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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The beginning of the end

The end of coal at SJC is almost here. On Monday installation of the gas pipeline that will allow SJC to use natural gas for heating began. The first step is to connect the sections of the pipe and that was being done under the little tent visible in the picture below.
 My purple asters have finally begun to bloom. They are one of the last flowers of the fall--they mark the beginning of the end of nice weather.
 On a different note, here is the answer to a question I had: why did NIPSCO install one very tall pole at the Melville substation? There is now an antenna on the top and NIPSCO can monitor the electrical usage of Rensselaer in real time.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Oktoberfest and Elvis

The weather was ideal for the annual Oktoberfest celebration last weekend. A band from Indianapolis, the Meister Winds, played German music at the start of the evening.
 The court house is much more visible from the street because two trees were removed a couple months ago.

WLFI was taking video and interviewing for their 10 o'clock broadcast. They also have more photos, as does Visit Rensselaer.
 As the twilight began deepening and the crowds began growing, I left for a second event, the Elvis concert that was a fund raiser for CDC Resources. The performer, Kurt Lechner, was one of the musicians on the free stage at this years Jasper County Fair, but I was not able to get out the night he was performing. He is a performer and enjoys working the crowd.
A couple notes from surrounding towns. Wolcott has been having extensive changes made to their streets and sidewalks and the Wolcott Facebook page has been documenting them. The Morocco post office has a new front. And the old Stuckey's gas station on the intersection of I65 and US 231 has been demolished. A week ago I drove past and all the trees had been cut down and were still smoldering, so I suspected that the end was near for the long-abandoned building.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Finishing the highway

I was wrong in my last post to suppose that the DOT was finished with Grace Street. Yesterday work began on the westbound lane.
When the trucks were there, progress was fast. By noon work was almost finished.
There has been a lot of pavement sealing in Rensselaer lately. For the past few days parts of the parking lot at the College Mall have been taped off so they can be sealed.

I missed the Homecoming parade due to another commitment. Looking at the floats at the high school today, I thought the senior class had the best one. Where did they get the coffin?
 The Van Rensselaer Street is being prepared for Oktoberfest.
I believe that one of the items around that court house that will be fixed in this round of repairs is the retaining wall. There are spots in it that are in bad shape.
The ash trees are beginning to turn. I think fall would be my favorite season if it were not that it ushers in winter.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fixing the highway

On Tuesday afternoon I crossed SR 114 on Melville and noticed that the pavement was being ripped up. This morning I thought I would go see how work was progressing. I was very surprised to see that the work was apparently finished. The eastbound lane was resurfaced and nothing had been done to the westbound lane.
Perhaps because the garbage trucks are loaded as they head east, the eastbound lanes were in worse shape than the westbound lanes? It seems to me to be a strange way to fix a road.

Note the bit of fall color in one of the trees.

This coming weekend will be another busy weekend. On Friday the high school has its homecoming game, and on Thursday we will enjoy the annual homecoming parade. On Saturday Main Street presents Oktoberfest, which maybe should be called Septemberfest. This year there will be no admission charge, though a donation is requested. The Meister Winds from Indianapolis will start the music with German tunes and the local band McGuffin will close out the evening. CDC Resources will have a fundraising concert at eMbers. It will feature Elvis tribute performer Kurt Lechner. The music starts at 7:00 and the doors open at 6:00. There are also food events at the Knights of Columbus and at Brushwood Methodist Church on Saturday.

Speaking of CDC Resources, I was part of a tour last week at CDC Resources that looked at the work done in their sheltered workshop. One contract that they have is with Emerson Electric in Monticello. CDC makes wooden shipping boxes that are used for ball bearings. Some of these are used in oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, so when drilling slowed or stopped after the BP spill, demand for bearings dropped and boxes were not needed.--what was happening in the Gulf was affecting people in northwest Indiana. Another contract is with Rockland Flooring west of Monon. Rockland makes floors for truck trailers, and when the machine turns out a floor that is not quite level, they use little wooden wedges to fix it. CDC produces thousands of these wedges a week. A final contract that is current is for National Gypsum. The local plant is the only National Gypsum plant that produces the tape rolls. Most of them are packed by machine, but there is one size box that the machine does not fill properly. They are filled at the CDC workshop.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

More meetings Sept 22, 2014

On Monday night the City Council met. I arrived in the middle of the public hearing on the budget, which had no public comments after the reading of a long list of numbers that meant nothing to anyone who does not deal with these numbers daily. The vote on the budget will take place in October.

The Council then passed an ordinance that would prohibit large trucks from parking in the city parking lots. The ordinance was in response to the large trucks that have frequently parked in the Front Street lot. It will take effect 30 days after it is published in the newspaper.

Electric bills will be lower because the cost of electricity has been lower due to the city's generation of electricity. The low rates will not last.

Town and Country Paving won the contract to pave many sections of city streets. The cost will be $371,673. It is unlikely that finances will allow as much repaving next year.

The city will contribute $500 from it public relations fund to the Trunk or Treat event at the fairgrounds.

In announcements, the high school homecoming parade will be Thursday at 6:30. I could not find confirmation of this on the high school web page, but that web page and calendar is basically useless for learning what is going on at the high school. The state will soon begin working on SR 114 between Rutsen and Milton, though exactly what kind of repairs or repaving they will be doing is not known by anyone in city government. Right now power from NIPSCO is coming through the Banet Substation as work on connecting up the 69K line is underway. I learned after the meeting that the very tall pole at the Melville substation will have some kind of antenna on it so that NIPSCO can monitor electrical usage. I also learned that the city does not buy power directly from NIPSCO. NIPSCO sells to the Indiana Municipal Power Agency, which is the supplier to Rensselaer. So even though the power lines directly connect NIPSCO and Rensselaer, IMPA is involved.

The Fire Department's aerial ladder truck is temporarily out of service because of mechanical problems. The manufacturer of the truck is out of business, which makes getting parts a challenge. The Drexel water tower has been cleaned and the city is getting easements for a water line from the fairgrounds to the Interstate. The pipe will cross under the highway at the county highway garage and be on the north side of the highway. There was mention that Comfort Suites was interested in building near the Interstate, and when I got home and looked at Facebook, I discovered that this was old news because Visit Rensselaer had a photo. The city water line will probably not be completed for a year and one city official wondered if Comfort Suites would build before city water arrived. (Council meeting minutes are available here.)

Then it was time to go to the Court House for meetings of the Jasper County Plan Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals. Usually the BZA meets first, but on Monday night they switched the order of meetings because two items were on both agendas and the Planning commission needed to act first.

The Planning commission approved three zoning changes. (These must be confirmed by the Commissioners before they go into effect.) The most interesting of them was a request from IBEC to change a small parcel of their lot from I2 to General Commercial. IBEC wants to put in a single gas pump to allow the public to buy fuel with ethanol. It will be near their plant entrance. What I found confusing is that the BZA then had to grant a special exception for this. After the meeting I learned that for certain kinds of business such as gas stations, it is not enough to get proper zoning. In addition a special exception must be granted.

The trees are still green, but fall has arrived at the retailers. (A picture to brighten up the post)



Monday, September 22, 2014

More odds and ends, Sept 22, 2014

"Odds and Ends" is becoming a common title.

Work has started on the MacAllister Machinery building east of the airport. At this point all that is happening is moving dirt.
 Forms are in place to pour a foundation for the building trades house on Scott Street.
 This afternoon two workers were busy pressure washign the southeast side of the Court House. This is the first of several steps to preserve the exterior.
This morning there were about five crews of NIPSCO workers at the substation on Melville working on hooking up the new 69K transmission lines. They should be about finished. Maybe there will be a progress report at tonight's city council meeting.

At SJC trenching around Halleck is almost complete. The trenching is installing drainage tile to prevent water from entering the basement. Several weeks ago I saw the start of this project, but did not recognize what it was.
 More trenching is in the future. SJC finally announced to its community that the power plant is converting from coal to gas and the gas line installation will begin Sept 29. It will run down Kenkel Road, not the route I would have predicted.

SJC homecoming took place this past weekend. (SJC won its football game.) I took the opportunity to visit their new business classrooms that have lots of fancy electronics and lots of clocks. Though it is not an issue for me, I do wonder if I would have found good ways to use this stuff if it had been available when I was teaching.
Weather may have dampened homecoming spirits a bit. The high winds kept the climbing wall on the ground.
The rain did interrupt the St. Augustine Fall Frolic. We can hope that Oktoberfest will have better weather.

Addendum: Last week my son sent me a clipping from the Illinois Agrinews, a newspaper covering agriculture. The article was about Fair Oaks Farms, and it listed what the Farms sees in the future: the Pig Adventure building opening in March, 2015, then a crop education building opening mid to late 2015, and finally an egg farm and education facility opening late 2015 or early 2016.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Shopping adventures at Bailey's

Many years ago I recall going to Toto for bargains, but now the place to go is a few miles south, to Bailey's Discount Center. Yesterday I visited their store located four miles east of North Judson.
 The Center is big and across the road is another huge building, a warehouse to store merchandise.
 When you walk in, it does not look like a normal store. It has a limited selection of items, but large amounts of the items that it does have.
 The sign says the store has seven acres of floor space. I could not check the claim, but the store was big.
 What the store offers changes because it buys up lots of things that are not selling in other stores or that are in some way defective. On Thursday they had containers of Pringles Tortilla chips for 33 cents. I found on their Facebook page that a month ago they were a dollar a can. However, the cans that were left were dented and mangled, and much of the contents seemed to be crumbs.
 The store has a large section of furniture. I could not tell if the prices were good or not. However, in the rest of the store, some prices were very cheap and others not especially good. They also have a large selection of kitchen cabinets that we bypassed.
 Green sprinkles were 99 cents with text in both English and Arabic. I get the impression that sometimes the items they buy are items that are test items--new products that do not make it to the mass market--things like root-beer flavored cake frosting or cotton-candy flavored cake frosting.
 They had some Duck Dynasty items, including some strange slippers. I cannot imagine why every duck hunter would not want a pair of these.
 Who could resist a kit to paint you own football for only $5.00?
 If you are in the vicinity of North Judson, Bailey's is definitely worth investigating. You never know what they will have for sale.

On the way there I took a picture of the lone windmill next to West Central High School. Does anyone know why the school put up this windmill?
Also on the way, I noticed that construction had started on a building at the intersection of SR 14 and SR 49. It will be a farm supply store specializing in equipment for dairies.

I saw on Facebook that the Morocco Dollar General store has opened. Almost all of the little towns in our area have a Dollar General or a Family Dollar store. A century ago most little towns had general stores, and now they again have general stores, only this time they are not locally owned and operated.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Active Living Workshop

On Wednesday the Jasper Foundation hosted an Active Living Workshop in the Carnegie Center. There were three presenters, one from a non profit called Health by Design and two from the Indiana State Department of Health. I was not sure what the basic message of the workshop would be, but the first speaker quickly explained that the goal of the workshop was to promote physical activity built into everyday life. The built world, the way we construct our towns and cities, affects our behavior and thus our physical activity. Some ways of designing cities and towns discourage physical activity while other ways encourage it. The goal of the presenters was to encourage design that made healthy choices the easy choices.

In practice this goal means that we need to encourage more walking and biking and less use of the automobile. For many years roads have been designed with only one goal, to make use of the automobile as easy as possible. In accomplishing this goal, life got harder for pedestrians and those who ride bikes. (If you want some local examples, consider the ease or difficulty of walking to Fountain Stone Theater or the new primary school.) We were introduced to a number of new concepts that are hot topics among urban planners: bump outs, curb extensions, pinch points, complete streets, z-crossings, calming traffic, and parklets.

You might think that a rural county like Jasper County would score high in measures of health and fitness, but the data, which you can see here, suggest that we are not especially good nor especially bad. Another website mentioned gives walk scores for any town in the U.S. Rensselaer ranks as "somewhat walkable."

After each of the speakers had a chance to address the group, we took a walk to see some of the good and bad things we could observe in Rensselaer. We walked down to Lincoln Avenue, then up College to Washington, then around Milroy Park and over the Potawatomie Park bridge to the Court House and then back to the Carnegie Center. We stopped frequently to discuss what we saw, and on the corner of Washington and Van Rensselaer formed a human bumpout. (One of the things the presenters liked about Rensselaer was our two grids, the north-south grid and the grid aligned with the river, which I still find confusing. They thought it gave the town character.)
A bumpout or a curb extension (I had never heard the terms before) narrows the street at intersections by moving the curb out. This makes the crossing shorter for pedestrians and slows auto traffic. The presenters had statistics indicating that it reduced accidents.

After lunch, the workshop continued with group activities. We divided in groups and on large maps of Rensselaer indicated which sections of roads and intersections we thought dangerous for pedestrians and walkers as well as roads that could be improved for bicycles and pedestrians. The three groups came to similar results. Then one of the presenters talked about what other cities and towns are doing to design for for active living--I was overwhelmed with the amount of information, but did find some of the ideas of street design interesting. (Center turn lanes can greatly increase the efficiency of a street--I see an example in Monticello where the road from the city to Indiana Beach has been reconstructed with a center turn lane.)

Finally, we divided again into groups and looked at specific areas--schools, parks, walking, land use, and biking. By this time the number of people still in the workshop had dwindled to about half of those who had started in the morning. One thing we were asked to do was think of three quick and easy improvements we could make in our area. My group looking at biking and walking concluded that the easiest thing would be to increase the number of bike racks available.

We will get some followup in the next few weeks and months. It will be interesting to see if anything concrete results from the workshop.

(One more website--Rensselaer has its Drive a Tractor to School Day. Other schools have a Walk to School Day or a Bike to School Day. International Walk to School Day is October 8. What does it say about us if walking or biking to school is an annual event rather than a daily one?  In 1969 48% of children walked or biked to school; in 2009 only 13% did.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

meetings 09-16-2014

The Jasper County Historical Society had its monthly meeting Tuesday night. They met behind the displays for the new traveling exhibit, one featuring cartoonists from Indiana.
 Most of the cartoonists I had never heard of. There were a bunch that came from Wabash College, and several from Nappanee. The man who did the Mary Worth cartoons was from Indiana, and though I never bothered to read them, I do remember them. However, the most recognizable of the cartoons was the Garfield cartoon.
I left the meeting early to go over to the County Council meeting. The main items on their agenda were budgets. They approved the overall county budget of about $33 million dollars. They then discussed something called non-binding reviews. I think this was a chance for governmental agencies that did not need council approval to discuss what they were doing with the council. The only person who showed up was the Jordan Township Trustee.

Next was a public hearing of binding taxing units. First was the Rensselaer School Corporation, which did not have any big changes from the previous year. I do not know why the Rensselaer School Corporation was on the agenda and not the KV school corporation. The Airport Authority had good news--its proposed budget came with a lower property tax rate.

Third up was the Iroquois Conservancy budget. This group oversees the Iroquois River and its main expenditure is removing log jams. It was also interested in joining with the USGS to monitor pollution.

The last agency was the Northwest Indiana Solid Waste District. They get all of their money from the landfills in Newton and White County, where they get 10 cents and 12.5 cents per ton respectively. Those rates are set by the county commissioners of Newton and White counties. That raises $400,000 per year, which means that about 4 million tons of waste go into those landfills each year. However, the district has spent more than that amount per year, drawing down investments made when they were getting 25 cents per ton. To conserve money, they were no longer going to be making grants to cities, towns, and schools. (Most of their expenditures are in the form of grants.) The reason that their budget has to be approved by the Jasper County Council is that it is the fiscal body with the largest assessed value in the area that it serves. It has a board of 20 members, all elected officials from the various counties, with White and Newton getting extra members because of the landfills.

In addition to the budget, the district wanted the council to approve an ordinance that would allow it to take advantage of a new state law. The change in the law allows county governments to invest some of their excess funds in instruments with maturities up to five years, allowing them to get a higher return. The ordinance passed.

The person that the council approved for the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) at its last meeting decided he could not do the job, so the Council selected Scott Walstra to the position.

Finally, John Price moved that the Council's lawyer investigate the possibility of establishing a violations bureau. At present there is no effective enforcement mechanism for many county regulations. If a person ignores an ordinance,  the county can take the person to court, but the costs of pursuing the case will usually exceed the amount recovered. Recently the county spent $1200 to collect a $150 building fee. However, the county can establish a body that will sit below the state court system, and if it finds a violation, the case is handed as a ticket violation, and it moves easily and cheaply into the state court system. Two members of the audience were in strong support of this idea because they have been personally affected by people ignoring regulations without any consequences. However, the council president was hesitant, in part because this is a matter that must be passed by the commissioners, not the council and in part because he was not sure that the problem was big enough to worry about. The matter will come up again, probably in the October meeting, which will be held on October 28 rather than October 14 as scheduled.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Odds and Ends, September 16, 2014

On Sunday the Friends of the Library sponsored a free music program at the Rensselaer Library. What was supposed to be the Hip Harp Trio became the Hip Harp Duo because one of the members of the trio could not make it.
 The two played a wide variety of music. The harpist teaches music at one of the Indianapolis high schools, and when she was younger spent a year as a musician on a cruise ship, an experience she seemed not to ever want to repeat. There was a respectable turnout for the performance of between 40 and 50 people.

Before I left town a few days ago, someone asked me what the big roll of tubing near the intersection of College and Grace was for. I still do not know.
 At SJC a new entrance to Raleigh Hall is almost finished.
 The city is still working on storm sewer connections on the intersection of Scott and Vine. At the substation on North Melville, workers from NIPSCO were connecting wires. The very long utility pole that I noticed more than a week ago really is quite a bit taller than its neighbors.
 We are headed for fall--or maybe we are already in fall. Some of the corn is almost mature.
I noticed a large preying mantis in my garden. He was wondering what I was doing when I pushed my camera in his face.

It is still over a month until Halloween, but on the east side of Rensselaer one house has decorations out.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Triops

I was away from Rensselaer for most of last week, enjoying adventures in babysitting. While I was out of town, I had the opportunity to see and catch some triops. They were living in a pool in western Utah that had filled with recent rain water and the locals said that they had not seen them for about ten years.
 The water was muddy so they were hard to see unless they were near the surface. But there were so many of them that they were easy to catch.
They are sometimes called tadpole shrimp.
The name triops refers to their three eyes.

The triops that we caught were active for a bit more than a day and then they died. Triops are sold as pets, so if you want your own, you can probably buy some. Hopefully you will have better luck with them than we did.

As the pool dries up, the triops will lay eggs that can survive extreme conditions for many years. Perhaps it will be another ten years before conditions are right for them to hatch and they will again fill the pond. (Here is a short video that tells more about this weird creature.)

It is good to be back in Rensselaer. When I left, it felt like July. When I got back it felt like November. What a difference a week can make.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cartoons at the Carnegie Center

The current show at the Carnegie Center is a bit different from the usual show. It features a few of the cartoons of Dave Sattler who has been drawing cartoons for the Lafayette Journal and Courier for 46 years. The pictures included in the exhibit have a brief explanatory note at the bottom explaining the context.
Do the Rensselaer police ticket for unremoved snow?
 A comment on city slickers. (Does people still use this term?)
 I suspect that Purdue has a much bigger impact on the Lafayette area than SJC has on Rensselaer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hanging Grove School

The Hanging Grove School, which has been abandoned for years, it being demolished. Some of the area residents have been rescuing bricks and some of the tiles in order to build a monument to the school. A few weeks ago I passed by and took some pictures. (Too see what the building looked like four and a half years ago, see here and click the pictures to get them enlarged.)
 Some of the bricks and the decorative tile work have been taken off. The outer layer of bricks must have been high quality because they still look very good though they are over 90 years old.
 A pile of bricks that are being saved.
 Here is what the school looks like viewed from the west.
 A closer view of the wall.
 The same wall but from a different angle to get a chimney framed.
 One the roof failed, the inside quickly broke apart.
 A view through a different window.
It was a beautiful building.