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New grant-funded climbing structure set for Children's Discovery Museum

The Children's Discovery Museum in Uptown Normal.
Corrected: July 6, 2022 at 8:41 AM CDT
An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect total cost for the Children's Discovery Museum climbing structure. The story also didn't make clear that a state grant is covering the total $576,000 cost, with the Town of Normal acting as fiscal agent for the agreement.

The Normal Town Council voted Tuesday to authorize an agreement to put a new grant-funded climbing structure at the Children’s Discovery Museum.

The popular play area, which was part of the museum’s 2004 opening in Uptown, is suspended over the destination’s entryway.

The museum was awarded a $576,000 state grant for the project. Tuesday’s vote waives the bidding process and authorizes a nearly $300,000 agreement with Connecticut-based Luckey Climbers to create and install the new structure.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council agreed to send a proposal regarding the town’s sign codeto the Normal Planning Commission; and voted to set aside motor tax fuel funds for a Franklin Avenue Bridge renovation project.

Kid’s museum climber

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources awarded the $576,000 public museum capital grant to CDM for the project.

Luckey LLC created the current climber and is handling the updated version as well. It will have new safety features and easier-to-clean materials, according to council materials.

As part of its vote Tuesday, the council waived bidding requirements. Normal City Manager Pam Reece said that made sense because Luckey is the only manufacturer of the one-of-a-kind indoor playground.

The remaining $276,000 of the grant will go toward related floor, railing and ceiling updates. Those will be bid separately this summer.

The state grant covers the entire $576,000 project cost. The Town of Normal is acting as fiscal agent, and when the grant funds arrive, the town will be reimbursed, according to Beth Whisman, Normal's cultural arts director.

During discussion on the proposal, council member Stan Nord drew the ire of other council members when he accused Normal town staff of misrepresenting staff time on projects, and of proposing no-bid contracts “where they might be getting financial kickbacks” for sitting on certain boards.

It's not the first time Nord has clashed with his fellow council members.

Council member Kevin McCarthy called for a point of order, saying “Mr. Nord is blatantly making statements that aren’t true — in my opinion, slanderous statements.”

“It’s a strong accusation Mr. Nord,” added Mayor Chris Koos.

Reece said Nord has previously made similar accusations, though those were proved unfounded.

Later in the meeting, council member Kathleen Lorenz lamented the tone of the meeting and Nord's “false innuendos.” She defended Normal’s staff as very qualified and said at times during Tuesday's meeting that Nord’s comments verged on mudslinging.

Proposed policy changes for yard signs

The council voted 5-2 to send a proposal to the Normal Planning Commission that initiates a closer look at rules for temporary yard signs.

Now, the commission will hold a public hearing, and then report its findings to the council. After that, the council would vote on the proposed policy change. The earliest the amended sign code would take effect is December 2022.

Nord and council member Scott Preston voted “no.”

“The purpose of the public hearing process is to get public input,” said Reece, adding the proposal going to the planning commission should just be considered a starting point.

Tuesday’s proposal is limited, and doesn’t cover the town’s entire sign code, she said.

The proposed changes stem from recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that sign ordinances must have language that is “content neutral,” she added.

Some additional key points being considered are time restrictions, and size limits.

Lorenz mentioned the McLean County Chamber of Commerce and a local real estate agents’ group had reached out with concerns about the proposal.

Franklin Avenue Bridge

The council voted unanimously for Normal to set aside about $200,000 of its motor fuel tax (MFT) funds to help replace the aging Franklin Avenue Bridge near Carle BroMenn Medical Center.

The council won’t vote to approve the project until it's closer to the expected 2024 construction date. But as part of budget planning, the state requires the town council approve any use of the MFT funding.

The bridge, which crosses Sugar Creek just north of Virginia Avenue, is deteriorating; the pedestrian crossing is in such poor condition, the town has closed the walkway portion’s access.

A $1.5 million special bridge program grant, from the state of Illinois, will be used for the bridge update. But the total cost of design and construction is about $2.3 million today. The town plans to make up the remaining $600,000 using its storm water budget.

In other business, the council OK’d:

  • Giving $50,000 of Normal’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to the Community Health Care Clinic. The Normal-based organization serves people with little-to-no health insurance. The funds are restricted for COVID-related treatment.
  • A utility easement to allow water main installation on Rivian Motorway. 
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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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