Rensselaer Adventures

This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

October's County Council meeting and more

The County Council met for its October meeting on Tuesday evening. It approved the budgets of several governmental bodies that need to have the Council's approval. All of them had presented their cases at last month's meeting.

The Sheriff gave an update on his request to replace the current 20 year plan with a 26 year plan. He noted that the plan was switching the firm that manages the investment and that change will drop the management fee from 1.35% to 1% with the possibility of lower rates in the future. He also noted that after the crash in 2008, the plan had become risk adverse in its portfolio and that was a reason for the low rate of return it has experienced. At last month's meeting concern had been raised about the effect on unfunded liabilities that a switch would cause. There has been discussion with interested parties in the past few weeks and the advisor to the Sheriff's Department is now suggesting to phase in the 26-year plan over six years as a way to minimize the effect on unfunded liabilities. More details will be provided at next month's meeting.

The Council approved a number of additional appropriations and transfers of funds.

The Council invited Stephen Eastridge to tell them about a meeting that he and the Commissioners had had with NIPSCO concerning their plans and its effects on Jasper County. NIPSCO accounts for 18% of the assessed valuation in Jasper County and pays $6 million a year in local taxes. They intend to shut down all of their coal generating plants by 2028, with the Michigan City plant the last to be in operation. They think that they can replace this power with renewables. Georgia Pacific, which has a plant nearby and uses the gypsum that is the byproduct of burning coal, has been preparing for this and plans on staying. The Wheatfield plant employs about 300 people and NIPSCO will not be able to absorb them in other operations. There are two gas powered generators at the plant, each capable of 50 megawatts, that are used for peaking purposes and there is no plan to shut them down.

Kendall Culp added that he has heard people say that NIPSCO is bluffing but he says they are not. NIPSCO says it can purchase power at 1/3 the cost of generating it with coal. Wind power no longer needs government tax breaks to be competitive and solar is headed in that direction.

A question arose about a potential business at the Remington exit on US 24. Mr Eastridge noted that of the five county interchanges, it was the only one that has utilities ready for industrial expansion. The Rensselaer exit on SR 114 has limitations on how much load some of its utilities can handle. Someone asked about the proposed travel center at the DeMotte exit. They are having some problem with water that is holding up that development.

Work on the Court House windows continues. The exterior work is finished and as of Thursday workers were installing interior storm windows. This is part of a project to improve the energy efficiency of the building.

Elsewhere in Rensselaer work continues on the Autumn Trace units. Concrete is being poured.
 After getting the surface perfectly flat, the workers have dug it up and made hills of dirt everywhere
 Hills of dirt were being formed at the old Monnett School property. A few inches a old soil are being removed and will be replaced with new, rock-free soil. This is a project for the Parks for People Campaign.
 There is some progress at the site of the new dog park. Some poles have been installed. I think they are for fencing but I am not sure. While I was looking at them, a dump truck pulled up and filled a hole.

Three City linemen have been in Florida helping restore power in Tallahassee.

Post season for football is here. Some of the shops downtown have painted their windows. Can you tell which store this is below?
 The City has been replacing some of the fire hydrants recently.
Below is a picture of the one that was taken out.
There was big fire at Rose Acres near the US 231/SR 16 intersection on Tuesday evening.

On Friday the Prairie Arts Council held the reception and awards ceremony for their exhibit "State of the Art: Art of the State." It was a juried exhibit that received 270 entries. The entries were submitted by pictures via the Internet. Two judges, neither local, selected about 70 pictures from the submissions. They then came to Rensselaer to judge the show for awards. They awarded six honorable mentions and eight awards that had money attached to them, form $50 to the top prize of $1000. You can see which pictures received awards by visiting the Fendig Gallery.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Power plant open house

We had the first frost of the season early Friday morning. Summer ended very abruptly this year.

On Wednesday the power house had an open house as part of Public Power Week. I have lived in Rensselaer for more than 40 years and have never been in the building, so I was excited to go. We entered from the north into a large room that contains the tools the workers use. One of their jobs is to do maintenance on City vehicles when there is no need to generate power, so the tools are not just used for working on the engines that the power house contains.
Tucked away in the back of this room is a small room that serves as a control center. Someone can monitor the entire plant from this room. It also seems to serve as a break room.
Leaving the tool room and going to the south, we met engine 5, the oldest engine in the building. The City numbers engines by when they entered service and the first four are no longer in use. Engine 5 was built by Nordberg and was installed in 1950. Except for testing, which must be done periodically, it is not used. However, if the City lost power, it would be the first engine started because it does not need to have various pumps working before it starts. With the power it generated, the other engines could be prepped for start and then it would probably be shut down. 
The next engine, #15, is the newest and is the one that normally runs when the City generates. It has a pretty blue color and operates only on natural gas. It uses spark plugs.
There are four more engines in the plant. The picture below shows the generator on one of them. This one runs on diesel, as do the other two that are painted gray. The generators use electromagnets, so they need electricity to produce electricity. The engine spins coils of wire in the magnetic field and the result is an electrical current.
There are two identical engines that were installed in the 1960s. Both now run on diesel but at one time they could also run on natural gas. They could again run on natural gas if the proper modifications were made.
All the engines have two big ducts attached to them. One is the exhaust duct and the other brings in air from the outside. Like any engine, these need air for combustion to take place.

The final engine is a dual natural gas/diesel fuel engine. It will be run if more electricity is needed than the blue engine can provide. The power plant has the capacity to provide all the electricity that the City needs, but as a member of IMPA, it purchases all of it power from IMPA. The plant produced when IMPA needs additional power, which is why you will hear the engine or engines running on hot days, when everyone is drawing power because they have their air conditioners on.
The City website has basic information about the power plant here.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

SJC news

On Wednesday afternoon SJC and Marian University held a press conference in the Core Building on the SJC campus. People attending were able to drive into the campus—the barricades had been set aside. The audience was small but included several people from local and area news media. You can see what WFLI reported here, the Lafayette Journal and Courier here, and the Rensselaer Republican here. Below is a picture of the WLFI reporter filming the event.
The press release for the event is here and the remarks of Father Barry Fisher are here. Below is a picture of the three speakers at the event, Father Fisher, Father Jeffrey Kirsch who was recently elected the head of the Cincinnati province of the C.PP.S., and Dr Daniel Elsener President of Marian University.

 A month or two ago Marian University announced it planned a two-year college that would serve a different group of students than those who enroll at Marian. The typical student will be a day student who will be working part of the day and a student part of the day. Marian contacted many employers in the Indianapolis area about the plan and some of them will presumably support student/employees in their quest to improve their education at the new school. The plan reminds me of the model for a group of Catholic high schools, the Cristo Rey schools, which also have the mission to serve a population that is not well served by existing institutions.

What does this have to do with SJC? The new school will be named Saint Joseph's College of Marian University-Indianapolis. SJC has pledged to provide $1.5 million in scholarships to the students over the next ten years. If this school proves successful, Marian will do a feasibility study to see if the model can be replicated elsewhere, including in Rensselaer. So while there may be an immediate benefit to what is left of the Saint Joseph's College organization, there is no immediate benefit to Rensselaer.

Dr Elsener served on the SJC Board of Trustees before becoming president of Marian University. His son graduated from SJC.

 As I left the event, I took a picture of the hallway in the Core Building. It looks the same except all the bulletin boards are empty.

 Last weekend the SJC Alumni Association held its homecoming event in Brookside Park. The heavy rain kept me at home for most of the afternoon and when it let up and I went to the park, the event was winding down. I was told that it earlier had a good attendance and the people had enjoyed watching the film of the Aluminum Bowl game from the 1950s in which SJC and Montana State played to a 0-0 tie. One of the members of the team was there and watching his reactions to the film increased the enjoyment people got from the film.
 On Sunday the Chapel was open for Mass and the campus was open for a few hours. I rode around it to see what had changed. The exteriors of the buildings were little changed and I could not see what was happening inside.

The pond by the grotto had more weeds but the water lilies were still there.
 I was fascinated by the way that weeds had invaded almost every crack in the sidewalks around the Core Building Halleck Center. I am sure there is a biology lesson there.
 An old sign remains on the door. The signs on the bulletin boards have not been changed for almost two years.

The signage on the buildings is unchanged. The Welcome Center sign seemed a fun one to photograph.
Although college classes will not happen on the campus for at least a few years, we can hope that other activities can be found to fill some of the vacant space and buildings.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

City news

Monday's City Council meeting was short and without any big news. The Council approved a street closing for the Eagles but I did not catch the date. They passed a salary ordinance giving City workers a 2.5% wage increase and transferred a few thousand dollars for the Building Department and the Police Department. The gas tracker for October will be a 4¢ decrease per hundred cubic feet.

BIS Recording Systems sent a new quote that included the provisions for streaming meetings over the Internet, which almost doubled the price of the system to about $33,000. There were some questions from Council members and they decided that, given the uncertainties of the budget for next year, to table the item until the first of the year. They also wanted additional quotes from vendors.
The Council approved a $250 donation from the public relations fund to the American Legion for the Thanksgiving dinner. It is open to all and is especially meant for those who do not have family with whom to celebrate the holiday. Two proclamations were read, one establishing Fire Prevention Week and the other Public Power Week. Both run October 7-13. The Fire Department will have an open house on the 28th.

On Tuesday I went to the Alcohol Review Board meeting. On the agenda was the application from Ayda's. However, the meeting did not take place because no board members showed. I then went to the Court House to pay taxes and noticed that the Clerk was setting up the table and equipment for early voting, which begins Wednesday. I noticed people in the Commissioners Room and investigated. Tuesday was the day for the annual tax sale. When a property owner falls behind on mortgage payments, the result is a sheriff's sale. If a property owner falls too far behind on paying his property taxes, the result is a tax sale. There were 24 properties listed in the sale. I suppose it would have been interesting to go to the sale, but it conflicted with another event, the ribbon cutting at the Rensselaer 2 Solar Park.

There was a decent sized crowd at the ribbon cutting. Several people spoke, including Raj Rao, the head of the Indiana Municipal Power Agency (IMPA). He noted that Rensselaer was one of 24 cities that joined together to form IMPA in 1983. Today IMPA serves 61 communities. The estimated lifetime of the solar park is fifty to sixty years. It has 13,891 solar panels and has a rated output of 3.84 megawatts. He noted that IMPA's rates have been declining while those of some investor-owned utilities have been rising. Other speakers were Mayor Wood, State Senator Brian Buchanan, and State Representative Gutwein.
After the talk, it was time to snip the ribbon.
Then tours were provided. The panels tilt on and east-west axis to follow the sun. The angle of the tilt is programmed in a computer to maximize the exposure of the solar cells to sunlight. There are small electric motors that turn the panels. They are not on continuously but rather turn on multiple times an hour to slightly alter the tilt. Below is a picture of one of the motors. It needs to be attached to the pipe below it for it to function. The red things in the picture are guides for the wires that run to inverters.
Inverters convert the DC current of the solar cells to AC, which is what runs in the power lines. Below is a picture of an inverter.
There are many of them in the solar park. Each converts current of a small group of panels.
The power then runs to a box that has circuit breakers, shown on the right below. This allows individual groups of cells to be taken out of service. The power then goes to transformers that step the current up to the voltage of transmission lines. Before the electricity comes to your house, it must go through another transformer that will step the current down to household levels.

Before the electricity goes into the power grid, it needs to go through some switches that I do not understand. The solar park is not yet operational because a key piece of equipment, that will go where the box on the right is, has not yet been delivered. There are several other solar parks ready to go on-line when this little piece of equipment is delivered. It was expected at the end of September but now the delivery date is the end of October.

South of town concrete was being poured on Monday at the Autumn Trace construction site.
Below are a couple more scarecrows from the Scarecrow trail. This one is from one of the high-school or middle school classes.

CI Insurance was one of the last to be installed.
We have had a lot of wind and rain in the past few days and some of the scarecrows have not stood up well to the weather.
The weather will be changing from summer to early winter this week.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Pictures from the cemetery walk

I did not get any pictures of Memories Alive at Weston Cemetery, the cemetery walk held September 22, but my son did. The event assembled at the Gifford Shelter at Brookside Park. Parking was a problem because the start overlapped a soccer game and there were a lot of parents at the soccer game. The roughly 150 people attending formed into eight groups, each with a guide, and set off for the the eight stations of the tour.
 The Historical Society rented five or six golf carts for those who might have trouble with the walk from the park to the cemetery. The golf carts were much appreciated but were also the most expensive item in the budget.
 The group my son was with started at the grave of Margaret Paulus. She was the daughter of William Babcock (1862-1930) who overcame two spectacular elevator fires and a partner who embezzled to build an elevator business that may have been the largest of its kind in Indiana. He owned grain elevators at Rensselaer, Pleasant Ridge, Parr, Virgie, Fair Oaks, and Roselawn. Jasper County Farm Bureau purchased the elevators in 1945. Margaret's passion was genealogy. She published her findings in several books and also compiled the first list of war veterans buried in Jasper County cemeteries.
 Next was George Spitler, who in 1834 traveled to Indiana with his father looking for land. In 1835 he returned to a site south of Brook where he erected a cabin. A few years later that cabin hosted the first court in the County. In 1841 George moved his family to a site just south of Rensselaer. He was the first school teacher in Rensselaer and served several terms as county clerk. George was killed by lightning in 1863. In 1867 the family sold his farm of 933 acres to the Diocese of Fort Wayne to be used as an orphanage That land later became the campus of Saint Joseph's College. You can buy some of that land at an auction later this month.
 The next station was at the marker that commemorates the Poor Farm. It overlooks county or pauper burials, many of whom died at the Poor Farm. Before the establishment of Social Security and other social welfare programs, county poor farms provided the safety net for adults who were unable to care for themselves. Residents of these farms were expected to do whatever work they could to make the farms self sufficient. The Jasper County Farm closed in the early 1970s.
 The Makeever monument may be the most impressive in Weston Cemetery. Mary Makeever told the story of her husband John (1819-1910) who came to Jasper County in 1845. When he died in 1910, he was reputed to be the richest man in the County, with a net worth of half a million dollars. He built the Makeever Hotel, a three story structure that was demolished in 1962. It stood where the CVS parking lot is today. The hotel not only served travelers but also had permanent residents.
In the distance you can see another group gathered to hear about David Nowells. Of the four people who first settled in what is now Rensselaer, only David Nowels is buried in Weston Cemetery. His father John is buried in the Yeoman Cemetery and his sister Sarah and her husband Joseph Yeoman are buried in Old Settlers Cemetery.

David was only 13 when he arrived at the Falls of the Iroquois in 1834. He recalled playing with Indian boys because there were no white children in the area. His early life of privation was followed by an adulthood of prosperity as he acquired significant land holdings. His descendants continue to farm land that he owned.

Between Makeever and Nowells was banker, land speculator, broker, insurance executive, and silent film actor Jay Dwiggins. This blog has had a couple posts about him, here and here.
 The youngest decedent highlighted was James Dean McFall who drowned in 1946 while swimming in the Babcock Quarry. His tragic death spurred the citizens of Rensselaer to raise the funds to build a swimming pool in Brookside Park to prevent future deaths like that of Jimmy's.
 A grave marker that has no burial is called a cenotaph and an example is the marker for Thomas Kenton Parkison, lost at sea off the west Coast of Australia in World War Two. He was on an escort ship that ran aground on a reef during a storm. The details of his death are told in the book Splinter Fleet: The Wooden Subchasers of World War II.

The weather was great for the event, not like the weather this past Saturday that the SJC Homecoming endured. The comments from those who went on the event were enthusiastically positive. Planning for next September's cemetery tour is already underway. It is scheduled for the third Saturday of the September, with a rain date the following Saturday. (One will not always get the ideal weather that the event had this year.)