Thumbs up to the new Becker Pavilion being unveiled at Campus Lake this weekend. Southern Illinois University has been in the news a lot recently, for primarily negative reasons, so it’s heartening to point out a positive event. Saluki alumnus Ralph Becker donated $1 million to the university to renovate the deteriorating boathouse on Campus Lake. Generations of Salukis have enjoyed leisurely days on the lake since the first boathouse was completed in the 1950s. Troy Vaughn, recreational sports and services director at SIUC, believes the newly renovated facility — along with the recent eradication of toxic algae from the lake — will get students and community members excited about Campus Lake again. The new boathouse will be formally unveiled tomorrow during the 45th Annual Cardboard Boat Regatta, another unique Saluki tradition. Becker, who lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, will attend the event and will serve as the “honorary commodore” at the regatta.
Thumbs down to the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds and Kincaid Mounds being placed on Landmarks Illinois’ endangered list. The group says numerous structures at the state fairgrounds in Du Quoin, specifically the grandstand roof, and Springfield are suffering due to lack of maintenance because of state financial problems. It also noted the lack of full-time staff at Kincaid Mounds, "rare, archaeological site built by settlers in the Middle Mississippian period more than a thousand years ago." While the site is a National Historic Landmark, there are concerns that limited funds, deteriorating interpretation, farming practices and erosion threaten the survival of the mounds. There were an estimated 19 mounds at the site; today, only nine remain.
Thumbs up to the restaffing of the Perry County Sheriff’s Department. Five months ago, Sheriff Steve Bareis was faced with the grim task of laying off two full-time and three part-time employees. The layoffs were announced in December after a Perry County budget meeting in August revealed that the county had a shortfall of $550,000, which County Clerk Josh Gross attributed in part to rising costs of services and salaries as well as insurance costs. The deficit also ballooned as a result of the years-long budget impasse at the state level. As of this week, the displaced workers are back on the job with the county.
Thumbs up to West Frankfort’s Bill Levanti being named Old King Coal. He was crowned Saturday at the community’s Princess Flame Pageant. He said he is a sixth-generation coal miner with his oldest mining ancestor practicing the trade in England. Levanti said his grandfather, William George Tomlinson, came to the U.S. in 1910 and settled in Zeigler before working in the mines. On the other side of his family, Levanti said his great-grandfather, John Levanti, came even earlier in 1908 from Pennsylvania. He said he was on the team that established Number 8 coal mine.
Thumbs down to the State of Illinois which racked up millions of dollars in overdue charges during the two-year budget stalemate. State comptroller Susana Mendoza is "still in triage mode" in paying what ballooned to $15.9 billion in overdue bills last summer after a historic, two-year budget standoff between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly. The state has paid roughly $300 million in penalties since the beginning of 2017, The comptroller held $553 million in penalty vouchers on March 31, up from $116 million at the end of December. The state must pay 12 percent annual interest on many bills unpaid after 90 days. State law requires those charges be paid "within a reasonable amount of time."