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Solar prices drop again as Solar U-C Program starts second round

Last year, residents of CU had the opportunity to learn about solar installations through Solar Urbana-Champaign, and many took advantage of group purchasing to have solar panels installed in their businesses or homes. According to the Solar U-C website, the 80 installations will result in combined energy cost savings of over $67,000 and will offset over 1.1million lbs. of CO2. Now the group is poised to offer 12 more "power hours" across the community where Champaign County residents can find out if going solar is right for them. The first one is happening Thursday evening at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Here is the full press release:

URBANA, IL - March 13, 2017 - The sun is shining for homeowners and commercial property owners across Champaign County, as the Solar Urbana-Champaign 2.0 program commences March 23. The program allows individual home and commercial property owners to access lower prices for solar installations through the power of volume purchasing.

The City of Urbana has partnered with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) to coordinate a second solar group buy in Champaign County, building on the the program’s success in 2016. The advantage of a group buy is the power of volume purchasing, which can significantly reduce the upfront costs of installing solar on your home or business. You do not need to be a City of Urbana resident to participate – the group buy is open to all Champaign County residents and business owners.

“Last year’s group buy resulted in over 80 installations of solar on homes and commercial properties all over Champaign County,” said Scott Tess, Environmental Sustainability Manager for the City of Urbana. “It was one of the most successful programs of its kind in the region. We wanted to build upon the strong interest that we know exists here.”

“For us, the focus is education,” said Peter Murphy, Solar Program Manager at MREA. “Last  year we reached 420 individuals with our free information sessions, helping them understand how solar technology works, whether their site is a good solar candidate, and how solar might affect their pocketbook.”

“There are a lot of misconceptions,” said Murphy. “There’s a persistent myth that solar is future tech, that it’s on the horizon but not available today. The truth is, it’s more affordable than ever right now, and the Solar Urbana-Champaign 2.0 program not only brings the price down, but helps correct some of the misunderstandings.”

MREA issued a request for proposals to solar installers in January. A local advisory committee reviewed proposals based on professional certification, experience, and cost. They selected New Prairie Construction Co., based in Urbana. They were chosen as the solar installer for the second Solar Group Buy because of their high-quality solar installations, building science expertise, and emphasis on customer service. They are uniquely qualified to evaluate a homeowner’s energy needs, provide quality solar installations, and even provide a preliminary energy efficiency assessment for each participant.

"The solar branch of New Prairie Construction Co. is a natural extension of our commitment to providing high quality, environmentally responsible solutions for homes and businesses," says Julie Birdwell, co-owner of New Prairie. "Solar Urbana-Champaign 2.0 provides an excellent opportunity for our community to use the power of bulk purchasing to get premium quality installations for a great price.  We are excited to work with our neighbors to help increase sustainability and energy independence in Champaign County."

The first Solar Power Hour education session is March 23 at 7:00pm at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (2101 S Prospect Ave. Champaign, IL 61820). The Solar Power Hour will last about 60 minutes, and will include an opportunity to meet representatives from the program and from New Prairie Construction. Additional Solar Power Hours are being posted at


The MREA was incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 1990. MREA’s mission is to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable living through education and demonstration. To learn more, call 715-592-6595 or visit or

For more information, contact Peter Murphy, MREA Solar Program Coordinator,, 414-988-7963.


“Camp Billy” is an intensive, extensive training for young thespians

Twin City Theatre Company is producing Billy Elliot the Musical this late this summer at the Harold and Jean Miner Theatre at Parkland College.

The title role is a demanding one, requiring a young actor who can sing, act, and dance both tap and ballet. Finding all of that in someone between the ages of 11 and 16 is going to require more than just luck. 

In order to give more of our community's kids a fighting chance at being Billy, Twin City Squared and Art in Motion will be holding “Camp Billy" on Tuesdays and Wednesdays this spring to refine these skills in anyone who might be considering auditioning for the part. A registration fee of $10 enrolls the interested party in four  sessions of two hours each to cover basic tap and ballet. While it does not guarantee a part in the show, training is training, and learning more never hurt anyone. 

The dates for Camp Billy are March 28/29 and April 4/5 from 7-9 p.m. at Art in Motion at 4010 Colleen Dr. in Champaign.

Rehearsals for the show will start in early July, and the production will run from August 25 - September 3rd, 2017.

Registration is only $10.00, sign up on Twin City Squared's website for a total of 8 hours of instruction. If you have questions please contact Mike at or 217-353-5282


Oh look, you can be a game play tester at Volition

I was at Pekara in Downtown Champaign today and I saw this poster on their board towards the back. Volition, located up the street at One Main, is one of the gems of C-U's tech/business community, so I was curious about this.

Apparently, you can be a play tester for them, and here's how:

Do you like to play video games?

Volition needs YOU to help us make our great games even better! Enroll in our Player Experience Program below by completing the survey, and you could get a chance to play these games as they are being developed!

Our studies within the program range from usability tests that can take 2-3 hours, or longer tests that can stretch across multiple days.

Player experience tests are performed only on-location at our studio and if you’re located within two hours of downtown Champaign, Illinois, you can sign up.  If selected you will be appropriately compensated for your time and help. You must be 18 years or older to participate and a state issued photo ID is required at the time of the study.

To enroll, please complete the survey below. Volition collects this information for the sole purpose of matching you with an appropriate study. All information is kept confidential and will not be distributed outside of Volition. You must have a valid email address in order to complete this survey.

Please Complete This Survey

Any questions about our privacy policy or the playtest process can be sent to:

Please Note: You are ineligible to participate in these playtests if:

  • You’ve ever worked in Game Development, Market Research, or Usability Testing
  • You are a current employee of a video game retail store or game development studio
  • You are a games journalist/blogger
  • You are under 18 years of age

Also, if you have gaming buddies, please tell them to enroll as well!

Pretty cool if you are interested in gaming at all. Read up on them from Jonah's feature on Volition a while back.


NIT preview: Illinois vs. Boise State

#2 Illinois vs. #6 Boise State
8 pm

Josh Whitman may have hit the hard reset button on Illini basketball over the weekend by hiring Brad Underwood as the new head coach, but the season John Groce started is still going on. So, Underwood will be a spectator tonight as the Illini host Boise State (20-11) in the second round of the NIT, with Groce's assistant Jamall Walker leading the team. It's unclear how long this weird limbo lasts (especially weird because Walker has not been confirmed as being retained on Underwood's staff), but I'm sure the seniors are hoping it lasts a little longer.

Boise beat #3 Utah 73-68 to get to Champaign and have outscored opponents 75.7 to 71.2 on the year. The Broncos are led by the guard duo of Chandler Hutchinson and Paris Austin, who have averaged 17.4 and 12.5 points, respectively, and have dished out a combined 169 assists. KenPom ranks Boises's offense more highly than their defense (77 vs. 118) but ranks the Broncos lower than the Illini overall (88 to the Illini's 66).

In the first game of the NIT, Illinois responded to Groce's firing really well, beating Valpo 82-57. Can the team keep rolling despite the excitement and distraction surrounding the program? That remains to be seen, but it would be great to see Malcolm Hill move into third all-time in scoring for the Illini (he needs just 8 points to tie Dee Brown).

My prediction: Illinois wins to set up a game in Bloomington against ISU, which I've been drooling at the thought of since the bracket was announced.


Urbana’s Market at the Square launches new website

From the press release:

Urbana’s Market at the Square Launches New Website 

The City of Urbana’s Market at the Square is excited to announce the launch of an all-new, enhanced consumer website today at

The updated Market at the Square website has been redesigned to make it even easier for customers to find what they want…fast! Whether customers are looking for a specific vendor or a delicious recipe for dinner, the website puts all the resources right at their fingertips. Developed by ThirdSide, a web design and web development firm of Champaign, the new website includes a beautifully updated and mobile-friendly layout. Features include an online product search engine, collection of affordable and delicious farm fresh recipes, videos, an interactive events calendar and easy access to apply to participate at the farmers market as a vendor or community group.

“The updated website is going to be a great resource for our customers,” commented Market Director, Natalie Kenny Marquez.  “We’ve been planning a website build out for quite some time and it’s exciting to see the feedback we’ve received from our customers, vendors and Market Advisory Board members come together in such a beautiful and easy to navigate website!”

Urbana’s Market at the Square has been a mainstay of our community’s Saturday morning activities since 1979, and is home to over 150 vendors selling Illinois-grown produce, plants and flowers, farm products such as meat, cheeses, eggs, honey, Illinois wine, and fresh baked goods. There is also a wide variety of handmade local art & crafts for sale and numerous foods trucks producing a variety of menu items sure to satisfy any palate. 

To learn more about Urbana’s Market at the Square please visit, call 217/384-2319, email or follow the Market on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Smile Politely seeking Music writers

We're always seeking new writers at Smile Politely, and the Music section is no exception.

Do you love reading about music on Smile Politely and want to be a part of it? Do you hate reading about music on Smile Politely and think you can make our section better? Either way, we could use your help. Whether you're interested in talking about a touring band coming through, review a local album or show, talk to local bands, and things of the like, let us know.

Not a writer, per se? Well, neither are we for the most part. We're just engaged community members populating a magazine the best way we know how to.

Shoot us an email at and we can discuss.


Urbana Hootenanny celebrating five year anniversary Monday night

One of the gems of Urbana is the Rose Bowl, and with that, the Urbana Hootenanny being a staple event on Monday nights. Tomorrow, March 20th, they'll ring in five years of jammin'.

Grab yourself a Lone Star and watch some bands — The Fights, Rebecca Rego & Eric Fitts, and Dewclaw will all perform, then the stage opens up, as it usually would.

Check out the Facebook event here, and the event description below:

Hey Friends, well its been five years of fun for the Urbana Hootenanny! Now it's time to celebrate with some local featured performances, spontaneous collaborations, open stage, free popcorn, imported beer all the way from Texas and good friends. Things get started at 8PM with your hosts, Sam and Dusty warming up the stage. Then the Fights will play a few tunes around 8:40. The stage will then be open to anyone until 9:45. At 9:45 Rebecca Rego & Eric Fitts will take the stage until around 10:20, then the stage will open back up. At 11:00 Dewclaw will take the stage until 11:30ish. Hopefully the house will be full of musicians at the end of the night for a big Hootenanny send off. Thank you all for the support over the past 5 years!!

Photo from the Facebook event.


Spark Museum, a new children’s museum, opening in Urbana

Chambanamoms reports that a new children’s museum is opening  at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana. Spark Museum + Play Café is opening Mid- May, with the aim to encourage innovation and creativity within the children of the community.

The space will be transformed into an 8,000 square-foot play space where both children and adults can interact, relax, eat, and enjoy the atmosphere of the museum. It will also include designated areas for infants, two treehouses, a “pizza factory” station, “Way Things Work Factory,” a “Wiggle Factory,” and a “Create and Build Factory,” and more.

Executive director Sonya Darter and her co-founder, Megan Gillette, have spent nearly two years on the project, and they hope to collaborate with college and university minds to “bring in new ideas and keep the technology fresh,” Gillette said.

The specific age target for this museum is children from newborn to 8-years-old.

The Cafe will feature organic foods and a variety of drinks.

Admission is expected to be $5 for kids and adults. Spark will be open Wednesday-Sunday. Birthday parties, private parties and corporate events are available.

Photo by Kodo Kids.