2018 headliners

Staff report

It has come to pass that as one year ends and a new one begins, we stop and take a moment to reflect on the days, weeks and months that have passed and the stories that made local headlines.
The Coal City Courant published 52 issues in 2018 and within the pages of each edition were stories of joy and sorrow, success and failure, predictions and projections for the year to come, all stories that shaped the community and opened doors to new opportunities.
As we welcome a new year, we take one last look at the top news stories of 2018.

Reverse angle parking
No story had as many front page headlines, or social media comments than the village of Coal City's decision to test out reverse angle parking.
In its preparations for a major reconstruction of South Broadway village officials were looking at everything from lamp posts and landscaping to turn lanes and parking plans. One parking concept on the table for the village's review was reverse angle, a concept that would have drivers back into angle spaces to park. But before making a decision if it was the right choice the Village Board said it wanted to test it out.
In February, the Village Board announced its plan to temporarily stripe a section of South Broadway for reverse angle parking. That's just what it did at the beginning of March.
Town officials said the parking concept was as easy as 1-2-3-signal, stop and reverse, yet it wasn't that simple for many residents who voiced their concern through written comments and social media posts, and they made it clear through a village-issued survey it wasn't something they wanted to see on a permanent basis.
The concept was introduced in order to accommodate all the village wanted in the South Broadway redesign, while meeting federal roadway guidelines.
After a month of testing the concept the Village Board unanimously agreed to back away from the parking plan, the village administrator saying, “the acceptance of the community for this new methodology was extremely low.”

Missing money
Following a detailed investigation by the Coal City Police Department, a Grundy County grand jury handed down an indictment in November formerly charging a former treasurer of the Coal City Miners Youth Tackle Football program with theft.
Bridget Hodina, 36, of Cape Coral, Florida, is charged with theft of more than $10,000 but less than $100,000, a class 2 felony. A nationwide warrant has been issued for her arrest.
It was on the evening of Friday, Aug. 31 that the youth football organization announced via social media that through an investigation of its own a theft of funds has occurred and it, “was at the hands of one person.”
Representatives from the program reported the alleged theft to police on Aug. 29 and a criminal investigation was opened.
A review of the organization's financial records verified $18,145 had allegedly been taken by the former treasurer who serve from November 2017 to mid-July 2018, the amount corresponding to checks written by Hodina to herself, her husband and for cash. With no paper trail for cash taken in by the organization, the charges do not reflect the theft of any other funds.
The theft of funds left the organization under-funded midway through the season. To keep the season going, fundraisers were held and local businesses, organizations and individuals donated to program.
Hodina has reportedly secured the services an attorney, but as of the close of the year she had not yet been taken into custody.

Unit 1 steps up safety
Educators, students and government leaders across the nation were talking school safety in 2018, discussions sparked by a mass shooting at a Florida high school and a wave of school attacks, threats and forewarnings that followed.    
In response the Unit 1 Board of Education directed the superintendent and administrative staff to develop a school safety plan. In June, the board was presented with a proposal that included seven goals highlighted by 13 recommended action plans that came with $500,000 price tag, an investment the board was willing to make to ensure the safety of its students and staff.
Superintendent Kent Bugg said the plan was a combination of, “hardening our schools and softening our schools.”
The plan included the hiring of an additional social worker; bringing in a second school resource officer; implementing an adult greeter program at the lower grades; reconfiguring school entryways; adding security buzzers; limiting building access points; forming a student assistance team; establishing an in-district intervention program; and providing faculty, staff and community training.

South Broadway
Local leaders in business and government have spent much of the past year generating a blueprint for an inviting downtown, one that businesses want to locate in and where citizens and guests look forward to visiting.
The village of Coal City was awarded a $4.5 million federal Surface Transportation Program grant to build a new roadway and upgrade adjacent municipal infrastructure, and within the plan was a desire to beautify the downtown.
Working with Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. (CBBEL) the Village Board approved a plan for a complete reconstruction of South Broadway from Division Street (Route 113) to Park Street. The improvements will include a center turn lane, bike lanes on both the east and west sides of the street and a center median on the north and south sides of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail crossing.
The final design also included design elements for a streetscape that includes new street lights,  gateway features and outdoor rooms that include planters, benches and bike racks and water fountains at select locations.
Based on the plan approved by the Village Board in September, the project will reduce the number of parking spaces along South Broadway. In an effort to minimize the impact, trustees approved the purchase of three properties prior to the close of the year.  All three parcels will be used as public parking lots.
Construction is set to commence in March. The Illinois Department of Transportation is set to accept bids for the work in January. The project is slated to wrap up by the end of the calendar year.

Morris Hospital
coming to town
On a brisk November afternoon the first spades of dirt were turned, marking the start of construction on a 13,400 square-foot medical facility in the village of Diamond.
Morris Hospital & Healthcare Center is investing $7.1 million on the new facility to be located at 1450 E. Division St. The healthcare center will provide space for primary care and specialty physicians. The facility will offer seven-day-per-week walk-in immediate care, diagnostic imaging, physical therapy and occupational medicine, along with laboratory services.
The facility to be known as the Morris Hospital Diamond-Coal City Campus is part of the hospital's master facility plan that also includes a major renovation at the hospital's main campus.
“We are very pleased to be moving ahead with our plans in these important communities that have been served by Morris Hospital for decades,” said Morris Hospital president and CEO Mark Steadham.
Diamond Mayor Terry Kernc took part in the groundbreaking and noted her excitement that the facility was coming to the community.
“It's been along time coming,” the mayor said, referring to the amount of time it took to go from concept to groundbreaking.
The facility is slated to be completed and open to the public in fall 2019.

Expanded place to play
Since the day it opened, the Hope Helps all-inclusive playground has been filled with individuals of all ages and abilities, and it's going to get busier in the new year.
Hope Helps founder Brittney Kaluzny announced in May the organization's plan to expand the playground, located in Coal City's Lions Park, with the addition of four pieces of equipment.
Phase two would expand the playground by 2,87 square-feet to the southeast of the existing footprint. At a cost of around $150,000 the addition would add a wheelchair accessible glider, globe spinner, sensory tunnel and a highback/harness teeter totter to the park. Additionally, there will be benches, picnic tables and shade covers added to space.
The organization has been fundraising to cover the costs and several large donations have been received and others have been earmarked to cover the cost of certain pieces of equipment like the sensory tunnel that is being paid for through a donation from the Norwex Foundation and locally Cardinal Transport/CR Transport and Sportsman for Charity have also purchased a piece of equipment.
The organization is nearing its fundraising goal and hopes to secure the dollars necessary to construct the park in spring 2019.

Pay hike approved
Every two to four years the concept of increasing the annual compensation paid to Coal City's elected officials is brought before the Village Board and every time trustees have said no to a pay hike, until last year.
The last time the board took action to set elected officials salaries was 1985, so for 32 years or so the mayor, trustees and village clerk earned $2,500 for a year's work, or less than 45 cents per resident. The mayor took home an additional $2,500 for his role as the town's liquor commissioner.
After reviewing the compensation for elected officials in local communities and those with a similar population, trustees said it was time to consider an increase.
“You can see from the survey you are well behind may other municipalities. You are definitely past time for increasing it, you are not staying up with the time periods right now,” village administrator Matt Fritz told the board in September.
In October, the board approved doubling the annual salaries, the pay increase going to those elected this spring-mayor, clerk and three of the six trustees.  The salary increase for the three other trustee positions will take effect following the 2021 election. The new rate is $5,000 for trustees and the clerk and $10,000 for the mayor, a figure that includes his pay as liquor commissioner.

Tax deal extended
Representatives from Exelon Generation and seven local taking districts sat down in April to being negotiations on a new property tax deal, a month later the power generator asked the district to consider extending the standing agreement for one more year.
The request came days after the company's Dresden Generating Station failed to qualify for the capacity auction that took place in May. Dresden was one of three Exelon-owned plans that failed to clear the auction for delivery years 2021-2022. The auction is the means by which the power grid operator verifies energy sources will be available to meet consumer demand.
In its request, Exelon indicated it would like the taxing bodies to consider an extension, thus proving the company time to ascertain the financial impact the auction results would have, and to obtain the results of the next capacity auction in May 2019.
All seven of the impacted taxing districts — Unit 1 School District, Coal City Fire Protection District, Coal City Public Library District, Grundy County, Goose Lake Township and Goose Lake Township Road District and Joliet Junior College — considered and approved the request that carries forward the equalized assessed value of the facility at $490 million, as well as the terms set forth in the original agreement. The extension was finalized in November through approval of the circuit court.

More than 4
When Megan Bugg was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, it was news she didn't want her family to share. But in 2018 she opened up about her battle with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma with the hope of bringing awareness and necessary research.
Since her diagnosis, Bugg has undergone 90 rounds of chemotherapy, 100-plus radiation treatments, three surgeries and the side effects that come with treatment, and she just started another round of radiation treatments.
As her battle continues, Bugg serves as an advocate for children with cancer by spreading the word that more needs to be done to support children and by raising funds to support necessary research. To date, she's raised over $130,000 to support research being conducted at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
Bugg also met with state and federal lawmakers to encourage them to support additional funding for pediatric cancer as just 4 percent of cancer research funding goes toward finding treatments and cures for childhood cancers. She even had a conversation with representatives with the National Institute of Health and was a speaker at Cure Fest in Washington, DC.
Bugg's efforts continue as she works toward her goal of funding important research and increasing the federal funding to more than 4.

High speed chase
It's not often that Coal City makes the television news, but on the morning of Dec. 11 each of the Chicago news stations was telling the story of how four men led police on a high speed chase from Coal City to Chicago.
As local residents slept, a car load of teens from Chicago's Englewood neighborhood were rolling through the streets of town in a stolen Chrysler. The vehicle was spotted by patrol officer Casey Roth around 1:30 a.m., sitting in the middle of North Shabbona Street.
As he came up on the vehicle a subject ran toward the car and got in on the passenger side. Then the car took off. Roth followed and the pursuit commenced through the village of Diamond and onto Interstate 55. The Coal City officer terminated his involvement at Arsenal Road.
Channahon picked up the chase setting out stop strips that deflated a tire on the suspect vehicle, but it continued north. Multiple police agencies joined Illinois State Police in the pursuit that ended in a parking lot at Chicago's McCormick Place. The arrest was caught on tape by news crews.
The teens were brought back to Coal City and were cited with multiple violations. The charges were later dropped by the state's attorney's office, with the exception of an obstructing identification charge filed against 19-year-old Devin E. Reed who provided police with a false identity. His real identity was discovered through fingerprints and an electronic monitoring device the teen had strapped on his ankle.