MONTICELLO — The City of Monticello would like to build a new road that would access former Hundman Lumber property off of Market Street, a 15-acre parcel now owned by food processing company Thew Arnott.
But the current city proposal would put the 50-foot-wide road through land that serves as the Monticello bus barn, owned by the Monticello school district.
And while School Superintendent Vic Zimmerman said what is good for the city is usually good for the school district, in this case he has concerns about taking away space for buses to maneuver.
“My concern that I’ve shared with the board and with (Monticello City Administrator) Terry (Summers), is that I feel it takes up too much of our current parking lot. As much as I would like to recommend we go forward with this, I can’t recommend that we do, because I think it diminishes the use of our bus parking, which is the main reason we bought the bus garage in the first place,” Zimmerman said.
Summers said there is an opportunity to develop the land now that Thew Arnott is using the site, which includes a building south of the bus barn along the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks.
“Thew Arnott picked Monticello for their American headquarters, and purchased this 15 acres of abandoned land and blighted property in 2019, and has interest from other companies that they do business with to actually locate on this site,” Summers said. “A big advantage to this site is it has a rail spur.”
He said the issue of access dates back to at least the early 2000s, when the city received a state grant to improve access to the parcel. But without cooperation from the lumber company, the grant dollars were returned to the state.
Currently, Thew Arnott trucks are needing to go through a residential area via Monroe Street and past the Willow Tree Missions Resale Shop to access the railside building.
“We’re talking tank trucks; we’re talking 53-foot vans, and 20-foot dry boxes,” said David Rosenbery, the general manager of the Thew Arnott Monticello facility.
“From our standpoint, we know we have a way in, but it’s a safety concern for us, too. We don’t want to see at any point some young people cross the roads in that neighborhood when we’ve got semis driving in and out.”
City Community Development Director Callie Jo McFarland said the current access isn’t even a road, rather a private property with an easement.
The city proposal would replace the two entries off of Market Street into one large one that would better accommodate truck traffic. School buses would go down the drive just past the bus building, negotiate a right-hand turn to park or travel past the building and proceed out an exit onto the new road near Market Street/Illinois Route 105.
Zimmerman suggested moving the road to the south as much as possible, which would take less of the bus barn parking lot and alleviate his concerns regarding turning radius.
Summers felt the current proposal had “more than adequate room,” countering that a change in the plan would delay bidding the project, and possibly involve another landowner in the mix.
He is hoping to put the road effort out to bid in 2022.
School board member Dave Stanko suggested putting up a temporary barrier — a snow fence or stakes and ropes — to mimic the proposed configuration and test drive how a smaller lot would work for bus drivers.
Summers said that could be arranged.
School Board President Kevin Frye also said he wished to cooperate, but that it should not be at the cost of the specific use for which the property was purchased.
“We bought that property to serve specific purpose, and I just want to make sure we can still do that,” Frye said.
But he was willing to give it the test run to see how buses would be able to maneuver.
“Let’s give it a try and see what it’s like.” Frye said.
Board members discussed how to replace the symptomatic COVID-19 testing currently provided to students by Kirby Medical Center. Kirby has informed Piatt County schools the service would stop when the first semester ends.
The rapid testing has helped students who test negative stay in school instead of quarantining at home, and the school district is looking for ways to replace it.
Monticello recently began offering in-school testing for staff through Binax Now, but Zimmerman felt it could not handle the higher load of symptomatic students.
“I don’t believe we have the capacity to do the amount of testing that Kirby has been doing. For example, this week we had 21 of our students test at Kirby Monday, 12 on Tuesday and eight today (Wednesday),” Zimmerman said. “We don’t have a staff member that we can dedicate to all-day Binax testing.”
High School Principal Adam Clapp agreed that testing is probably too much to add to the plate of staff members.
“There’s much less testing than last year, but still enough that I don’t know if our office staff could handle the load,” Clapp said.
Zimmerman said he would research the issue further and report back to the board at its Dec. 15 meeting.
The district is looking to add air conditioning to the lower level of Washington Elementary, an area that did not get significant HVAC work during the recently completed facilities upgrade.
Zimmerman said with added grades and more students in the building, air conditioning for an area that includes the school cafeteria would be of benefit. He said $200,000 in COVID relief money had been set aside for the work, with preliminary research underway.
He said he hopes to approve a bid advertisement for the sale of the Lincoln Elementary School building at the December board meeting. Bids would likely be opened in January. A minimum bid will likely be included in the bid specifications.
Small Wonders, Book Fair
Washington Ele-mentary School Principal Emily Weidner said the Small Wonders Preschool housed in that building passed its recent compliance check with flying colors.
“They did so well that they were asked if they could be videotaped to be a model program for preschools across the state of Illinois for professional development,” Weidner said. “So we are very proud of the Small Wonders program. Mrs. (Mary) Vogt has worked on that grant and program for years, so big kudos to Mrs. Vogt for that.”
White Heath Elementary Principal Nancy Rosenbery said the recent elementary school book fair far exceeded expectations, possibly because it was not held in 2020.
“We sold $7,000 worth of books at the Scholastic Book fair, which is the most in the 13 years I’ve been here. Usually we are about $3,000 or $4,000,” Rosenbery said. “Our kids were really excited to go to the book fair.”
In other action, the board:
— was told the boys seventh-grade basketball team was 9-0 as of the day of the board meeting. The seventh-grade girls team also won the Okaw Valley Conference Tournament, and was 19-1;
— heard a first reading of 15 proposed changes to local school board policies as recommended by the Illinois State Board of Education. Most of them would be to comply with new and/or amended state statutes, and include extending the mandated reporter status to students 18 years of age and older; that notice must be given when coal tar is being put on a roof and when pesticides will be sprayed; a measure that caps gifts a guidance counselor can accept at $75; training mandates and personnel records clarifications; and
— observed a moment of silence for staff member Natalie McDowell, who died in an auto accident in Champaign County on Nov. 6.