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Ameren Replacing Aging Natural Gas Piping in Jacksonville

Jacksonville’s natural gas infrastructure is getting an upgrade. Ameren Illinois is currently replacing 1950s-era vintage steel pipeline and natural gas services with modern, corrosion-resistant polyethylene material.

Crews are working in and around Sunnydale Avenue, Newland Avenue, Valleyview Drive and Massey Lane replacing approximately 8,300 feet of vintage pipeline. In addition to updating the pipeline with corrosion-resistant polyethylene material, more than 100 individual customers’ natural services are being updated. All the work for this $1.1 million project should be completed by the end of June, weather permitting.

Vice President of Natural Gas Operations for Ameren Illinois, Eric Kozak said in a press release today that the replacement project will ensure the continued safe, reliable delivery of natural gas and help build upon future needs for customers. Kozak says that Ameren employs 8 full-time natural gas employees in Jacksonville who maintain the system; respond to gas leaks free of charge, 24/7; install new services; and perform construction projects.

For the projects in process, a brief interruption of natural gas service is required at the customer’s residence just before the work is completed. Ameren Illinois will relight natural gas appliances for any customer who requests it. If a customer is not home at the time of the service interruption, the customer may call 1-800-755-5000 to schedule a convenient time for the company to relight natural gas appliances, at no charge.

State Board of Elections Chair Resigns Amid Extortion Probe

Illinois Board of Elections chairman Steve Sandvoss will retire effective June 30th. According to reporter Rachel Hinton of the Chicago Sun-Times, the announcement was made during a virtual meeting of the board today. The announcement comes a little over two weeks after that board placed him on administrative leave after he reported being the victim of an online extortion attempt. He had been on leave with pay while the Illinois State Police investigated the matter. No information about whether the extortion attempt dealt with a personal matter or something to do with Sandvoss’ job has been revealed.

LLCC One of Five Sites For U of I COVID Shield Rapid Testing for Students

Community colleges across the state now have the ability to provide the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s saliva-based COVID-19 test at no cost to any state resident who wants one.

The testing will be funded through an agreement between the Illinois Department of Public Health and SHIELD Illinois, the University of Illinois System unit that is deploying the test throughout the state.

Under the agreement, the state’s 49 community colleges can test their own students and staff, and can choose to serve as community testing sites where any Illinois resident can get a free test.

There are currently five active SHIELD Illinois community testing sites – Black Hawk College in Galva, Heartland Community College in Normal, Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, and Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon – with more in development.

The agreement is being funded with money the state received through the federal CARES ACT and the American Rescue Plan.

UIUC’s saliva-based COVID-19 PCR test has held the virus in check at the U of I System’s three universities thanks to widespread testing with rapid results. The test, known as covidSHIELD, was granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February.

ISAC Announces 2021 State Scholars

Several local seniors were named to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission’s State Scholars for their outstanding academic achievement. The 2021-22 designation applies to the year students will begin their post-secondary education.

Illinois State Scholars rank in approximately the top 10% of graduates from all of the state’s high schools. State scholars are usually announced in early December. However the postponement or cancellation of Spring 2020 college entrance exams due to COVID-19 delayed this year’s announcements until complete data was available.

The award is a non-monetary award where students are given a congratulatory letter and Certificate of Achievement from ISAC. An official Illinois State Scholar badge can be downloaded by honorees to be displayed on their social media profiles and can be shared to their school, parents, and other people’s social media pages.

The following students from the area were designated as State Scholars:

Brown County – Kaiya Behymer, Megan Miller, Alexis Smith

Cass County – AC Central High School: Alexis Reid, Gray Thompson; Beardstown High School: Amelia Gallaher, Melissa Garcia, Rilee Hobrock, Julissa Lopez, Lamine Sambou; Virginia High School: Samantha Reynolds, Kiley Tate

Greene County – Carrollton High School: Ellen Kangas, Emma Reynolds, Jenna Reynolds, Hannah Rhoades, Ella Richey, Daniel Vandersand; Greenfield High School: Allison Mettenburg, Courtney Meyer, Jessa Vetter; North Greene High School: Kyla Hurt

Macoupin County – North Mac High School: Maya Bruley, Jacob Burgess, Olivia Harmon, Lana Johnson, Ashley Nichelson, Grace Vincent; Northwestern High School: Kersty Gibbs, Katie Williams, Hunter Wood

Menard County – PORTA High School: Haley Atwater, Parker Beck, Zachary Dixon, Anna Foster, Sierra Garner, Alexis Jockisch, Nate Logsdon, Clayton Miller, Elinor Simmons

Morgan County – Franklin High School: Bethany Bergschneider, Madden Delaney; Jacksonville High School: Zoe Campbell, Zachary Cooper, Danielle Dillard, Lilie Floyd, Joseph Gallo, Samikshya Ghimire, Cole Goins, Reid Grojean, Saylor Hayes, Jacob Hembrough, Eshwari Kulkarni, Amiah Mather, James Pollitt, Alex Ramos, Gavin Roegge, Jordan Smith, Megan Walker, Julianne Wilson; Routt Catholic High School: Makenna Baptist, Emily Cosgriff, Victoria Fellhauer, Aniya Pallera; Waverly High School: Elias Embley, Connor Musch, Samuel Stanberry

Pike County – Griggsville-Perry High School: Fiona Kelly; Pittsfield High School: Mackenzie Amann, Lauren Archer, Alexis Groom, Katherine Hoover, Cassidy Poor, Rylee Shaw, Skyler Smith, Abby Springer, Allison Wessel; Barry-Western High School: Matthew Depke, Erick Hively

Sangamon County – Auburn High School: Tyler Burge, Ellyse Carter, Carter Evans, Caleb Farthing, Jessica Helms, Jax Richmond, Josie Schnelten, Gwen Squires; New Berlin High School: Rylie Crawford, Ethan Mudd, Faith Nuss, Dain Richie, Abigail Roberts, Connor Schutz, Ryley Turner, Kendall Wellman, Lauren Williams; Pawnee High School: Alexandria Gudgel, Connor Hennemann, Rachel Sharer; Pleasant Plains High School: Jacob Craven, Aliyah Diers, Kylee Furbeck, Logan Mink, Gavin Morley, Haniah Mueed, Kylie Nation, Hailey Schlict, Asya Smith, Kameron Wolters, Brian Zaborac

Schuyler County – Rushville-Industry High School: Ella Ackman, Jannat Cheema, Sydney Danner, Emily Mutschler, Kanon Prather, Justin Shelts, Lucas Wyatt

Scott County – Winchester High School: Gabriel Drake, Calista Fox

Illinois College Seniors Have Mixed Reactions to Commencement Plan

Illinois College seniors are torn about their feelings about the hybrid commencement ceremony this year. The college announced a hybrid in-person reception of diplomas for students while family members attend virtually this year.

On Tuesday, May 11, at 1 p.m., the College is inviting graduating seniors to walk on stage and receive their diplomas during a Senior Celebration. The ceremony will be live-streamed from King Fieldhouse in Bruner Fitness and Recreation Center. A recording of the event will also be available for viewing.

Senior Emily Woods says she agrees with the administration’s decision to limit the event to seniors only: “I think that the administration’s decision to try to let the seniors have an in-person event and limit it to the seniors was a good one. It’s been difficult to keep COVID-19 under control on campus, from my own observations, and I don’t think we should be risking anything within these last few weeks of the semester.”

A Change.org petition was started on Friday, which now has 425 signatures, asking for a reevaluation of the commencement plans. The petition alleges that the college is being misleading when it says that the campus has been closed to the public because it has been allowing prospective students and their families on campus over the last few months. The petition also alleges that an open discussion with the Class of 2021 and the college’s administration never occurred. The petition asks for an outside ceremony with a limited number of tickets with the possibility of a split ceremony between Bachelors of Arts and Bachelors of Science graduates. It also says that campus students have been tested weekly and the readily available COVID-19 vaccines as other reasons to have the ceremony fully in person.

Senior Sean Pickerill says that the statement by the college about commencement, coupled with sports and admissions events held on campus recently paints a hypocritical message to seniors and their families: “It shows the true hypocrisy of the school. At the end of the day with the admissions events, it shows their true motives with the events, which is just to get more students here for the money. Also, at the end of the day, it shows that the school doesn’t really care about their students but rather the money the students give to the school.”

Senior Mazi Walker, who remains on the fence about commencement arrangements, does believe it is hypocritical that her family, who lives 20 minutes away from campus can’t visit her, yet the Admissions Department and Athletics has hosted families from Chicago and elsewhere for events this year.

Senior Megan Hettenhausen, who interns in the Athletic Department, says she has been helping the campus put on large events all school year. She says she has spoken with the college’s administration and was shut down: “I met with both President [Barbara] Farley and Dean [Jennie] Hemingway on separate occasions prior to the circulation of the petition. When I discussed [an in-person possibility] with each of them, Dean Hemingway’s main quote was ‘We’ve considered all options’ and President Farley’s was ‘We can’t bring one thousand strangers to campus.’ Prior to this petition, it still bothered me that we were not having an in-person graduation, because having my family there means a lot more to me than graduating with my class. I feel many people feel the same way.”

Hettenhouse says that the administration knows that a modified event could take place with people in-person. She says her work in the Athletic Department has shown that they can bring people to campus without major problems: “Especially due to COVID, we’ve had to modify every single event. I’ve worked with Katie Carls in [Illinois College’s] Events Department. I’ve done a variety of large events throughout I.C. so I know what it takes and I know how COVID has impacted all of the events here on campus. I know it is possible to have an in-person graduation.”

Illinois College President Barbara Farley said in the announcement on Friday that the hybrid model balances the need to keep the campus safe with the desire to provide graduates the meaningful experience they deserve. For a full schedule of events happening as part of the 187th Illinois College Commencement, visit www.ic.edu/commencement.

West Central IL Counties Returning COVID-19 Vaccine Allocations to IDPH

Several West Central Illinois counties have been returning allocations of their COVID-19 vaccines to the state. Governor’s Office spokesperson Jordan Abudayeh told Capitol Fax on Friday that vaccine demand has started to shift in various regions of the state, local health departments have begun requesting fewer doses or skipped ordering their allocation altogether.

Abudayeh says when that occurs, the Illinois Department of Public Health reassigns those doses mass vaccine sites in areas where demand is higher, like Cook and the collar counties. Beginning this week, the local health department first dose allocations distributed to local health departments will be based on demand identified by the local health department instead of population. This shift in policy aims to address remaining inventory some local health departments have, while also directing doses to areas where demand exceeds current allocations.

All redirected dose either get put back in the overall state pot and are distributed the next week to the larger demand counties. According to data in the Governor’s Office based on just the Moderna vaccine, Pike County has been returning doses since March 15th. Brown and Scott began returning doses on March 22nd. Cass did the week of March 29th and April 12th. Greene returned doses on April 5th and April 12th. Morgan began returning doses on April 5th, and Schuyler returned doses last week.

Bloomberg News reports that some data indicates that as many as one in three doses are unused in some states. Epidemiologists say that 75% of the nation’s population must be inoculated before COVID-19 can be contained.

Eilering To Retire From Routt Girls Basketball

Joe Eilering is stepping down as the head girls’ basketball coach at Routt after 14 seasons.

Routt Principal Nick Roscetti and Athletic Director Barry Creviston told the Journal Courier last night that Eilering was planning on retiring at the school year’s end.

During his tenure at Routt, Eilering led the Rockets to eight 20-win seasons, 3 WIVC championships, 5 regional championships, 2 sectional championships, and 4th place finish at the State Tournament in 2008 after a 3rd place finish in 2007 while serving as an assistant coach. He also took the Rockets to a runner up finish at state in 2010. He ends his coaching career with a record of 264-136.

Eilering was a 6-time recipient of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year award, including 3 consecutive wins from 2010-2012. Eilering leaves the program as its all-time leader in career wins and in winning percentage.

Study: Scott County Schools “Favorable” For Consolidation

Scott County schools have been given a favorable outcome if they were to consolidate. A feasibility study conducted by Midwest School Consultants was presented to the Winchester and Bluffs school boards this week and said that if the two schools were to combine it would present favorable outcomes for students.

The Journal Courier reports that members of both districts heard the findings this past week in a joint meeting. William Phillips, president of Midwest School Consultants, told those in attendance that the two districts match up well because they do not have a lot of outstanding debt, they both have projected declining populations over the next several years, and both have school buildings in need of expensive renovations.

The study also found that the curricula, if combined, would provide more opportunity for students because more students would create expanded course options.

If the two schools were to combine, a new at-large school board would be created within the new district’s boundaries. The new board would then decide which facilities would be used, any future renovations projects if any, and any staffing needs or concerns.

If consolidation is agreed to by the current separate boards, a committee of 10 would be formed to start the process of further research and data collection surrounding the consolidation up to and including setting the new district’s tax levy, creating the district reorganization, and creating the referendum to be placed on the ballot to be voted on during the next consolidated election. The Regional Office of Education also has to sign off on the consolidation approval before consolidation hits the ballot box.

The feasibility study and the presentation by Midwest School Consultants is currently available on both the Winchester and Bluffs’ school district’s websites.

Ameren Illinois Asking to Raise Electrical Rates

Ameren Illinois is asking to raise their electrical rates. Ameren Illinois has petitioned the Illinois Commerce Commission to raise their electrical rate by about $2.75 per month to the delivery portion of residential customer bills next year.

If approved by the ICC, the new rates would start in 2022. Ameren Illinois said in a press release this is only the second time in the past six years they have asked to increase delivery service rates. Ameren Illinois says its electric rates are 21% lower than the national average.

Chairman and President of Ameren Illinois Richard J. Mark said in the release that the company would enable investments in the company’s electric grid, adopt more clean energy technologies, implement new efficiency measures, and reduce power outages. Mark says with the investments, it will help keep rates down for customers.

The filing by Ameren will take about eight months of review by the ICC before final approval.

State Board of Election Director on Paid Leave During Extortion Investigation

Illinois’ top election official remains on paid administrative leave nearly a week after he told police he was the subject of an attempted extortion scheme.

According to a news release on April 5th, the 8-member State Board of Elections voted to place Steve Sandvoss on leave out of an abundance of caution during the course of an investigation into the alleged scheme.

According to the State Journal-Register, the 55-year-old Sandvoss is a resident of Rochester and former election lawyer who has been the top official at the state agency since 2015 and has worked for the state board of elections in various capacities for 33 years.

Sandvoss allegedly notified the Illinois State Police of the scheme, which is currently investigating the matter. After a special board meeting last week that had only an executive session on its agenda no action was taken by the board.

Assistant Executive Director Bernadette Matthew is assuming directorship at this time. There are also orders for the agency’s chief information security officer Jeremy Owens to fully cooperate with law enforcement investigating the matter, and to assess all devices Sandvoss may have used. In the press release last week, the board has said that no election information or data has been compromised as a result of the scheme.

Sandvoss’ annual reported salary is $162,000. The next official board meeting is set for Tuesday, April 20th.