DeKalb County This Week: Hillcrest demolition looms; Give DeKalb County on May 5
The DeKalb City Council approved the reconfiguration of Lincoln Highway. It will be reduced from four lanes to three, with one lane on each side of the street. The middle lane will be a left turn lane for eastbound traffic.
Plans for the change have been in the works since 2019. DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas says this could cure a problem DeKalb has had for a long time.
“It’s been about two and a half years since this first started as a whisper, and now it’s been a crescendo in the last year,” Nicklas said during a recent meeting. “I’m delighted with the possibility that we might be on the threshold of curing a problem that has been facing us since the late 70s when we went to four lanes downtown.”
There is no current timeline for when the project will begin.
Long-term planning for DeKalb growth
Dan Olsen is the city’s planning director. He says an overall comprehensive plan for the city was last updated in 2005– so it needs freshening up. City leaders are looking to update it by the end of the summer. The review considers population changes, housing needs, and commercial development. Olsen says that many people living here are in the age group 20-35, with a dip for ages 35-45 and an increase over the age of 55.
“With that information, we want to make sure in the plan we, with that demographic pattern, [address the] need for quality and affordable housing for that middle age group,” he said. Good paying jobs-- so people live in the community. So we expand our industrial and commercial base. Good schools, of course. So those are kind of the focus from the goals and objectives of that.”
Recent developments include the Meta Data Center and Ferrara Candy Company.
Mask mandate lifted on mass transportation
The city of DeKalb has followed state and federal regulations to lift masking mandates on public transportation including NIU’s Huskie Line. Michael Neunkirchen is the city’s transit manager. In the event of COVID cases rising again, he says that transportation services will follow along with state and federal guidelines.
"Each vehicle is sanitized at the end of their shift," he said. "They are able to rapidly disinfect a large area."
DeKalb public transport also has a system to ensure sanitation is up to date.
Dionna Howard is a first year student at NIU studying Pre-nursing. She wishes masks were still enforced on public transportation.
“The bus is a really enclosed space and a lot of students take the bus,” she said. “A lot of people aren’t even coughing into their arms or anything like that so I would say make masks mandatory.”
Wastewater testing for COVID
After 18 months of work, NIU has developed a way of testing wastewater in order to help predict future COVID-19 outbreaks.
Barrie Bode is a biologist and director of COVID-19 facilities at NIU. He says the process has been a learning experience
“What the wastewater testing does," Bode said, "is it samples literally thousands of people who live in the community just randomly, and it gives us, therefore, a very good sense of what the prevailing viral levels are in the community.”
Bode says for right now the testing is just for NIU and DeKalb, but he says it is likely part of more widespread prevention efforts in the future.
“I think people should understand," he said, "that this is going to be a very common way for communities to monitor not only the COVID pandemic, but future emerging threats to our public health.”
By next fall, plans are to have 11 monitoring sites in place, new locations that will allow NIU to monitor for the presence of the virus in each university residence hall.
Hillcrest Shopping Center demolition
Next week, the City of DeKalb will broadcast a live conference beginning the demolition process at the Hillcrest Shopping Center on Annie Glidden Road. The city took over the property in August, after paying more than a million dollars for it. The city had deemed the facility to be dilapidated. Carl Leoni is the Crime Free Housing Coordinator.
"It was just at a point where it would cost so much money to fix that property that it is really better off just to tear it down and building something new," Leoni said.
All tenants of the property were relocated by the end of April. The property had several businesses and residential tenants who will receive some rent reimbursement. The city used funds from the COVID Relief American Recovery Act.
Cannabis dispensary likely coming to Junction Center
DeKalb will open its first cannabis dispensary later this year. According to the Northern Star, NuEra has already been leasing a location in the Junction Center while the business waits for its license to open up and sell cannabis.
Nathaniel Stokes, a senior business major at NIU, believes that opening the dispensary is a step in the right direction for the economy.
“You can’t deny the fact that there are a lot of cannabis smokers in the area," he said, "so I think it’ll be good economically and for the community.”
It’s unclear exactly when it would open.
Give DeKalb County
The annual Give DeKalb County event is raising money on May 5th for local nonprofits.
The DeKalb County Community Foundation says the fundraiser will help 140 organizations and funds. And -- donors can personalize their donations to a specific nonprofit that they want to help the most.
Ben Bingle is Director of Grants and the DeKalb County Nonprofit Partnership. He says over $5.3 million has been raised for local nonprofits since Give DeKalb County started in 2014.
"It's a goal of ours to help connect donors with organizations that they care about," he said. "In the past, Give DeKalb County has been a great way to introduce donors to organizations that they maybe have never heard of or maybe didn't know that much about."
If you want to donate, you can do so online only on Thursday, May 5th until midnight. The website is GiveDeKalbCounty.org.
You can also drop off a check and donation form at the DeKalb County Community Foundation office on DeKalb Avenue or send it by mail. Mail donations must be postmarked by May 5 to be considered.
Contributions by: Jaylen Conwell, Ally Formeller, Nanette Nkolomoni, Jay Ceja, Kyra Johnson, Madelaine Vikse, John Jurgens, and Allyson White (editor)