daily videos” from Nutrien’s weather team. Users may register for a free account to access rainfall amounts and other weather data at specific locations — for example, at their home or in a particular field. The app offers additional field-level weather insights for Nutrien customers.

Rather than use an app, Kevin Lighty, WCIA-TV’s chief meteorologist, said he relies on National Weather Service data and is a big fan of CoCoRaHS — the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. Pronounced ‘KO-ko-rozz,’ that is a grass-roots network of more than 20,000 volunteer weather-watchers who take on-the-ground precipitation observations and feed them into a nationwide database each day. The CoCoRaHS.org website shows Champaign County has about three-dozen trained observers.

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“When was the UI Fire Department established, and when were its operations folded into Urbana’s FD?”

UI Facilities and Services spokesperson Steve Breitwieser dug through F&S’ files and located a history of the UIFD, which says its first fire chief, Thomas “Shorty” Fay, was hired in 1900; Fay also was the chauffeur for the UI president.

Prior to 1900, all fire patrolling was done by the University police and janitors in the various buildings. These men also made up the night fire department. During the day, boiler house employees, plumbers, steamfitters, some departmental employees and janitors would leave their jobs to answer calls.

When a fire was discovered anywhere on campus, a large steam whistle on the power plant was used to report it. “The signal was a ‘wildcat’ blast, a long rise and fall, followed by a pause after which the building number was designated by a series of toots. The whistle would bring persons off duty to assist boiler house employees who would leave their jobs to answer the calls,” the history said.

Champaign Fire Chief Andy Quarnstrom recalls that in 1998, the UI and the cities of Champaign and Urbana entered into an intergovernmental agreement to provide fire protection on the UI campus. The Urbana FD officially absorbed the university’s fire department that same year.

The 1998 agreement continues today, and both cities provide fire protection to University buildings, students, staff and visitors – as well as to apartments, private residences and businesses on and near campus. “Responses on the Champaign side (west of Wright Street) often get an Urbana fire engine as well as four units from Champaign and responses east of Wright Street receive a response from all-Urbana Fire Department staff” Quarnstrom said.

Longtime multimedia reporter Kathy Reiser is the author of Kathy's Mailbag, which runs in full every Friday on news-gazette.com and in part in Saturday's News-Gazette. Submit your questions here.

Kathy's #Mailbag, May 24, 2024 (2024)

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