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Let the games begin! Hero City opening set

BRADLEY — The Hero City Adventure Park in Bradley will open Saturday — finally.

Like so many others around the region and nation for that matter, the development will open somewhat later than planned because of the national health pandemic. Originally targeted for opening in April, the Bourbonnais husband-and-wife team, John Chu and Linda Wu, will officially open the facility at 9 a.m. Saturday at 1190 N. Kinzie Ave., Bradley.

The all-indoor entertainment park in the approximate 23,000-square-foot building, which was once the home of the OfficeMax store just south of Hobby Lobby in the Bradley Square Shopping Center, has been a challenge to get opened, noted the owners.

The problems were not due to contractors, supplies or plans. The delay — as the world knows — was thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The couple had expected to have the location ready for fun-seekers by mid to late April.

Of course, there was that issue associated with the coronavirus.

Linda simply shakes her head when the subject of getting Hero City opened to the public comes up.

“It’s been crazy,” she said through a wide smile. “Each step we crossed, we celebrated. And finally it is done. It’s been a battle.”

The location, which came available when OfficeMax closed in November 2017, features a wide selection for people ranging in age from 10 months to senior citizens. There is a 3,000-square-foot area for an indoor playground, called the Toddler Zone. It features a three-level obstacle course structure.

There is a seven-bumper-car arena and drivers must be at least 42-inches tall to operate the vehicles.

There is a game zone filled with virtual reality games as well as more traditional electronic game stations.

One of the location’s crowning areas is the 6,000-square-foot laser tag room which can accommodate up to 30 participants for up to 30-minute game sessions.

For adults enjoying the time their children are playing there are four massage chairs and televisions. The location also offers free WiFi.

The business will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

In all, the location will have a workforce of about 30. The bulk of the employees will be part-time workers.

And, of course, the complex is monitoring its customers in regards to COVID-19. Customers will be screened for temperatures prior to entrance and wearing of face masks is required.

“From March through May I didn’t know if we would open,” John said. “I didn’t see any light. But when we got to Phase 4 (state guideline for reopening businesses), I felt things were finally coming together. For so long we just didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Bill Phelps of Bourbonnais is the general manager. He said the site has already had customers stopping by ready to play games, but were told the opening hasn’t yet happened.

“People seem very excited,” he said.

One of those people is Bradley Mayor Pro Tem Mike Watson. Watson said the Hero City may help lead the way to what this area eventually becomes. He said while the area will maintain retail, it will certainly be shifting to entertainment.

“This development is following the lines of what we see here. This fits the bill perfectly. It’s our hope this helps draw people in and allows for more development,” he said.

Whatever may happen in the future is unknown. John, however, is proud of what they have accomplished thus far.

“This has never been done here. I had a plan, but Linda has the controls. Now we can start generating revenue and get these wheels going,” he said.

“What we want to see is every kid walk out of here with a smile. That’s my goal.”

Pritzker seeks national mask mandate, support

SPRINGFIELD — Testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he would like to see a coordinated national COVID-19 containment strategy that requires people to wear masks, and he reiterated the need for a federal financial support package for states.

He was once again critical of the White House’s response in the early days of the pandemic’s arrival in the U.S., pointing to “broken promises on testing supplies and PPE (personal protective equipment) deliveries.”

“We were in a bidding war for life-saving supplies against each other and against our international allies,” Pritzker said of the effort to purchase supplies as other states were bidding on the same stock. “We were paying $5 for masks that should have cost 85 cents… In the midst of a global pandemic states were forced to play some sort of sick ‘Hunger Games’ game show to save the lives of our people.”

When asked about the response later, Pritzker said the president should have used the Defense Production Act earlier in the pandemic to compel U.S. companies to produce PPE and testing supplies.

The governor also suggested President Donald Trump has consistently contradicted guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or muzzled public health officials. He also criticized the president’s recent call to open schools for the fall term without providing proper guidance.

Pritzker testified with local government and health officials from other states at the virtual hearing, and all of them said masks should be mandatory and a more unified federal response is needed.

While Democrats on the committee often criticized the White House’s virus response, Republicans were more defensive of the president, noting officials at all levels of government — from federal leaders to local ones — are dealing with an unprecedented crisis.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, pointed to “dishonesty” among those testifying without offering any specifics as to who or what claims were purposely untruthful.

Pritzker’s testimony came as Illinois’ positivity rate for COVID-19 tests and hospitalizations for the virus remained low Wednesday. He touted the state’s effort to decrease cases before outlining a wish list for future federal response measures.

First is a coordinated federal mitigation effort: “That means more testing and more contact tracing. And it may even mean national restrictions that will be followed in every state,” he said.

He also urged federal aid for states, warning of impending “massive layoffs of public servants, teachers and firefighters” across the country if financial help does not materialize. He said “a bipartisan coalition of governors” was thankful to the U.S. House for passing the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act, which awaits action in the U.S. Senate.

The feds also need to provide clarity on insurance coverage for COVID-19 testing, Pritzker said.

“Testing is not a one-off tactic. We need regular testing across our population. And that means people need to know that their insurance will cover their testing every time,” he said.

Later in the day, Pritzker announced the state — which was averaging around 30,000 test results reported daily — would increase its mobile testing capacity. He said 12 teams will offer mobile testing in hard-hit communities and visit facilities such as homeless shelters and nursing homes.

Another federal ask was for continued funding of National Guard operations “through next year in the face of a possible, maybe even likely, second wave.”

But the number one life-saving measure the federal government can take, Pritzker said, is a national mask mandate.

“We instituted ours in Illinois on May, 1…and it aligns with our most significant downward shifts in our infection rate,” he said. “It’s not too late for the federal government to make an impact. In fact, it’s more important than ever.”

While the state reported 980 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, the seven-day rolling positivity rate ticked back to 2.6 percent from 2.5 percent. It has remained below 3 percent since June 17.

The one-day positivity rate for Wednesday was 3 percent, as there were 32,742 test results reported in the previous 24 hours.

The 36 additional deaths reported Wednesday brought the number of fatalities related to the virus in Illinois to 7,099 among 149,432 confirmed cases. There have been 1.84 million tests completed in the state.

Hospitalization metrics also increased by the end of Tuesday, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data. As of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, there were 1,518 hospital beds in use by COVID-19 patients, an increase of more than 130 from the day prior.

Intensive care unit beds being used by COVID-19 patients increased to 331 from 320, while ventilator use remained steady at 151.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Bourbonnais elementary board OKs school calendar with August start date

BOURBONNAIS — The Bourbonnais Elementary School Board approved a 2020-21 calendar that brings students back to school Aug. 19 and dismisses them for summer May 27 during a special board meeting Wednesday.

The board also approved standard school day start and end times so that students will be attending school for full seven-hour days. Hours will be 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. for Shabbona and Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center, 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. for LeVasseur and Shepard, and 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. for Liberty Intermediate.

Superintendent Adam Ehrman, attending his first District 53 board meeting as superintendent, said the calendar and school hours decisions are critical for administrators to continue ironing out more details for next school year.

“We still have a lot of questions to answer, and we don’t have those answered at this time, but getting these solved tonight will help,” he said.

Board members tabled the decisions in June because new guidance from the state had been released just a few hours before their meeting.

The alternate calendar option would have pushed the start of the school year back until Sept. 8 and ended the school year June 8, 2021. Administrators previously thought that holding off starting the school year might afford the district greater chances of resuming in-person instruction.

Now that Illinois is in Phase 4, new state guidance says in-person instruction can resume with safety guidelines in place, such as enhanced cleaning efforts, social distancing, temperature checks and face masks.

Ehrman said that based on conversations with other local superintendents, he believes the August start date will align with calendar plans for Bradley Elementary School District 61 and Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, though that is subject to change.

“The other school districts are suffering from the same thing we’re suffering from, which is that information keeps changing,” he said.

The staggered start and end times would have divided students into two groups to allow for social distancing on buses; however, new state guidance says buses can hold up to 50 as long as face masks are worn. The staggered times also would have meant a six-hour school day.

Ehrman said the goal is to make returning to school feel as normal as possible.

“We’re trying to balance the educational processes of having students engaged with their educators versus safety measures that they need to have in place,” he said.

Ehrman said the planning process also must account for a potential return to remote learning if there is a surge in cases and the state reverts back in its reopening phases.

“We have to literally build two airplanes at one time while everything is changing,” he said.

Current decision making cannot be done lightly, as moving forward into Phase 5 could be far off into the future, he added.

“The hard part is we may not be just building what COVID plan we are going to be implementing for the fall; it could be in place, some of these measures, for a long time until there’s a vaccination,” Ehrman said. “We want to be very balanced in the approach that we take so we don’t turn the educational process upside down completely.”

Board President Rob Rodewald said parents have been emailing questions about how the district will interpret and enforce the state’s guidelines. The face mask requirement for children who may be uncomfortable or unwilling to wear one is a common concern.

“A lot of that hasn’t been determined yet because guidance from the state changes daily, and sometimes two and three times a day,” Rodewald said. “The best we can do is give the guidance that we have right now and what we are going to expect, and that will, I can almost guarantee you, change before the first day of school on Aug. 19.”

NAACP hosting law enforcement meeting

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP will be hosting another law enforcement meeting at noon July 23 at the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office at the Jerome Combs Detention Center.

This isn’t the first local NAACP law enforcement meeting that’s been held.

“We’ve been having these meetings since Ferguson,” said Theodis Pace, president of the NAACP, referring to the riots in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014 after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a Black man, by a police officer.

“We had been meeting every other month, but we’ve been meeting every month recently because of all of what’s been going on,” Pace said. “We met in June, we have the July meeting and we’ll be probably meeting in August.”

Most of the area’s law enforcement agencies will be in attendance, including Kankakee City police, Kankakee County Sheriff’s police, as well as representatives from Bourbonnais, Bradley, Manteno and Momence. Pace said a representative from the Illinois State Police will also attend.

The officials will be discussing the #8cantwait initiative, which are: ban chokeholds and strangleholds, require de-escalation, require warning before shooting, requires officers to exhaust all alternatives before shooting, duty to intervene, ban shooting at moving vehicles, require use-of-force continuum, and require comprehensive reporting.

Proponents of the #8cantwait initiatives say research shows that more restrictive use-of-force policies can reduce killings by police and save lives.

Pace said the meeting will be livestreamed via YouTube and on the county’s website,

Those gathered for a Black Lives Matters protest on Monday outside the Momence City Hall were seeking implementation of the #8cantwait initiative at the Momence Police Department. Organizer Mya Hendryx, of Momence, said she was encouraged that Momence Chief of Police Brian Brucato told her at that rally that he plans to attend the meeting.

“Kankakee County has really shown out with this peacefulness, coming together and showing what we’re all about,” Hendryx said on Monday. “I’m never in my life been so proud to live in Kankakee County. I thank God that we’re able to come together this way and make these changes.’