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Off-road course sought for dirt bikes, ATVs

Genevra Walters has had her fill of small motorcycles, dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles ripping up and down Kankakee streets.

The superintendent of Kankakee schools is attempting to do something about this issue and it involves establishing some type of off-road track for Kankakee County teens who are dedicated to riding these vehicles.

This summer Kankakee streets have been plagued with youngsters driving unlicensed dirt bikes or ATVs on city streets, including Court Street, Indiana Avenue, Harrison Avenue, Nelson Avenue and many other heavily traveled streets.

The operators of these bikes often place no regard for rules of the road, weaving in and out of traffic and traveling through stop signs and red traffic lights.

Fortunately, to date, no one has been seriously injured.

But the issue has caught the attention of some Kankakee City Council members and law enforcement. Police are attempting to crack down on this problem.

Walters is trying as well. She noted few of the dirt bike and ATV riders are even from Kankakee. She said most are out-of-town teenagers who obviously find in more enjoyable riding here than near where they live.

What she is seeking is some way to get the riders off the roads before something tragic occurs.

“Having these kids doing wheelies on Court Street is unacceptable,” she said. But, she said, if an alternative is not found, the problem will continue to exist and, more than likely, grow.

“We have to recognize that kids are interested in different things. I don’t want them demonized. ... It’s not riding mini-bikes that’s the problem. It’s the free rein they have. We need to find them an outlet.”

There are dozens of unlicensed teens driving these bikes. Walters noted between six to eight Kankakee boys who operate these vehicles.

She is working on a Kankakee County Youth Empowerment Program grant, which would not only help get teens and their bikes off the streets, but also open up mentoring, tutoring, job training as well as working in some community service. The program also seeks inclusion into the National Youth Project Using Minibikes (NYPUM) project. Nationwide, the program mentors more than 1,500 boys and girls annually. Based in Torrance, Calif., the program has been in existence for 50 years.

The core idea of this program is to put kids together with a caring adult and a trail bike. The program would be designed to teach the youth how to care for and safely ride in the outdoors.

In the process, the participants build self-esteem and self-discipline. They also would discover, she said, they can work together and learn leadership skills along the way.

A program like this teaching youngsters is better than having a police officer tracking down an illegal dirt-bike operator and handing that person or the parents a ticket for illegal operation of a unlicensed vehicle, she noted.

“These vehicles, we have to get them off of the streets,” she said. “Let’s support our youth in a positive way.”

KCC's renovated library features collaborative spaces, technology

KANKAKEE — The first major renovations to the Harold and Jean Miner Memorial Library at Kankakee Community College since the library was built in 1972 are now complete.

The 21,070-square-foot library was open to students and faculty for the first day of class in August. The $5 million renovations took about nine months to complete.

KCC paid for the project using about $2 million in bond funds, $1.5 million in donations and $1.5 million in equity funds, KCC Spokeswoman Kari Nugent said. The project was on the college’s list of pending projects for about 10 years.

The Chicago-based firm Demonica Kemper Architects designed the space, and Heritage Development & Construction Co., of Kankakee, was in charge of construction.

The library is roughly the same square footage as before, but it has gained a modern design, updated technology, new collaborative and independent study spaces, and an array of flexible seating and other new furniture.

The top level of the library is considered the Student Success Center, where tutoring services now operate, including the writing studio.

The college’s Instructional Technology Department, which helps faculty deliver online courses, is now located on the top floor of the library as well.

The library’s main book collection is on the lower level, including children’s books, classics, non-fiction/ research, audio books and legal reference, while most fiction and new books are near the entrance.

The library also gained an elevator; before, it only had stairs and a wheelchair lift.

KCC President Michael Boyd said talks about the need to renovate the library came up when the college celebrated its 50th anniversary.

“We knew we needed to do something to bring that space up to modern standards,” he said. “Not only did we want to maintain the space and make sure that we preserved the building so that it can live for another 50 years, but we knew our students needed something high-tech.”

Group study spaces and rooms are equipped with interactive display screens to which students can connect electronic devices and view a group project together.

The library also has a new computer area and printing center on the main floor.

Boyd said one of the goals of the new space is to encourage students to collaborate and embrace technology so they will have those skills ready in their career pathways.

“We really wish more students could be on campus to experience it, but we know it will be there when they are able to come back after this pandemic has passed,” he said.

Boyd also said the new space is a reflection of what the college’s founders envisioned when building KCC near the river.

“It is a beautiful location, but it’s not just the beauty,” he said. “What’s important there is that we’ve really put some cutting-edge technology in that space because we know that’s how students learn.”

Library Director Tracy Conner said students are welcome to use the collaborative study spaces and other resources in the library as long as they maintain social distance and wear face masks.

Since many KCC programs are now online or in hybrid format because of the pandemic, student traffic in the library has been fairly light, she said.

“I think students already are loving it more and will continue to do so,” Conner said. “It’s such an improvement over what we had. It’s just a happier place to be. It’s brighter; the colors are better and more invigorating, and it’s just a huge improvement in look and atmosphere. Not to mention, we’ve got new spaces.”

Senator urges businesses to apply for part of $220 million in grants

To help small businesses affected by COVID-19 resurgence mitigations, State Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, is urging business owners to apply for assistance through the second round of Business Interruption Grant funding.

“With this new round of grants, small businesses will find economic support as they continue to navigate the pandemic,” Joyce said. “Because small businesses are bearing the brunt of this crisis, it’s really important that they take advantage of this funding.”

The program has allocated $220 million in the second round for movie theatres, performing arts venues, concert venues and more to help them stay afloat as restrictions remain in place throughout the pandemic.

Funds may be used to help businesses cover the costs of payroll, rent, utilities and other working capital during the time they have experienced interruptions, according to a press release.

To ensure funds are distributed across the state and across business types, $60 million has been specifically allocated for heavily distressed industries, including indoor recreation facilities and amusement parks. Another $70 million has been set aside for businesses located in disproportionately impacted areas, or low-income areas that have experienced high rates of COVID-19. Many Joliet-area businesses may qualify for part of the $70 million.

Additionally, businesses in Region 7 — which include Kankakee and Will counties — that submit an application will be given priority to ensure they receive the support they need to cope with recent mitigation efforts.

“These grants are critical in keeping small businesses afloat,” Joyce said. “I am inviting any business that has been negatively impacted by COVID-19 to apply for assistance.”

During its first round of funding earlier this year, the program granted more than $49 million to small businesses across the state. Businesses in Will and Kankakee Counties were awarded a combined $420,000 during the first round.

Applications opened Sept. 17. Visit bit.ly/IL-BIGgrants for an application and a full list of criteria.