Michele Steinbacher | WGLT

Michele Steinbacher

Correspondent

Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.

Steinbacher previously worked as a reporter at The Pantagraph in Bloomington, and taught communication at Heartland Community College.

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City of Bloomington

Nearly 100 people took up the city's offer to ask questions about early designs for Bloomington’s new pool and skateboard area planned for O’Neil Park.

A project that will create an affordable senior housing development in a renovated building near Fairview Park moved forward Monday, with the Normal Town Council’s support.   

During the virtual meeting, the council unanimously approved the amended site plan for 901-905 N. Main St., at what’s known as the old Fairview building.

The community got a sneak peek Thursday into how the state might overhaul the Veterans Parkway/Empire Street hub, one of Bloomington’s busiest and most dangerous intersections.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) hosted two virtual information sessions. Both offered preliminary findings of The Veterans Parkway at Empire Street (Interstate 55 Business/Illinois 9) Feasibility Study.

As Illinois' COVID-19 vaccine distribution begins its next phase Monday, many older residents and essential workers are eager to get their shots, officials said at Wednesday's meeting of the McLean County Board of Health.

The Bloomington City Council on Monday overwhelmingly voted to join the Welcoming Network, a nonprofit group that prides itself on creating inclusive environments for immigrants through community engagement, job training and other initiatives. 

Lawyers for the Town of Normal and a local business accused of violating COVID-19 restrictions faced off Tuesday at a Liquor Commission hearing, but a decision on the matter isn’t expected for several weeks.

The Normal Town Council on Monday OK’d spending about $150,000 on a three-year agreement with Midwest Fiber to continue the decades-old drop-box recycling program.

The Normal Town Council voted overwhelmingly Monday night to waive next year’s liquor license fees for certain businesses negatively affected by Restore Illinois’ pandemic closures and restrictions.

Next month, Bloomington City Council will hear a proposal on whether to research a national program that helps communities build an inclusive culture for immigrants and other populations. 

Ward 2 council member Donna Boelen presented the proposal to further study the Welcoming America Initiative during Monday's remote meeting. Despite passing 7-2, some on the council, as well as local immigrants-rights advocates, spoke against the idea.

WGLT file photo

More than half of District 87’s teens have opted for remote learning through May, Superintendent Barry Reilly told the school board Wednesday night.

If Normal wants Restore Illinois restrictions enforced, it’s going to require a local ordinance, according to Normal Mayor Chris Koos. 

The Bloomington City Council learned during its meeting Monday that $3.2 million in COVID-19 relief has arrived to help the city’s battered budget, via the federally-funded CURES program. 

“This is great news for the city, related to our revenue issues” that continue to be a challenge, said Bloomington finance chief Scott Rathbun. 

CURES is a local government assistance program, distributed through the state but funded via the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. 

The Normal Town Council on Monday OK’d an estimated $13.1 million tax levy that, if formally approved after a Dec. 7 public hearing, is likely to keep the property tax rate flat at about 1.5%.

council members at a meeting
YouTube

The Bloomington City Council on Monday gave staff the OK to pursue the possibility of observing Indigenous Peoples Day each October, but not before a lengthy and sometimes testy discussion about the idea, and how it fits in with Columbus Day.

Republican U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood easily won a third term in the 18th Congressional District, defeating Democrat George Petrilli.

At the Normal Town Council’s Monday meeting, Mayor Chris Koos and others responded to a return to stricter crowd limits because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, with Koos saying despite mixed feelings about the metrics used to include Normal, he won't encourage anyone to violate the restrictions. 

The District 87 school board Wednesday night approved plans for a nearly $45 million tax levy, and will set a public hearing before final adoption on Dec. 9. 

The levy is about 3% higher than last year’s $43.7 million extension. However, the overall tax rate should remain basically flat, at $5.14 per $100 equalized assessed valuation, according to Colin Manahan, District 87 finance chief. 

The Bloomington City Council on Monday narrowly approved a change to how the city's Public Safety and Community Relations Board makes recommendations and handles outreach. 

But before the 5-4 vote, council members disagreed in a lengthy discussion about whether the change constituted slightly amending bylaws to clarify the board’s purpose, or significantly broadening its mission. 

Normal now moves into the design phase of its $9.5 million West College Avenue reconstruction, with Monday’s town council vote to release $370,000 of state motor fuel tax funds. 

City Manager Pam Reece said the reconstruction of West College--from Rivian Motorway to White Oak Road--is set for completion in 2023. The Farnsworth Group of Bloomington will oversee project design.

Barry Reilly wearing facemask at desk
WGLT

Some parents voiced concerns Wednesday night to the District 87 school board over plans to allow in-school, hybrid learning this fall for younger students, but not the district's teens.

Superintendent Barry Reilly updated the board  about the plans announced earlier in the day, in which students in grades 7 through 12 will stay remote at least until January. Families have the option to send younger students back for hybrid learning, some as early as Oct. 26.

The Bloomington City Council Monday night OK’d the next steps in a plan to extend the Constitution Trail in southeast Bloomington, creating a safer way for bicycle and foot traffic to cross under Veterans Parkway. 

When complete, the trail would stretch from Lafayette Street to Hamilton Road.

Also at the remote meeting, the council approved plans to spend $775,000 on design for a new O’Neil Pool; updated city codes including  sprinkler requirements in businesses; and heard from residents calling for Oct. 12 to be known as Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day.

Possible zoning changes for the One Normal Plaza area are on hold, with the Normal Town Council voting Monday to postpone hearings on the matter until COVID-restrictions loosen and allow in-person meetings.

The Bloomington City Council opted Monday to delay a vote on creating a public arts commission, with members saying they first must resolve questions about how the commission would be funded, and who would be represented among its volunteers.

While voicing general support for the commission, the council agreed unanimously at the remote meeting to table the vote until Oct. 26.

Normal’s gas tax rate will double to 8 cents per gallon beginning Dec. 1, after narrowly passing during Monday night’s town council meeting in a 4-3 vote.

The Bloomington City Council on Monday overwhelmingly approved the first marijuana dispensary in the city, expected to open by December. 

Normal and other cities shouldn’t expect a full economic recovery until 1 to 3 years after a COVID vaccine becomes available, administrators told the Normal Town Council on Tuesday.

A proposal to regulate gatherings on county property -- which called for issuing organizers a fine if they don't provide advance notice of demonstrations and other events -- has stalled in a McLean County Board committee.

The Normal Town Council voted Wednesday to keep in place through Dec. 31 new rules limiting crowds near the Illinois State University campus in response to a spike in local COVID-19 cases, mostly among ISU students.

The Bloomington City Council gave the official OK Monday night for Grossinger Motors Arena to be used as a “universal” voting site for McLean County residents on Election Day on Nov. 3.

John Butler in court
David Proeber / The Pantagraph (Pool)

After three years, the end is in sight for the lead defendant in the Coliseum fraud case.

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