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Splash Valley to open Memorial Day weekend

Anyone associated with the Kankakee Valley Park District, from employees and staff to commissioners to executive director, will tell you, “It’s been a long time coming” for Splash Valley Aquatic Park.

Dayna Heitz, executive director of the KVPD, said she’s ecstatic about the reopening of Splash Valley on Memorial Day weekend.

“I have no [finger]nails left. Just kidding,” said Heitz after Monday’s special meeting at the Bird Park administration building.

Splash Valley, at 1850 River Road in Kankakee, closed after the 2015 season due to leaking water in the lazy river and other mechanical failures. It sat dormant for the next three summers and as weeds overwhelmed the exterior of the facility, it looked doubtful that the water park would ever reopen.

When Heitz began her tenure as executive director in October 2016, she made it clear reopening the pool was a top priority. The board took action in July 2018 when it sold $2 million of government obligation bonds to rehab the park.

Construction on the renovation finally began in November 2019. The district was planning on a reopening in the summer of 2020, but then COVID hit, pushing the reopening to this year.

“It’s exciting,” said Heitz about the reopening after five hot summers and no outdoor pool for district residents.

There will be a grand reopening and ribbon cutting from 5 to 8 p.m. May 28 by invitation only due to COVID restrictions. The park will then open to the public at 11 a.m. May 29, which is the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

The lazy river is gone, but the park has a zero-depth pool along with a four-lap-lane pool and plunge pool for the three water slides. The slides have to be refurbished before the opening. There are also restrooms-showers, a grass seating area, and a concession stand with picnic tables. There are also two sand volleyball courts that are just outside the facility that can be used without any admission fee.

KVPD and Rink Management Services, the company hired to manage the facility, are feverishly working to get Splash Valley ready for use.

“We’re cleaning equipment right now,” Heitz said. “We’ve got phones being installed in the next two weeks. Computers are being installed. The pool is being filled this week. They’re doing the hiring, and we are working together on all the finishing touches.”

Rink Management is in the process of hiring the staff of approximately 50 to 75 employees. The pool will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day (noon to 5 p.m. Memorial Day). Tot Time swim for children 5 years old and younger will be from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Due to COVID restrictions Splash Valley will be limited to 50 percent of its bather load of 780, or 390 people. They will have to be in groups of 50 that are 30 feet apart.

“Which is great because we don’t have the lazy river anymore, so we have a lot of space to spread everybody out,” Heitz said. “What we do have to do is we have to do reservations. … You’ll have to go online and reserve times.

“The management company and I are working right now to figure out if we can put a kiosk outside so that if we’re not a max and somebody does walk up, you can key yourself in.”

Cost is $10 for residents (above 4 feet tall) and $12 for non-residents. It’s $6 for kids (under 4 feet) for residents and $10 for non-residents. Payment will also be online at kvpd.com. Various season passes are also available online.

Temperature checks will also have to be made at the gate for everyone who enters.

“It will be a lot,” Heitz said. “I’m sure there will be some stumbling blocks along the way.”

Splash Valley was constructed with a $6.6 million Illinois FIRST grant acquired by then-Gov. George Ryan and opened in 2004. Within a few years of its opening, the pool began experiencing failures. Now, finally, that’s all in the past.

“I hope we have a great summer,” board president Bill Spriggs said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in Dayna, and the management team is legitimate. We all want it to be successful.”

Teacher of hearing impaired students to retire after 40 years

BOURBONNAIS — Stepping into Jackie Hernandez’s small corner classroom at Liberty Intermediate, it’s immediately evident that the students she lovingly refers to as her “kids” are treated like family.

Her walls are decorated with photos of students smiling at picnics she has hosted. Pencil markings on a section of wall near the door show how much students have grown in height from year to year.

“These are all my kids, and I embrace every one of them,” she said. “I don’t have a kid that I don’t just adore. I’m so blessed, and most teachers can’t say that.”

As the teacher for students who are deaf and hearing impaired in Bourbonnais schools and other schools in Kankakee County, Hernandez has the unique experience of seeing the same students from age 3 through high school.

“The best part about my job is, I become part of their family. They become part of my family,” she said. “I’ve attended birthday parties, baby showers. I’ve had kids that have had babies. I get to be part of their family.”

Anyone who knows Hernandez can imagine how difficult the past year of social distancing has been.

Hernandez’s love of being around people and infectious positivity is obvious upon meeting her, which coworker Nancy Waldschmidt, a fifth-grade teacher at Liberty, said is totally in character.

“Every single day, Jackie gives it 150 percent,” she said. “There’s not good days or bad days with Jackie. Every day is the Jackie you see, a ball of energy.”

The struggles of remote teaching during the pandemic were part of what pushed Hernandez, 62, to retire after teaching 40 years, 34 of which were with Bourbonnais Elementary.

She plans to officially hang her hat up June 7.

Other factors were that she would like to travel and spend time with friends and family, including her two daughters and two grandchildren.

“40 years was my goal, and I thought, it’s time,” she said. “It’s so hard though, because I’m telling you, I love these kids.”

Hernandez is famous for inviting students to movie nights in her backyard and going above and beyond to motivate and show up for them.

Waldschmidt, whose 28-year-old son Thomas is deaf, recalled that when her son graduated from eighth grade, Hernandez knitted him an Illini blanket because he wanted to go to the University of Illinois. She would also drive by their home and honk her car horn when Thomas struggled to get up for school in the mornings.

“Your child will love learning after they spend time with Jackie,” Waldschmidt said. “She is so energetic, and the things she does with children in order to help them learn, there isn’t an end to it.”

Originally from Iowa, Hernandez worked at Shapiro Developmental Center for a couple of years before starting Aug. 24, 1987 with Bourbonnais Elementary Schools District.

She earned master’s degrees in multi-categorical special education and educational administration from Governors State University, along with many certifications and specializations.

In addition to teaching students with hearing impairments, she also taught special education and gifted students in Bourbonnais schools.

For the past decade, she has traveled from school to school throughout the county to teach students with hearing impairments. She currently has students in Bourbonnais, Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, Manteno and Bonfield.

She was also an adjunct professor at Olivet Nazarene University for several years and has hosted free sign language classes for community members.

Additionally, Hernandez retired from the Bradley Fire & Police Commission on April 7 after serving 24 years.

She’s a member of the Hundred Club of Kankakee County, which supports family members of fallen firefighters and police officers, and is a member of Delta Kappa Gamma local teachers organization.

Hernandez learned sign language at a young age because her father, a printer, worked with many people who were deaf, and they frequented her parents’ restaurant. She eventually found that she loved signing and working with students with hearing impairments.

Though she struggled in school when she was younger, once she discovered her learning style, she realized that “education was power.”

“I’ve always told everyone, get as many degrees as you can because it allows you choices,” she said. “In 40 years, I’ve held probably 10 different jobs if you think about all the different populations and every age that I’ve done. I’ve been all over the place.”

She wouldn’t have it any other way, either. Hernandez describes herself as a “mover” and said she couldn’t imagine spending her 40-year teaching career in one classroom.

She probably won’t be spending her retirement sitting and reading, she noted.

“I’m a doer; I’ve got to do something.”

Crime falls in Bradley by 21% in 2020

BRADLEY — In the year of COVID-19, crime in Bradley dropped by 21 percent when comparing 2020 to 2019 data, but like everything from 2020, COVID-19 had some impact.

Bradley Police Chief Don Barber reported at Monday’s Bradley Village Board meeting that in the eight major crime offense categories, offenses reported from 2020 versus 2019, found total offenses went from 543 in 2019 to 430 in 2020 — a drop of 21 percent.

The eight categories are homicide, aggravated criminal sexual assault, robbery, aggravated battery, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

While thefts were the major driver of the number of reported offenses — both in 2020 and 2019 — the number went down from 464 in 2019 to 348 in 2020. Those numbers represent a decline of 25 percent.

Of course, there can be no fair comparison of anything involving 2020. The 2020 year saw business closures and people not moving about anywhere close to what they had in 2019 or in any previous year for that matter.

While many businesses were closed, others saw restrictions as to how many people could be inside a location at any one time.

“2020 certainly saw an increase in personal crimes, such as domestic battery,” Barber said after the meeting. He said the village, and likely many other departments as well, noted there were spikes in crime after government-issued stimulus checks were distributed.

Barber believes alcohol and drugs consumed a certain portion of stimulus money and helped fuel domestic crimes. He noted calls for service regarding domestic cases went from 202 in 2019 to 461 in 2020, an increase of 128 percent.

“The pandemic played a lot of people’s psyche. People had to relearn priorities, how important families are and, unfortunately, some people struggled,” he said. “... We all saw increases in domestic violence. I don’t know what the answer is.”

After the village board meeting, Mayor-elect Mike Watson said police certainly anticipated some increases in certain crime categories due to COVID restriction and state-mandated, stay-at-home orders.

Chief Barber noted that in 2019 there were 345 arrests reported for the 464 theft cases. By comparison, there have been 134 arrests made in 2020.

An arrest was made in murder case and four arrests were made in eight 2020 aggravated criminal sexual assault cases.

County takes over jurisdiction of major intersection

The Kankakee County Board unanimously approved a resolution that transfers the jurisdiction of the intersection of Armour Road and Illinois Route 50 from the state to the county.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is preparing plans and specifications for the reconstruction of the intersection. According to IDOT, the jurisdictional agreements involve the county, Bourbonnais Township and the village of Bourbonnais. IDOT will only have jurisdiction over the railroad overpass on Armour Road.

“The county will take over jurisdiction from Route 50 to Locke Drive which is currently an unmarked state route,” said Mark Rogers, Kankakee County engineer at Tuesday’s Board meeting. “The same thing is going to happen on the west side of [Route] 50 from 50 going west to the railroad bridge [overpass]. That’s going to be taken over by Bourbonnais Township.”

The improvement of the intersection at Illinois Route 50 and Armour Road has a program cost estimated at $7.5 million, said Dave Broviak, District 3 studies & plans engineer for IDOT, when contacted by phone by the Daily Journal. In addition to the reconstruction of the intersection, the replacement of the bridge structure carrying Armour Road over the Canadian National railroad tracks just west of Route 50 has a program cost estimated at $5.4 million.

Bid letting for the intersection and train overpass projects on Armour is June 11.

Rogers said IDOT needed the letter of intent saying that county would accept jurisdictional transfer and pay its fair share of the project.

“Things are progressing, very quickly at times and slowly at other times,” Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler. “It’s looking like things are going to happen. It’s just a matter of when.”

He added the county will likely have to pay for sidewalks and some lighting as part of its match.

“I think it’s going to be mostly [Metropolitan Planning Organization] money, if not all,” Wheeler said.

As far as ongoing maintenance of the intersection, the county will do the snow plowing.

The reconstructed intersection will have two through lanes in every direction, two dedicated left turn lanes in every direction and one dedicated right turn lane in every direction. The four-way stop sign on Armour Road in front of CSL Behring will be replaced with a stop light that will be synchronized with the stop lights at Armour Road and Illinois 50 for improved traffic flow.

Sidewalks will also be constructed on both sides of Armour Road.

Broviak said both projects are slated to begin construction in June 2022.