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HCC ag expansion plan moves forward with Normal Town Council vote

The Normal Town Council meets Monday, March 21, 2022, at city hall.
Michele Steinbacher
The Normal Town Council meets Monday, March 21, 2022, at city hall.

Heartland Community College is a step closer to building its estimated $20 million agricultural studies complex after the Normal Town Council approved the site’s final plat Monday night.

The council voted 6-0 to give conditional approval to the site plan as part of the routine consent agenda. In January, the council approved HCC’s project plans, and a preliminary site plan, for the eight-acre site. The complex — set for a possible December 2023 completion — will have indoor and outdoor classrooms, as well as greenhouses.

Council member Kevin McCarthy was absent from Monday’s meeting at city hall in Uptown Station.

Heartland's 30,000-square-foot ag complex will sit on a 90-acre expansion of the Raab Road campus, just west of its existing footprint. The college will install a sanitary sewer service connection to the main campus.

Heartland spokesperson Steve Fast said the project is expected to cost about $20 million, though that figure could be slightly different based on grant funding.

The project is in the middle of the bidding process now, he said. A groundbreaking is likely late this spring.

Land annexed for planned mini-storage facility

Also Monday, the council voted 6-0 to annex a 10-acre piece of land at the southwest corner of West College Avenue and Interstate 55.

Travis Yordy plans to build a mini-storage facility on the site that extends south to White Oak Road.

Council member Stan Nord asked why Normal proposed annexing the land, rather than leaving it as McLean County property.

“If this were to remain in the county, we’d have no control over it,” responded town planner Mercy Davison. Prairie Gardens subdivision is nearby.

Nord also wondered why the town was zoning the annexation B-1 business, with restrictions.

It's true that ordinarily property owners want a broader use, said Davis. But because B-1 zoning covers more than 100 different uses, in this case, Yordy was “willing to narrow it down” to show neighbors his long-term intentions. City Manager Pam Reece said the restricted use is set for 20 years.

Normal sticks with consultant

The council voted 5-1 to extend, by two years, a $50,000 annual contract with Washington, D.C.-based Cardinal Infrastructure.

The firm’s leaders have assisted Normal for more than two decades, advocating for the town in its pursuit of federal funding, including for Uptown redesign, said City Manager Pam Reece. Every two years, staff reviews the performance of the firm. This contract is flat, with no price increase over the past two-year contract. She said this type of service does not need bids.

Since 2015, the company’s leaders have helped Normal secure more than $45 million in federal transportation funds, according to council materials.

Nord voted “no.”

“Twenty three years is far too long to go without getting some competitive bids,” he said.

Kathleen Lorenz reiterated Reece's point that, as a professional service, competitive bids aren't required.

Lorenz said whether the town opts to stick with one plan for 23 years depends on the situation. In this scenario, it makes sense, she said.

“I would not characterize this as a negative at all. I think it’s quite positive,” said Lorenz. “I think longevity and depth of knowledge of the parties is very important," she said.

Council member Karyn Smith agreed, saying the millions of dollars of federal funding Normal's secured with Cardinal speaks for itself.

In other business the council, approved:

  • Two items for the Normal Fire Department: first, that repairs, not to exceed $45,000, will be covered for one of its engines; and second, to spend about $38,000 to purchase 11 thermal imaging cameras.
  • Spending about $160,000 for a new electronic content management system from Laserfiche. Additionally, the council OK’d a $50,000 annual licensing cost for the system.
  • Using $12,500 in federal capital development block grants to purchase a dilapidated home in the 300 block of Glenn Avenue, unoccupied for two decades.
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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.