Year in review: Of comings, goings, bomb squads, sewer line hubbub

Comings and goings could be a theme for the top 10 news stories of the second half of 2017 — from the goings and comings of village administrators in Rantoul and police chiefs in Thomasboro, to the shipping out of another one of the vintage aircraft from the Chanute Air Museum, to the grand opening of a new retirement community and the demolition of Rantoul's oldest motel.

No third-party investigation
While saying mistakes were made in communication regarding a change in a storm sewer project that benefitted a village trustee, Rantoul Mayor Chuck Smith said he would not call for a third-party investigation into the legality of the case.

Smith said attorneys from two law firms confirmed no laws were broken and that Village Administrator Jeff Fiegenschuh was within legal bounds to issue a supplemental engineering agreement for the Broadmeadow Drive drainage improvement project.

In a statement issued by Smith, he said “reasonable steps” had been taken to correct mistakes made in the case and to prevent them from occurring in the future.

Three residents who spoke to the village board asked that a third-party investigation be conducted.

The case involved the rerouting of a storm sewer line around property owned by village trustee Chad Smith. Smith had bought the property intending to build a house on it, not knowing that a storm sewer easement ran through the land.

Smith approached village officials and asked if the storm sewer line could be moved. The line was rerouted at a cost of about $39,000. Smith paid back the village $17,079 to compensate for the cost of the rerouting. The engineering firm for the project, Berns and McDonnell, wrote in a letter that Smith should not have to pay the full cost of the work because the village as a whole benefitted from rerouting the storm sewer line.

A one-man arsenal arrested
Rantoul area residents were on tenterhooks for much of July 12.

Two handguns, a rifle, a machine gun and two explosive devices were among the items found in a parked truck owned by an Indiana man in north Rantoul. But the owner could not be found for several hours.

Jeremiah Bridges, 39, who was said to be either a resident of Greencastle, Ind., or homeless, was found later that day. He was arraigned on two counts of unlawful use of weapons alleging that he had a machine gun or similar firearm and a bomb or shell containing more than a quarter ounce of an explosive substance. He was also charged with endangering the life or health of a child for allegedly leaving his 12-year-old son in the passenger compartment of the truck while there were loaded guns in it.

Bridges had parked the truck near Doc’s Auto, 329 N. Century Blvd., and then left. His son told police he didn’t know where his father had gone. Residents were anxious that Bridge might have been armed with a gun or bomb somewhere in the community. An extensive police search began.

The Champaign/University of Illinois bomb squad was called to the area, and U.S. 45 was closed to traffic, as the bombs in the vehicle were disarmed. Several area businesses were also evacuated.

It was only when Bridges came sauntering up Belle Avenue late that afternoon and was arrested that police and residents breathed easier. Bridges was spotted by a Fox TV news crew that was filming at the scene and alerted police.

Bridges was sentenced to probation in September.

Sold: Fisher agrees to sell water systems
After discussing the matter for nearly 10 months, the Fisher Village Board agreed in late July to sell its water and wastewater systems to Illinois American Water for $6.8 million. That amount is higher than the systems’ appraised value.

Trustees were convinced that Fisher could not itself undertake the $7 million in system updates needed in the next few years. The board raised water and sewer rates by 50 percent in April, and further increases would have come the next two years if the village had kept the systems.

The return of the two village-owned properties to the tax rolls could generate up to $26,000 additional tax income yearly to Fisher’s general fund.

Also, the village will earn through a 3 percent franchise fee the company will pay for using right-of-ways and streets that could come to $30,00 annually.

The company agreed to retain Ron Ragle, current water/wastewater superintendent, as an employee. The village also retains any rights to lease antenna space on the two water towers, and the towers will remain Fisher orange in color.

Administrators come and go
In early August, Rantoul Village Administrator Jeff Fiegenschuh announced he would be leaving for another position after three years on the job.

Fiegenschuh, who had held the administrator position since 2014, accepted the city manager position in Rochelle. He took over the reins Sept. 11. Rochelle is located about 75 miles west of Chicago and 25 miles south of Rockford.

Fiegenschuh said two factors weighed into his decision to take the job — the community of Rochelle as a whole and the proximity of the community to his children.

One daughter attends Northern Illinois University and his two other children attend Princeton Township High School, which is about 55 miles from Rochelle.

Fiegenschuh also said the recent controversy over the rerouting of a stormwater line around village trustee Chad Smith’s property also had some bearing on his decision.

Champaign County Administrator Rick Snider was selected as Rantoul’s new village administrator in October.

The village board voted 4-2 following a 40-minute executive session to approve Chuck Smith’s selection of Snider for the job. LaTonya Rufus, director of planning and development for the city of Harvey, was the other finalist.

Snider began his duties in Rantoul on Dec. 1. He will be paid an annual salary of $135,000.

Smith said the most compelling thing to him was that Snider had shown such an interest in coming to Rantoul. He said Snider’s connections to the county were also attractive.

Motel to be demolished
The village board learned that an Oakwood firm — Owens Excavating and Trucking — was the lowest of 10 bidders to demolish the Rantoul Motel on north U.S. 45.

The firm bid $39,250, far below the high bid of $267,000.

Complete removal of the structure and a large portion of the parking lot was included in the bid.

Owens was also required to crate and move the vintage motel sign to a hangar at the former Chanute Air Force Base until it can be repaired. It will come into the possession of the Rantoul Historical Society.

The village board had earlier approved purchase of the motel property for $79,000 with the plan to demolish it. The motel, located at 301 N. Century Blvd., was built in 1952. It had been vacant for some time.

Glory of former base dimming
Little by little, evidence that Rantoul was home to an Air Force base is vanishing.

The latest disappearing act came in mid-August when a B-58 Hustler bomber left the grounds of the former Chanute Air Force Base and began a five-day journey to Castle Air Museum in Atwater, Calif., where it will be reassembled.

Only one more plane from the old air museum remained to be moved for reassembly — an F-101, which will be transported to the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Ala., at some point.

Most of the other planes had been herded to an area on the south end of the former air museum exterior display area, waiting to be scrapped.

The scrap yard is also possible for a C-97 plane located along South Century Boulevard and the old missile that stands sentry near the old base west gate.

The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational jet bomber capable of Mach 2 flight, designed for service in the 1960s.

The plane carried five nuclear weapons. Four were on pylons under the wings, and one nuclear weapon and fuel were in a combination bomb/fuel pod under the fuselage.

Rantoul catches solar eclipse fever
Some people who showed up to view the solar eclipse Sept. 21 through eyewear at Rantoul Public Library were disappointed. There wasn’t enough to go around.

Demand outstripped supply as some people didn’t sign up ahead of time for the glasses.

“Unfortunately, we had to turn people way,” said Violet Lapine, technical assistant at the library. “We only had 50 of the glasses. We gave (them) to those who reserved a spot. First come, first served.”

Those venturing to the library could still view the eclipse by using a viewing box or looking through a filtered telescope set up by Doug Rokke.

Tiffany Carey, who is in her mid-20s, had never had the opportunity to see a solar eclipse before.

“This is basically my first time seeing it,” Carey said.

Mary Pringle of Thomasboro was looking forward to the eclipse.

“This is probably the neatest thing all year,” she said.

Even though Pringle is 69, it was her first chance to view a solar eclipse as well.

Many people ventured to southern Illinois for a better viewing opportunity of the eclipse. Evidence of that migration was apparent along U.S. 45 when traffic was bumper to bumper at times as sun-watchers headed back north that evening.

New retirement community renovation unveiled
A fancy new makeover greeted those who attended a late September open house at Eagle’s View Retirement and Memory Care in Rantoul — known for years as Prairie Village.

“They’ve redone every inch of it,” Amy Sipes, director of marketing, said. “It definitely looks more modern.”

Exterior work included completely new landscaping, but it was inside that drew the most comments.

“I think everyone that came said how impressed they were by the look of it,” Sipes said. “They thought the apartments were really nice. We got a lot of compliments about the memory-care facility looking really homey.”

It was quite a change from its Air Force days when Faktor Hall was a 1,000-man dormitory.

Eagle’s View presently has 19 memory-care units. Sixteen newly renovated one-bedroom memory-care apartments will become available pending state of Illinois approval.

The supportive-living side includes 97 units, which have also been remodeled.

Eagle’s View is unique in that it accepts Medicaid patients for both its memory-care and supportive-living units.

Villas of Holly Brook opening
In late November, scores of workers were putting the finishing touches on the new Villas of Holly Brook and Reflections Memory Care facility in west Rantoul.

The 65,000-square-foot complex located in the Stone Bridge subdivision features 50 assisted-living apartments and 28 memory-care units.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours of the facility were held Dec. 2, and gourmet meals were served until mid-afternoon.

The assisted-living portion of the complex features one-bedroom, two-bedroom and two-bedroom deluxe apartments that include a living area, kitchen area, bedroom, large bathroom, walk-in closet and refrigerator.

Memory-care unit residents can choose a suite, and memory-care therapies will include a sensory room, horticulture therapy, art therapy, music therapy and cognitive activities.

Rea selected Thomasboro’s police chief
Thomasboro has a new police chief.

The village board voted unanimously in late November to appoint Robert Rea as chief of police at an annual salary of $45,000 and a 3 percent retirement match.

The selection depends upon Rea’s acceptance of an employment agreement specifying the compensation benefits and terms offered by the village, Village Clerk Jeremy Reale said.

Rea retired in 2016 as a lieutenant with the Champaign Police Department and moved to Kentucky. He said at the Nov. 6 regular board meeting that he wanted to return to the Champaign area and to law enforcement.

“This has been my home since 1985,” Rea said. “This is where I want to be.”

Altogether, Rea’s law enforcement career spans 24 years.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com
 









 

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