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Kankakee JROTC instructor named to program advisory committee

KANKAKEE — The Kays Battalion JROTC has had a strong start in its first year at Kankakee School District 111 despite the pandemic’s interference in school activities, but that’s not all the program’s leader Lt. Col. Maria Emery has accomplished as of late.

Emery, who served 28 years in the U.S. Army, has been selected as 3rd Brigade representative to the JROTC Program Advisory Committee, which functions in an advisory capacity to US Army Cadet Command.

The third brigade includes Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. There are eight brigades in total.

Emery replaces Col. Dan Baggio, the JROTC director for Chicago Public Schools, on the advisory committee, which was established in 2017.

Cadet Command oversees all JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) and college ROTC programs, and the advisory committee focuses on bringing community perspectives to Cadet Command’s strategic mission, Emery said.

The focus of JROTC is to motivate young people to become better citizens through leadership development and community involvement, while college ROTC programs prepare young adults to become military officers, she explained.

“I think [I was asked to participate] because there’s very few female instructors in JROTC, so I bring a different perspective,” she said. “It also helps that I speak Spanish; they don’t have that on the advisory committee, so that’s also a diverse perspective.”

The fact that Emery retired from military service only a few years ago was also likely a factor, she noted, as she will be able to share her perspective as a relatively new JROTC instructor to reach more potential instructors.

Emery was in charge of the JROTC program at a Chicago Public School for a year and a half before coming to lead the start of the program in Kankakee School District 111.

“I think that [experience in CPS] gave me a different exposure to learn how big, established programs function and also see the relationship that they have with the school district,” she said. “Coming down here to Kankakee is really cool because we have a lot of support. I think Cadet Command and 3rd Brigade knows that Kankakee really wants to have a good program and do everything right to establish it from the ground up.”

As part of the advisory committee, Emery will take part in two in-person meetings per year as well as monthly virtual meetings. Committee appointments are for two years.

New members are introduced to the rest of the committee during the JROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl Championships during the summer in Washington, D.C.

Still in its first year, the Kankakee JROTC program currently has a little over 50 students enrolled in the class. Emery hopes to grow the program to at least 80 students next year, with the overall goal to reach 10 percent of the student body in three years’ time.

While it hasn’t gained more students since the beginning of the year, the students’ participation and understanding of what the program is about has increased, Emery said.

“Given the pandemic and the challenges that people have, especially the students with staying engaged, I would say we have one of the highest participation rates in school right now,” she said.

From the beginning, Emery stressed with students that the program was going to be “cadet-led.” Whether students want to be known for drill competitions or archery, they can express that interest and schedule practice times accordingly.

She said it took students until around Thanksgiving to really understand that concept; it finally clicked when they returned for second semester. Students select the different trainings and activities they would like to try and assess how it went and what they might want to change after.

“It’s not just, ‘Hey, I wish we did this.’ It’s ‘I’m going to do this,’” she said. “It’s been fun watching them learn how to drill. They presented the flag at the first home game. We are slowly getting our uniforms, so maybe next time we present the flag we’ll be in full uniform.”

Students have also spoken to recruiters from nearly every branch of the military. While military recruitment is not the mission of JROTC, students learn about military structure and opportunities.

“There’s so many different ways you can serve,” Emery said. “Maybe you find out it’s not for you; maybe you go a different route, but now they have in-depth exposure and information.”

Paramount, Meadowview to reopen Thursday

KANKAKEE — Classic Cinemas will be reopening all of its movie theater locations Thursday, April 15. This includes Paramount Theatre and Meadowview Theatre, both located in Kankakee County. Tickets for showtimes at both theaters will be posted this afternoon.

To purchase tickets and check showtimes, visit classiccinemas.com and select either Paramount or Meadowview.

Prior to the pandemic shutdown, overhauls and expansions were being implemented into Meadowview Theatre. Classic Cinemas CEO Chris Johnson said he looks forward to sharing those renovations with the public when The Daily Journal spoke with him last month.

Meadowview now has seven newly renovated auditoriums. Auditoriums 1 and 2 were made into one expanded auditorium featuring a 60-foot wide screen, immersive sound and ultra-high contrast laser projection. Additionally, all of the seats are now heated recliners, according to Johnson.

Paramount now, too, has heated recliners in order to give options to moviegoers for varying comfort levels. The heat can be adjusted as needed.

“Top to bottom, everything is new and exciting about [Meadowview],” Johnson said. “So many seats, screens and availability of product — I think people are going to be blown away by how cool it is.”

The new projection system is referred to as a Premium Large Format in the entertainment industry, and that’s where the major opening blockbusters will be shown. It has 24 channels of sound rather than stereo, which has two channels.

Additionally, Classic Cinemas raised the light level on all projections above the industry standard, Johnson said.

“All of the images are crystal clear, bright and the way it should be seen,” Johnson said. “So, we’re very excited.”

Johnson acknowledged that most theaters have already opened and Classic Cinemas applauds their efforts for doing so safely. However, he said the company wanted to wait until there was a glimmer of consistent new releases and increases in vaccinated individuals.

“We were hoping to do it before the one-year anniversary of the shutdown back in March,” Johnson said. “We think that the numbers look really good, the vaccines look good, the product starts to look better — it seems like the time is right.”

Health and safety measures have been put into effect in order to assist the reopening. Classic Cinemas plans to have limited seating (auditorium capacity will be limited to 50 percent with a 50-person cap based on state guidelines), distance between groups, increased service, employee health screenings, improved air quality and increased sanitation.

The theaters ask the following of moviegoers: stay home if you or others you have been around have been sick with COVID-19; wear a mask unless eating and drinking in the auditorium; follow posted signs and physical-distancing markings; consider purchasing tickets online; and use touch-free payment in the theater when possible.

“We’re looking forward to seeing everybody come back when they feel comfortable and we’ll be ready for them,” Johnson said.

Health and safety measures — as well as a list of theater locations — are further detailed at classiccinemas.com. Paramount Theatre is located at 213 N. Schuyler Ave., Kankakee. Meadowview Theatre is located at 55 Meadowview Center, Kankakee.

Watseka referendum passes to build school out of floodplain

WATSEKA — Voters overwhelmingly gave approval on a referendum to back $17,125,000 for a new school building and facilities improvements to remedy flooding issues in Watseka School District.

With taxpayer and federal funding, the district plans to construct a K-12 campus where Watseka Community High School is located. The high school, which is the only building out of the district’s four schools not in a floodplain, will see major renovations and be connected to a new, adjacent school building.

In the April 6 election, 962 out of 1,233 voters (78 percent) said yes to the referendum allowing the district to issue bonds to fund the project.

Superintendent Dave Andriano said the project will be funded with 25 percent local funds and 75 percent federal funds. In total, it will cost about $67 million.

“This was not possible until the city of Watseka passed the [natural hazards] mitigation plan, which opened the door for us to be able to apply for these grants,” he said.

The property tax increase translates to $39 per year for a $50,000 home or $99 per year for a $100,000 home over the next 25 years, he said.

Andriano said next year the district will close Nettie Davis Elementary, a kindergarten through first grade building which has flooded multiple times, and relocate students throughout the district.

Kindergarteners will go to Wanda Kendall Elementary, and first through fifth grades will be in Glenn Raymond Middle School. Sixth through eighth grades will be on the second floor of Watseka Community High School, while ninth through 12th grades will be on the first floor.

He explained that with declining enrollment of an average 50 students per year, the district has room to shuffle students around.

Glenn Raymond will eventually be closed as well, he said. The district plans to build onto the east side of the high school, so that all K-12 students will be on one campus.

Watseka proposed consolidating with other school districts in recent years, but voters have turned it down.

“We have a lot of deferred maintenance in our buildings that would cost us roughly around $17 million to complete,” Andriano said. “If it didn’t pass, we’d still have to make these repairs. We either invest in the buildings that we have or pass this referendum and get a completely new campus where everyone will be in air conditioning and a 21st-century learning environment.”

He expects the project, currently in the concept phase, should be completed by around 2025 or 2026.

“Now that it’s passed, the architects will sit down with our staff and start working on what are our needs, what are our wants,” he said. “Square-footage wise, we know what that looks like, but now we can design it.”

Right now, each grade level averages around 60 students. The district plans to build a new school large enough to house 75 per grade level. In the event consolidation happens in the future, Watseka would be able to absorb students.

“We don’t want to build too big,” he noted. “We don’t want to waste taxpayer dollars.”

This is Andriano’s first year as superintendent. He was previously assistant superintendent in Bradley Elementary School District.

“The board has been working on this for well over two years and has been very transparent about ways to get our students out of the floodplain,” he said. “We came up with a solution, one that we felt was best not only for our school district, but for our community, and we went to work.”

Watseka School Board member Rusty Maulding said Nettie Davis took on 6 inches of water throughout its entire first floor during a major flood in Watseka in 2018, while Glenn Raymond took on significant seepage in its lower levels.

He said new building plans started a few years ago when the district began talking about a 10-year capital improvement plan.

“Things crystallized when we realized we couldn’t fund a 10-year plan, so we had to move it to 20 years,” Maulding said. “Then we started looking at — we had these old buildings — what opportunities are out there? We started finding funding sources, and the whole thing started snowballing in fall of 2019.”

Because the district has to work around the funding cycles of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it will probably be four to five years before everyone in the district is in their new spaces, Maulding said.

“It’s probably about a year longer than it would normally be, but it is well worth the wait,” he added. “This puts us out of that [flooding] threat.”

Maulding also said he wanted to thank voters for making these improvements possible. He believes the volunteer community organization Unity for Our Community, which helped spread the word and explain the referendum with the public, helped push the district over the edge for it to pass.

“Without [voter] support, this wouldn’t be happening,” Maulding said. “And I think it’s a great thing for our community and a great thing for our kids for decades to come.”

Bids sought on refurbishing slides at Splash Valley

KANKAKEE — As reopening of Splash Valley Aquatic Park nears, the Kankakee Valley Park District is seeking bids on refurbishing the three slides at the facility.

Dayna Heitz, executive director of the KVPD, reported at the special board meeting Monday at the Bird Park administration building that the deadline for the bids is April 23. The board can then accept a bid for the work at its next meeting on April 26.

“We have a couple different options,” Heitz said. “With a short time frame this is happening, I don’t know what kind of bids we’ll get, so that’s why we have different options.”

Heitz said the board can refurbish just the big slide, two of the three or all three slides. It can also opt to clean up the slides, make them safe, caulk and wax them; or it could do the full painting and sealing of the slides.

Board vice president Dave Skelly said he would like to have all three slides refurbished. Splash Valley is set to reopen on Memorial Day weekend.

“Because I don’t want to spend $2 million for a park, and then have everybody get there and see two of the three slides not open,” Skelly said. “So whatever we can do to get everything functional.”

“We also want them to look nice,” board secretary JJ Hollis said.

The cost of refurbishment of the slides is included in the capital project to renovate Splash Valley. In July 2018, the park board sold $2 million of government obligation bonds to rehab the park.

Last year the board got a quote of $90,000 to refurbish the slides but did not have it done because the decision was made not to open the park last summer due to COVID.

“It is very expensive to redo the slides,” said Heitz, who added there are a lot of slides that need refurbished because so many facilities were closed last season. “… They have a 20- to 25-year life span and we’re at year 16. That’s why we really need to have them checked out.”


The board also approved by a 3-1 vote a contract with Lauterbach & Amen for professional accounting services. The Naperville firm with be paid $10,800 a year for its services, and the contract begins at the start of the new budget year on June 1.

Board member Don Palmer voted against the contract. Lauterbach & Amen will do work that was previously done in house or was outsourced.

“This will save us a lot of money,” said board president Bill Spriggs.