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bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Steeleville's Karley Kothe connects to drive in two runs in the first inning against Trico on Monday in Campbell Hill. Steeleville held on to win 4-3.

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SIUC facility transforms dining hall waste into compost

CARBONDALE — Every day at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s dining halls, hundreds of pounds of food go uneaten.

The SIU Forced Air Composting Facility on Pleasant Hill Road, now in its second year in production, offers an elegant solution: Over a period of several weeks, student workers transform food waste into nutrient-rich compost, which is then used as landscaping material on campus.

Michelle Sullivan, University Farms coordinator at SIUC, oversees the program.

“When we first started offering positions for this, I did not expect anybody to want to work out here,” Sullivan said. “It’s a little stinky, and it’s kind of a monotonous chore. … But what’s cool about it is that over time, as they have worked out here, we’ve even had students that have become so interested in it that they are talking about graduating and then finding a place like this where they can work.”

Dozens of bins filled with food scraps get hauled to the open-air hoop structure each morning. The facility receives as much as one ton in a week.

First, student workers pour all the food into a large bin. Using a Bobcat, they mix in manure from SIUC’s hog farm and horse farm.

After that, it’s mostly a waiting game. Air goes through perforated PVC tubing in the floors of the bins and filters up through the piles, and student workers must periodically turn the compost using the Bobcat to increase aeration and dry it out.

“If you think about compost, you have to think about what environment the microorganisms need to do their job. So you’re creating an environment where it’s not so wet that they suffocate, it’s not so hot that they burn, it’s not so cold that they can’t survive … so it’s all about carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, and it’s all about temperature and moisture,” Sullivan said.

During the decomposition process, the temperature at the center of the compost pile can get as high as 120 to 140 degrees.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Steam rises from a compost pile as Michael Buckles uses a Bobcat to stir it at the SIU Forced Air Composting Facility on Thursday afternoon.

“When the microorganisms are doing their thing, it’s producing energy, so it makes it hot,” Sullivan said.

Michael Buckles, a junior majoring in agribusiness economics, is one of five student workers who tends to the compost. He said every batch is a little different, depending on the animal and plant waste.

“Really the best one you’ll find, we had earlier in the first semester, and you walked in and it didn’t smell. It smelled earthy, like when you open a bag of potting soil. And that’s the end goal, but it’s kind of hard to get there,” Buckles said.

Sullivan said the students have to develop a feel for the process.

“It’s an interesting combination of the science, the actual science of it decomposing and the microorganisms and all that stuff that’s involved in the composting process, but then it’s a little bit of an art. It’s being able to look at it and say, ‘It just doesn’t look right. There’s just something wrong.’ Or, ‘It just smells different today. Something in the recipe is off,’” Sullivan said.

Once the compost has cooled, the process is complete. Decomposition usually takes about three months from start to finish, but workers can speed the process by turning the compost more frequently, Sullivan said.

The finished product is used in flower beds all over campus.

“It actually looks really pretty once it’s out, because it’s clean and fresh and new. I always love when there’s new compost out places — it just looks neat and tidy and the way that landscaping should look,” Sullivan said.

The facility is still perfecting its methods, and Sullivan hopes to eventually decrease the turnaround time.

“That’s been the biggest surprise out of this whole thing, is that it is actually fascinating. At first, we’re like, ‘Oh no, a bunch of food waste.’ But as you watch it, as you mix it and you watch it, you see it turn from something so completely disgusting to something so cool,” Sullivan said.

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State fair manager visits Southern Illinois to promote Du Quoin State Fair

DU QUOIN — State Fair Manager Luke Sailer and Assistant Du Quoin State Fair Manager Tribretta Reiman made several stops in Southern Illinois on Monday to promote the 2018 Du Quoin State Fair.

After announcing Cheap Trick would play Aug. 26, Bicentennial Day at this year’s fair, the pair announced the fair would host a birthday party for the state that day. Other events will be happening around the state, including events at Kaskaskia and Vandalia.

Sailer, a native of Carmi, was named state fair manager on March 1, but he has been with Illinois Department of Agriculture for three years. He served as non-fair manager and assistant fair manager before getting the call to head the two Illinois state fairs.

“Tibretta and I have a great working relationship. It’s so wonderful to see the fair come to life,” Sailer said.

He is also proud of the rich history of agriculture in Illinois, the state’s number one industry. Since he has attended several Du Quoin State Fairs, Sailer believes people return each year because of the way the fair makes them feel.

“The first day of the fair is like a family homecoming,” Sailer said. “We want people to have that homecoming.”

For Reiman, who started at Du Quoin State Fair in March 2016, the fair is like a homecoming. Four generations of her family have shown at the fair, starting with her grandfather at the very first Du Quoin State Fair. Both say they have a passion for making the fairs fun and sustainable.

Reiman would like to remind businesses that they can host company picnics at the fairground during the Du Quoin State Fair. Anyone who is interested should call the fair office at 618-542-1515.

Sailer promised that Cheap Trick is the first of many good things to be announced for this year’s fair, including a surprise for fans of harness racing.

Sailer stayed at Hayes House Thursday night to get an early start on Friday morning. He arrived about 9 p.m. and drove around the fairground.

“All the lights were on. It was just beautiful,” Sailer said.

Every day, Sailer drives through the front gates of the fairground in Springfield to go to his office, past a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Reiman does the same thing in Du Quoin. They both say they are a little nostalgic, but it keeps them grounded and focuses on the fairs.

“It makes you appreciate the great opportunity that we have. We are blessed to hold the positions we hold,” Reiman said.

Du Quoin State Fair will be Aug. 24 through Sept. 3. Vendor, exhibitor and concessions applications are available now at

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Cheap Trick is first act announced in this year's Du Quoin State Fair grandstand lineup

DU QUOIN — Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Cheap Trick will take the grandstand this summer as part of the Du Quoin State Fair entertainment lineup.

Their performance is set for Sunday, Aug. 26. 

With more than 5,000 performances, 20 million records sold, 29 movie soundtracks and 40 gold and platinum albums, Cheap Trick is a musical institution. Best known for timeless classics such as “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender” and “The Flame,” Cheap Trick is considered one of the most covered bands of all time.

Tickets will go on sale later this spring. Prices will range from $21 to $27. Ticketmaster and Du Quoin State Fair Box Office are the only authorized outlets to sell concert tickets for the State Fair grandstand.

Cheap Trick formed in 1974 in Rockford.

“Southern Illinois will be a key player in the state’s Bicentennial celebration,” State Fair Manager Luke Sailer said in a news release. “It seems only fitting to welcome this highly successful Illinois band to help our state mark such a historic occasion.”

More information about this year's fair and entertainment lineup will be released in the coming weeks and months, according to the news release, including details on how the fair will mark the Illinois bicentennial.

The Du Quoin State Fair
 will run from Aug. 24 to Sept. 3.

For more information, visit
, or

Illinois' U.S. senators raise questions about HUD's "rash" decision to close Thebes housing complexes

THEBES – U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are questioning whether Housing and Urban Development officials are following their own laws and regulations in carrying out a decision to involuntarily relocate 85 residents from two public housing complexes in the tiny village of Thebes in Southern Illinois.

In a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Illinois’ senators called it a “rash decision” and requested copies of various documents, public notices and a written relocation plan for Thebes’ public housing residents, which they described as requirements of housing authorities seeking the federal agency’s permission to sell or demolish public housing complexes.

The senators wrote that Thebes’ public housing residents now find themselves in the same state of uncertainty as did the families in nearby Cairo that received similar news from HUD officials a year ago. On Feb. 7, HUD officials informed about 30 families that the Mary Alice Meadows and Sunset Terrace apartment complexes were going up for sale and residents would have to move because the housing authority lacks the funds to fix them.

That announcement came 10 months after HUD announced plans to relocate about 400 people – 185 families – from two complexes in Cairo managed by the Alexander County Housing Authority. HUD took over the county housing authority in early 2016, citing alleged mismanagement, misspending of federal funds and unsafe building conditions.

“Given these troubling accounts from our constituents, we are concerned that ACHA under HUD’s authority made an ill-advised and heedless decision to relocate approximately 85 residents out of public housing complexes in Thebes,” Durbin and Duckworth, both Democrats, wrote in the letter to Carson last week. Close to a fourth of the roughly 400 citizens of Thebes live between the two developments. They asked for a response from HUD by April 12.

HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said on Monday that the agency declines to comment on the senators’ letter.

Like those in Cairo a year ago, public housing residents in Thebes were informed they will receive assistance in locating an opening in another public housing complex or a voucher that subsidizes rent in the private market. HUD is also paying moving expenses.

The housing authority, managed by HUD officials, issued a notice asking private developers interested in purchasing the property to submit an expression of interest by March 22. None was received by the deadline, Brown, of HUD, said in late March. Brown said that means that “unless there is a late bidder or the community buys it” the complexes, which consist of 46 units, will close. The housing authority lacks the funds to bring the units up to acceptable standards, he said.

Village President Steve Mathis said the village would like to see it kept open, but does not have the funds to purchase it. “It’s going to hurt,” he said. Mathis said HUD did not consult with village leaders prior to the announcement, and residents also were not aware of the plan until that evening. Further, the complexes are home to 24 students who attend the Egyptian Community Unit School District in nearby Tamms; the superintendent said he learned of the pending closure by reading about it in the newspaper.

Brown, of HUD, said the decision to move residents rather than renovate the complexes was based on a September assessment by a private architecture firm showing it would cost close to $650,000 to repair 10 vacant units in the two properties. Problems identified in the report included moisture damage, plumbing leaks and sagging upstairs floors in the two-story units. Residents also have complained of mold, holes in their interior walls, broken windows and security issues at the premises.

Still, housing authorities are required to use a prescribed formula that considers the cost of needed repairs versus that of building new to determine whether demolition or disposition of a property is appropriate. 

The senators’ letter asks HUD whether there has been an official “determination of obsolescence” of Mary Alice Meadows and Sunset Terrace as required under the law. On Monday, Brown declined to say whether that determination had been made, or whether HUD believed that making it was necessary prior to letting residents know they have to move by year's end. 

Another document previously provided to the newspaper by Brown listed a variety of options that the county housing authority considered for addressing the Thebes properties, and the pros and cons of each.

Under the demolition option, the cons included that the site “may not meet obsolescence test for approval” and that even if it does, there is no funding source identified to complete the demolition. Brown said the options sheet was drafted prior to the September assessment by the architecture firm.

Mathis, the village president, said one of his major concerns is that HUD will move residents and leave a vacant property that could attract squatters and vandals and drug abusers. “We’re just going to have problems down there,” said Mathis, who also is an Alexander County Sheriff’s deputy.

SIU Board of Trustees
Governor appoints Tom Britton to SIU Board of Trustees; will go before Senate for approval 'this spring'


SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday appointed Tom Britton, a retired Southern Illinois University Carbondale vice-chancellor, to SIU’s Board of Trustees, according to a news release from the governor's office.

“Tom has dedicated his life to public higher education and Southern Illinois University,” Rauner said in the release. “His connection to university staff, students and alumni, along with his proven track record in the advancement of higher education, make him uniquely qualified for this important position.”

According to the release, Britton began his lifelong relationship with SIUC as a student, earning his degrees at the university before entering the administration. He was named to his first vice chancellor/vice president post at age 36 and spent 17 years in the university’s central administration, serving as administrative counsel to the SIU Board of Trustees, executive assistant to the president, vice chancellor/president for administration, and vice chancellor for institutional advancement.

In 1992, the release states, he became the first SIU Law School graduate to be named associate dean at the School of Law, where he went on to serve as acting dean, associate professor, director of graduate studies and director of development before retiring to private practice in 2016.

He has served as a senior consultant to the Illinois State Board of Education and trained administrative law judges on cases involving special need students.

“I earned three degrees at SIU and spent approximately 40 years as an administrator and a teacher with the university. I am honored to serve on the Board of Trustees at a time when clearly-focused, intentional leadership at the policy level is so needed,” Britton said.

The governor’s nomination was officially filed with the Secretary of State on Monday, and is expected to go before the Senate for approval this spring.