Rensselaer Adventures

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The last one

The current exhibit at the Fendig Gallery is the final SJC senior and faculty art exhibit. Titled "The Whole Nine Yards," the exhibit features works by nine senior art majors. It seems to me to have a dark feel to it, and perhaps that is appropriate given the dark times at SJC.
 The show runs until April 14. The next show will be the annual photography show and if you have pictures you would like to exhibit, there are entry forms at the gallery. The hours are MWF 11:00-1:00 and TTH 9:00-1:00.
 There were a number of items that used insulating foam. Perhaps it came from an assignment.
The reception for the exhibit will be Friday March 24 from 6:30 pm until 8:30 pm.
 This drawing reminded me of an Escher picture.

On Wednesday evening a group of alumni and Board of Trustees members hosted an informational meeting at the high school about their attempt to keep SJC alive. They do not represent the administration or the majority of the Board but instead are part of the faction that opposed the decision that the Board took on February 3. Below are some of the items that I thought were interesting. (For those who want to know more, the Rensselaer Republican had an article on the meeting in the Thursday edition with the promise for a follow-up. Part of the meeting was also streamed on Facebook, try here.)

Only 606 of the 904 students enrolled this semester lived on campus. Reasons given for the difficulty in attracting students included the falling birthrate, on-line education, and the questioning of whether a college degree was worth the money. An alumnus who pledged $10 million some years ago only gave $2 million. (I wonder if perhaps he decided that the College was not being managed well and that is the reason he did not fulfill the pledge. I also wonder if the perception that the College was not well run might be the reason that the alumni contribution rate was only 18%.) The EPA required that SJC switch from coal to natural gas and that cost about $1.1 million. (The amount was probably higher than it should have been because the College did not install the right equipment initially and had to redo some of it.) Councilman Scott Barton later in the meeting noted that if the College were in City limits, its utility bills (over $1 million) would be 25% lower There was no convincing explanation as to why the College had not sought to be put inside the limits.

The payment on the debt to build the Core Building and the Apartments was only interest, no principle. The auditors have delayed their report to give the College a chance to fix problems, but that delay seems not to have helped. If the auditors find that the financial condition is such that there is question of the College's ability to survive, it will lose federal funding. The administration of the College seemed to be planning a major campaign for funds and was waiting for the completion of a strategic plan to launch the campaign. During the wait they were not actively fundraising but instead were friend raising, getting ready for the big campaign. The administration seemed to not recognize the seriousness of the financial situation and they had no plan B.

Thirty members of the Board were at the meeting in early February and the vote was 18 to suspend operations and 12 opposed. There were three options presented, and the suspension seemed to be the least awful. Some of those who voted to suspend seem to be having second thoughts. My guess is that they did not recognize that their vote to suspend may actually have been a vote to close the College. Some of the assumptions behind the suspension have since proven to be false. The Board apparently has some strange things in its bylaws--the only way to remove a Board member is for the Board member to miss three consecutive meetings and only the Chairman of the Board can dismiss the President of the College. The Board was meeting only three times a year.

If enthusiasm and drive could save the College, the College would be saved based on the passion that was displayed by the people hosting the meeting. Unfortunately there are huge problems that remain. The decision to suspend and the way it has been handled have done tremendous damage to trust and to the SJC brand. I wish them well and hope they are successful.

If SJC cannot be raised from the dead and if no other group is found to take over the campus, the campus will be empty next year and it will be vandalized. If the buildings are not heated, they will deteriorate. Whoever is in control will have to make a decision to keep the entire property intact or to separate it into parts and try to sell the parts. Some of those parts may have value and others, such as dorms, may have none at all, but the value of the parts will probably be less than the value of the whole. It will interesting to see what happens. I hope there is a happy ending but right now I cannot see one.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Several meetings

Since I need a picture to attract attention on Facebook, here are two from the wet water treatment plant showing the completion of the piping that will take water from the plant to the river. In the first you see what may be the last concrete pour on the project (though I have thought many previous pours might be the last). It is sealing the connection between the culvert and the catch basin. (Terms may be totally incorrect.)
Below is the complete union.
I found five meetings to attend on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday evening the Jasper County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) met to consider two cases, both quite simple and both from the northern part of the county. In the first a couple wanted a variance. They had purchased a landlocked property on the assumption that it was buildable but found that it was not when they applied for a building permit They had an easement to the property, but the code says that they need to own the access. So they had purchased access, but it was only 60 feet wide and that required a variance because the code wants 250 feet of frontage. In the second case two brothers wanted to split a parcel to build houses but the split would leave the frontage at 230 feet and the code says that it should be 250. Both cases were approved.

Next the Jasper County Plan Commission met. Their first case came from a gentleman who wants to build storage lockers (at least that is what I think he is planning) on two lots a bit to the west of KV high school, next to the Franciscan Wheatfield Health Center. There were a number of people attending who seemed to be opposed, but they never got a chance to state their concerns because the petitioner had not had the sign he was supposed to have posted up long enough and he did not send the 118 notices to neighbors early enough. (The location is north of a very large subdivision.) The case was continued to the April meeting.

The second case was someone who wanted approval for a two lot subdivision, which meant he wanted to sell two of his five acres so someone else could build a house. It was approved. There was then a short discussion of procedures and the need to simplify them so they did not contradict one another and they would be easier to understand by the public. There was unhappiness expressed with the UDO. That discussion was continued to the next meeting.

As I left these meetings I saw a notice for a PTABOA meeting on Tuesday morning. The meeting of Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals began with the three members being sworn in by County Clerk. The Board had two items on their agenda, both churches requesting tax exemption for properties. One in Remington had purchased an adjacent house and was planning on demolishing it. The other was a church that I think is in DeMotte that had moved into the facilities of another church. State laws says that they should be exempt from property taxes but the PTABOA has to check and make sure that they are what they say they are.

On Tuesday evening the Jasper County Historical Society met at 6:30 to hear the story of the plane crash of March 23, 1947, two days short of the 70th anniversary of the crash. The story had been told last summer and the Rensselaer Republican reported on it at that time. Two young men who had served in the army at the end of WWII had taken the free lessons to fly a plane that were offered to vets and were flying recklessly in the McCoysburg area, buzzing homes. As they tried to do a loop, their engine stalled and they crashed into a small pond. Despite efforts to save them, they perished. It turns out that the plane they were flying had a gravity-fed fuel line so that it could not be flown upside down. When they did the loop, they were too close to the ground to recover from the engine stall. The entire meeting can be viewed on Facebook in the feed of the Jasper County Historical Society.

In the business section of the meeting, which I viewed via the video because I left early to go the Jasper County Council meeting, updates  to several projects were reported. The most interesting was the upcoming restoration of the log cabin at the fairgrounds that will take place during fair week. There will be log cabin experts who will explain how restoration is done and members of the public will be invited to help in the restoration process. There will be much more publicity as fair time approaches and this looks like it may be an interesting part of the fair this year.

The other item of interest is that the family of the late Sandra Gersbach donated Indian artifacts that she had collected and that they will be sorted and categorized in the near future. I have long thought that the historical society should have something on the pre-European populations of our area and perhaps this will be the foundation on which to build that story.

The Jasper County Council meeting had a short agenda. Not on the agenda was a quick update by the County Clerk on the special referendum for the Tri-County School Corporation in May. At the next meeting she will ask for funding to support the election but she expects that the school corporation will reimburse her office for those expenses.

There were three items from Animal Control. One was a request to use some money from the donation fund for security cameras, another was a request to transfer money to purchase a washing machine, and the last was a request from the Animal Control Board  for a bonus for the director, who is being paid at the level of a shelter worker, not as a manager. For this last item, the Council told the Board they needed to go first to the Commissioners.

The meeting ended with a discussion of the local income tax, which is no longer called the local option income tax. Gary Fritts noted that Jasper County is in the top ten in the state in terms of income tax (it is third) but in the bottom ten in terms of property tax (Rein Bonteger said it was 4th), and that he was OK with that. He preferred that the taxes be based on income rather than property. He also noted that many counties were raising their income taxes and few were lowering theirs. There were questions about how the county gets back the income taxes and how much is kept in the stabilization fund. Apparently the revenues that the county gets are based on taxes two years earlier. This discussion will continue in future meetings.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Some pictures to end the week

The week has flown by, but all weeks seem to fly by. Work continues on the wet weather treatment plant. At the end of the week there were only two more pieces of culvert to put in place and they are along Lincoln just east of Weston Cemetery. It took me a few seconds to understand what this sign said. I suspect the spelling is a joke. A second grader would probably understand it more quickly than I did.
The sign is next to the gas regulator by the entrance of the cemetery and the chain link fence on the east side has been bashed in. Perhaps that is what prompted the sign.

Work was progressing on the Iroquois Access Pipeline and there were no demonstrators. The pieces were being brought one at a time by the little tractor that is visible in the middle of the picture. I assume that this is for testing. The usual way of testing this type of plant is to run river water through it.
Progress is very apparent week to week at the future site of the O'Reilly Auto Parts store. The old foundation has now been completely removed. There were some very thick pieces of concrete at the western end that had to be broken up.
At the Elza Street Apartments bricks are being laid to form the facing of the three gables.
I noticed that ceiling fans in the ceiling of the outdoor sitting area of what will be Embers Station Brewhouse.

At SJC there is buzz about possibilities for using the campus next year. One name mentioned is the Renewable Nations Institute. The individual who heads this group was previously interested in Dana College of Nebraska, which shut its doors in 2010. Here is a newspaper piece on the college and attempts to find another use. Rensselaer may have a similar story. In another piece, the head of Renewable Nations Institute said that he had been watching 50 properties of schools that had closed and not one had reopened as a college.

On Friday St Leo University from Florida was on campus. I asked if they had had interest and the representative said that one baseball player had committed. A note from the SJC admissions office mentioned that there were several schools that would allow students to finish their degrees on-line so relocation would not be necessary. On-line education may do to brick and mortar schools what on-line shopping is doing to brick and mortar shopping.

Strack and Van Til has removed their self-checkout lanes and replaced them with two regular checkout lanes. Self service works better for gas stations than it does for grocery stores.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The last transfer fair

On Tuesday morning I stopped by the 230 S College to see the rubble pile of what last week had been a house.
The back story, it you do not know it, is that this property was bought by the Rex Blacker Trust in 2013. This trust was given funds by the late Rex Blacker to support Rensselaer Parks. In late 2016 the Blacker Trust gave this property, which has about a fifth of an acre of land, to the City of Rensselaer with restrictions. The house could not be sold or rented. There was some question if it could be sold and removed from the property, and I have not learned the answer to that question. In any case, it no longer matters. It is now part of the park.

My next stop was City Hall to see what was happening at the monthly meeting of the Alcohol Review Board, Usually these meetings are quick and uninteresting because they simply renew permits, but the legals in the paper said that there was a new permit request by Pizza Hut. The meeting did not take place because it lacked a quorum. The permit for Pizza Hut was to serve beer and would replace the permit that it currently has, which allows it to serve both beer and wine. There was one other person in attendance, from the Hideaway in Kersey. They want to switch to be smoke free and for some reason that requires them to go before the Alcohol Review Board. All the items from the March agenda will be on the agenda for the April 11 meeting.

Then it was time to visit the third and last transfer fair at SJC. I expected this one to have fewer schools and fewer students than the previous two, and my expectation was correct. There were 85 schools registered but about a dozen of them were no-shows. (Weather may have been a factor--it seemed that many of the no-shows were from the north.) Most of the schools were from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio. A few schools came from substantial distances, such as Presentation College in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Immaculata near Philadelphia, and Pine Manor near Boston.

I was interested in how much success the attendees were having in attracting SJC students. Big winners seemed to be Indiana Colleges. Marian had the most applicants of the schools I talked to, with the University of Indianapolis and Anderson College also having large applicant pools. Location matters--some students are looking at schools that are near their homes. Other students are going back to the schools that they applied to when they were leaving high school and choosing their second choice from that list. As I was leaving I talked to an SJC coach and asked him how his team was doing and he said that most of them had found places. Some had gotten better offers than they had at SJC. He said that coach-to-coach connections were important in helping many of the student athletes choose their next school.

It seems that most students have either made a choice or have narrowed their options to a few schools. Several schools in attendance thought there might be some students who are procrastinators and who will not make a choice until the last minute. Perhaps. One of the SJC admissions counselors said that some of the students were intimidated by the number of schools at the first fair and had walked out.

In contrast to the students, very few of the faculty and staff seem to know what they will be doing next year. They have resumes out and some are interviewing, but there are only a few names mentioned of those that have found positions for next year.

I saw several people who had ties to SJC, including two former students of mine. (I did not recognize them and only only vaguely remembered them.) One of them had read the 990 forms going back to 2001 and wondered how the Board could have not reacted to the deteriorating fiscal condition. Another person with a SJC connection noted that there was a fierce resistance to change at SJC and that resistance to change was a reason that some former staff and faculty had left. In talking to people about why the college reached the end of the line, I have heard a number of opinions about what the key failings were. It would be nice if someone with the proper competence could look at all the documents and interview the main players and come up with a report that explained exactly what happened and why, but I doubt if that report will ever be written.

Western Governors University was at this fair and I had a nice chat with their representative. They had not known about the previous fairs. I am not sure how many SJC students will consider them because they appeal more to older and nontraditional students, though they are finding an increasing audience among younger students. WGU-Indiana is the Indiana branch of WGU. If you live in Indiana, you get state aid for enrolling and your degree will say WGU-Indiana, but the curriculum and the classes are the same as the parent entity. An Indiana student in one of their on-line class will have classmates from the other states that are part of WGU. I mentioned the possibility of residential colleges letting students take some on-line courses in specialized areas that their college might not want to offer and she said that WGU was starting to be interested in collaborations, something that they have not done in the past.

SJC now has a web page for bus trips to other schools. Four schools are offering them. The provost of one, Eureka College in Illinois, was formerly a provost at SJC and that is probably the main reason that they have made an extra effort.

After leaving the fair I again stopped by 230 S College. The wreckage was mostly in a large dumpster.
On Tuesday night Rensselaer was getting bursts of lake effect snow. Because the winter has been mild, the Great Lakes are mostly ice free and with a north wind the air can pick up a lot of moisture from Lake Michigan. We may get an inch or two, which will be one of our heavier snowfalls of the winter.