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Carson's to become convention center?

BRADLEY — The owner of two Bradley-based hotels has entered into an option to purchase the former Carson’s men’s store with the goal of transforming it into a convention center and banquet facility.

At Wednesday’s special Bradley Village Board meeting, the village board unanimously approved the agreement with Dr. Sanjay Patel, owner of the 114-room Comfort Inn and the 92-room Holiday Inn & Suites, both located near the Northfield Square mall.

He also owns two other hotels in Indiana.

The deal to sell the approximate 80,000-square-foot property and the 5.8 acres which go with it to Patel for $1.2 million is far from complete, however. Patel and his hotel development team will spend the next six months examining the property and determining how feasible the project is.

After the meeting, he estimated redevelopment costs could range between $5 million to $6 million.

Carson’s closed the men’s store in mid-2018 at the same time the Carson’s women’s store closed and shortly after Sears closed.

Patel, 52, an internal medicine physician and a resident of South Barrington, had been looking to do this project in 2020, but the hotel industry — one of the hardest hit due to the pandemic — put the brakes on the project, he said.

Patel was the builder of the Holiday Inn in 2019 and he purchased and extensively upgraded the Comfort Inn beginning in 2011.

The Carson’s property was purchased by the village of Bradley in October 2019 for $1.1 million in an attempt to gain greater control regarding development in this key area of the village.

Kankakee County has not had a large-scale banquet complex since RiverStone Conference Center closed several years ago in south Kankakee. The area has never had a convention center.

Patel said the conference center would greatly aid all area lodging businesses as it would bring people to the area for events and in many cases require overnight stays.

But, he noted, there is much study and planning which must take place before any hammers swing regarding renovating the site.

Patel believes the study could be completed within six months.

“There are many factors which will be considered,” he said. He said the development would be completed in phases, noting “this is a very big facility. I’m very excited.”

Bradley Mayor Pro Tem Mike Watson said when the village purchased the property this is what the administration envisioned.

“We don’t want to be in this business. But we had to have some skin in the game,” he said. “We are trying to get development going in this area. ... If we can help facilitate redevelopment, then that’s what we will do.”

He said the area was becoming blighted due to the number of closed stores within the mall.

He noted the project would likely have been completed by now if it were not for the COVID-19 pandemic. He said Patel had taken him in early 2020 to suburban facilities he believed Carson could be transformed to replicate.

Then, of course, the economy’s brakes were engaged. But Patel believes the hospitality industry is showing good signs of re-engaging.

Watson noted this development is only one piece of bringing the mall property back to life. But, he said, it could be a great jumping-off point.

“This alone will not save the mall area. But this could show developers what can be done.”

For first time in a year, Bradley students eat lunch during school

BRADLEY — Just about one year after Bradley school administrators drove around delivering meals to students’ homes in response to the sudden COVID-19 shutdown, students are finally eating lunch at school again.

Starting March 8, Bradley Elementary School District 61 added an hour and 45 minutes to the school day, which now includes in-school lunch periods for the first time since before the pandemic.

The lunchroom setting is not quite the same as before — instead of kids sitting shoulder to shoulder and trading snacks with friends, they sit in carefully organized spaces set up for social distancing.

The district is still distributing free grab-and-go meals for the week on Mondays for remote learners.

More students transitioned from remote to in-person learning as the district entered its third trimester.

Currently, there are 41 remote students at Bradley East (down from 89 in the second trimester), 42 remote students at Bradley West (down from 75) and 32 remote students at Bradley Central (down from 49).

Superintendent Scott Goselin said the district is planning for regular school days next school year and awaiting official guidance as to whether a remote learning option would still be recommended.

With the recent extension, days are now five hours and 45 minutes.

In total, about 41 percent of district employees received the COVID-19 vaccine when provided through the Kankakee County Health Department. The district vaccinated 49 percent of teachers (58 total) and 35 percent of non-certified staff (40 total).

Figuring out lunch

One of the hurdles schools have faced in extending days has been figuring out socially distanced lunch periods with limited space.

At Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, where days were also lengthened at the start of the semester, lunches are still served as grab-and-go after school.

Recently updated guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health reduced the required social distance in schools from 6 feet to between 3 and 6 feet; however, when masks are removed in limited situations, such as during lunch, 6 feet is still the standard.

At Bradley Central, lunch tables were removed from the cafeteria and replaced with desks to make it easier to distance students. Some lunch tables were brought to the south gym as well where additional students can spread out during lunch.

Principal Mark Kohl said the goal was to distance students using larger spaces rather than having kids eat in classrooms.

The school also purchased room dividers so the two lunch spaces could be separated into four, with about 35 students per space. Three half-hour lunch periods go from about 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

All three schools are also cleaning tables between lunch times.

“The kids are excited to have that time to eat here at school,” Kohl said. “It was a lot of planning on the back end, but once we got going, it was nice to see it be successful.”

Kohl noted it was hard to believe it has been a year since the principals drove around delivering meals to students.

“That was a really rewarding experience,” he recalled. “Right now, bottom line, there’s no such thing as a good plan. Any plan is going to have issues and challenges, but we’re doing our best with what we can do.”

Bradley West Principal Trisha Anderson said the school has been playing movies or giving activities to keep students entertained during lunch.

Students still talk during lunch, but with everyone sitting 6 feet apart and facing the same direction, it’s not the same social period it usually is.

Students are divided into the cafeteria and multipurpose room, with no more than 50 in a space. Students alternate shifts of lunch and recess.

“I think they were more ecstatic about going out for recess than anything else,” Anderson said.

She noted that students can take mask breaks while outside at recess if they are 6 feet apart, though they must wear them while on playground equipment.

However, she has noticed most students running around and playing without bothering to remove their masks, probably because wearing them has become second nature.

“They are just happy to be out there and playing and getting to use the playground,” she said.

Bradley East Principal Anna Kirchner said the school normally would have three half-hour lunch periods; now, lunch is spread out to seven 20-minute periods from 10:50 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. Students also have 20-minute recess periods after lunch.

Despite the shorter time, Kirchner said there are less distractions with social distancing in place and fewer students in the cafeteria.

“They are able to use their time to eat, and they are motivated to get out to recess too because they haven’t had recess all year long,” she said.

Kirchner noted that kindergarteners have been especially excited, as they are attending recess for the first time.

She also said students have been great at adjusting to many changes throughout this past year, which to her has felt like three years in one.

“It’s been kind of a long year, but having the students here longer is what’s best for sure, and the kids love it.”

Bourbonnais schools to resume full school days

BOURBONNAIS — Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53 plans to return to full school days for all five schools starting Tuesday.

Schools will be in session for six hours and 45 minutes Monday through Friday, including at Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center, where students have been on an every-other-day attendance schedule all school year.

Remote learning is still being offered for the rest of the school year.

Monday of next week will be a planning day for teachers, with students to return to class Tuesday.

Superintendent Adam Ehrman said the four full days of instruction next week will lead into spring break, which will give administrators time to evaluate and make adjustments as needed.

“The only way to know how successful we are going to be is to continue to take steps forward,” he said.

Start times for all schools will remain the same.

The new schedules are: 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Shabbona and BUGC; 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for LeVasseur and Shepard; and 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for Liberty Intermediate.

Lunch will be served at school as well, with each building to have an individual plan for organizing lunch periods with social distancing.

Ehrman said the district was mindful of creating a schedule that would not change start times to make the transition easier. Start and end times are also coordinated with the busing schedule.

“This year, everyone has had all of their schedules turned upside down,” he said.

He also noted the promise of spring weather ahead, as gym classes, movement breaks and mask breaks can be taken outside.

Many factors went into the consideration for going forward with longer school days, Ehrman said.

The opportunity to offer all staff members both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine was “a huge step forward,” along with updated guidance loosening social distancing requirements from the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health.

The requirements are now between 3 and 6 feet of social distance, depending on the situation.

Other factors considered were the district’s success in navigating the pandemic so far, as well as steps by other school districts to move back toward normalcy, he said.

“When we look around to see a whole bunch of other school systems as well taking that next step, I think it speaks to my thinking as well as others that it is the proper time to move forward,” he said.

Ehrman said he expects more families will want to switch from remote to in-person learning, but so far there hasn’t been an influx of students asking to change from one format to the other.

Hall's city clerk candidacy put into question

KANKAKEE — Although early voting began in Kankakee County on Wednesday and ballots are before voters, there is a move to have a Kankakee candidate tossed from the ballot.

The three-person Kankakee Electoral Board will hold a 10 a.m. Friday hearing in Kankakee City Council chambers to determine if Destini Sutherland-Hall, a Republican city clerk candidate, will be allowed to remain on the ballot.

At issue is an objection to the validity of Sutherland-Hall’s nominating petitions filed Tuesday by Kankakee resident Rhonda Love.

Sutherland-Hall is opposing Democratic Party candidate and 2nd Ward Alderwoman Stacy Gall. The two are vying for the clerk’s post being opened by Anjanita Dumas, the 20-year Republican clerk, who did not seek re-election.

The three-member electoral board is comprised of Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, 7th Ward Alderman Carl Brown and Dumas.

According to the objection filed with the electoral board by Love through her attorney, Steven Laduzinsky of Chicago, Sutherland-Hall failed to file her nomination papers with the city clerk’s office on or before Feb. 28.

Gall said Wednesday she had not seen the objection and she was not involved with it. She acknowledged Love is a friend.

“She’s making sure she’s following the election laws. I’m sure it’s nothing personal. [Love] is just making sure she’s doing things the right way,” Gall said.

The primary election was held Feb. 23 and no Republican candidate was on the ballot for the race. For the April 6 municipal election, Sutherland-Hall was placed on the ballot by the Kankakee Republican Central Committee.

The nominating petition was filed March 10, thereby causing those documents to be invalid, according to Love’s objection.

The objection further states that the Kankakee County Republican Central Committee was not authorized to fill the vacancy for the party in the City of Kankakee.

In addition, as have other objections over the years, the suit also alleges that nominating pages were not properly marked with the candidate’s name. If these pages called into question were not properly completed, the signatures can be lost, meaning the candidate would not have the required number of signatures to be placed on the ballot.

A first-time candidate, Sutherland-Hall said her campaign will continue to move forward.

“This is just a ploy, just a desperate ploy,” she said. “I did everything as instructed. I’m confident this will be thrown out.”

Her attorney, Kankakee attorney Jamie Boyd, said he had yet to receive the objection. Like Sutherland-Hall, he believes the matter is just an attempt to clear the ballot for Gall.

If the electoral board removes Sutherland-Hall from the ballot, the decision can be appealed to the Kankakee County Circuit Court.