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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Some new things

I noticed a couple of new business this week. R&S Used Furniture opened on Wednesday in the corner space by Long's Gifts.

 It is a small space but they could fit more in. The owners had a booth in the old antique store that is now 24/7 Fitness and sold well there.
 They buy at area auctions. Prices are reasonable. Check them out.
There is another new business inside the old Sears building, Preferred Medical Academy.  The business has been operating from St. John, Indiana, but opened this office in Rensselaer in November. If you want to become a Certified Nursing Assistant or CNA, you can do it through this academy. Some of the training is in the classroom and some of it is on site at places such as the Rensselaer Care Center. The link above is to their Facebook page, but they also have a website with more information.

The business that was  in the outside office at the Kellner Street entrance to the old Sears Building is gone and the space is again for rent. I never saw anyone inside so I never got to learn exactly what the business was, but it seemed to be something about shelving.

Jackson Funeral Home is getting a new exterior.
Below is what the building looked like on January 4.

 In a final bit of news, SJC has hired a new president. Read all about it here.

A couple more meetings

After the City Council meeting on Monday night, I meandered over to the Court House for a couple more meetings. First the Plan Commission met with two items on their agenda plus an election of officers. Both they and the BZA kept the existing officers.

One item on the agenda of the Plan Commission was a request for a rezone of 30 acres in Kankakee Township from A1 to A2 for a future subdivision. The person requesting the the rezone was not present but several of the neighbors were and they were very much opposed. They feared that the subdivision would be cheap housing--trailers and modular homes--that would devalue their properties and they had nothing good to say about the owner who lives in Illinois. Because the petitioner had not bothered to attend and had provided no details at all of what he planned to do, the Commission rejected his request.

The rest of the evening was devoted to requests from Max L. Farms, which is associated with Belstra Milling. The property they were concerned with was in Barkley Township on 170 W. The request before the Plan Commission was a rezone from A1 to A3 (intensive agriculture). The use of the property is currently a confined feeding operation for pigs and as such it should be zoned A3 but it not, though part of the property is shown on a long-range planning map as intensive agriculture. The company wants to build a fourth building for hogs that will almost double the size of the operation. The building will be 98' by 397' and will house about 3300 hogs from weening to finish. They will be in three different rooms. The building will have an eight foot manure pit beneath it and the manure will be used by several area farms for fertilizer. The building will cost about $300,00 and it will cost another $200,000 to equip it. The expansion will add two employees to the operation.

A member of the commission asked why they wanted their entire property of 99 acres rezoned and not just the smaller area in which the hog buildings are located. Did they plan future expansion on the site? The representatives from Max L Farms said that at present the optimal size for a hog farm is about 7000 head. Beyond that and the risk of disease offsets any economies of scale. At present if they expanded, they would not expand on the property, but changing technology and changing regulations make the future uncertain. In the future the optimal size may be larger or regulations may make it difficult to set up operations on other sites. So they thought it wise to ask for a rezone of the entire property.

The Plan Commission approved their rezoning request.

Then the Board of Zoning Appeals met. After re-electing their chairperson, they took up the only two items on their agenda, both of which were requests for variances from Max L Farms. The first was for a special exception variance, which the county ordinance requires whenever there is a change in scale of operations. The spokesmen, who were as well prepared as any I have seen at these meetings, had explained that there had been hog production at the site for forty years. They had spoken to or tried to contact all the neighbors and had had no complaints about the expansion. The humorous note for the evening was when he said that in talking to the neighbors about their operation, "And there was one who thought it was a dairy farm." The request for a special exception variance passed.

The other variance was for setbacks and something for the road that I did not quite catch. The county ordinance says these structures are to be 1000 feet away from the roads. The Max L Farms people pointed out that even with a 99 acre lot, they could not meet that requirement and that their current buildings did not meet that requirement, being much closer to the road. There is one small building on the site that is about twenty feet from the road. Instead they wanted to place the new building about 60 feet from the road. The main reason for this location was that it would best fit into the existing complex of buildings, allowing them to build a hallway from an another hog barn. For biosecurity reasons they want only one entrance in the entire complex for humans. (If you have ever visited the Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks--also part of Belstra--you should know how important biosecurity is to hog farms.) After considerable discussion, the BZA approved the variance with one member voting against.

The next regulatory hurdle for Max L Farms will be getting approval from the Drainage Board.

After the meeting I heard one of the Belstra Milling guys mention that Beletra had recently purchased Heinhold Feeds of Knox.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

City Council 1/26/2015 and more

I arrived at the City Council meeting on Monday five minutes late (a chore along the way took more time than I expected), and the item under discussion was a committee report on a water usage concern from the previous meeting. The two members of the committee recommended that the apartments be given a 25% credit for the overage of their sewer bill.  That amounted to $2980.80, so the entire amount of the overage was almost $12,000. There was no credit given for the overage on the water bill, which would have been at least another $12,000--it was an expensive leak. The Council passed the recommendation on a 3-2 vote.

There were two ordinances on the agenda. One allowed the city to write off outstanding checks that were more than two years old. These checks were mostly or all from refunds of utility deposits and totaled about $850. The second one I did not understand but seemed to provided for compensation when someone cuts a utility line in a city right of way. Finally, the Council approved abandoning the right-of-way for an alley that went through an old house. This item had been discussed at the last meeting but could not be passed because the correct legal description was not then available.

In the various reports and comments at the end of the agenda we learned that the old Monnett (Admin) building has been appraised for $130,000 and people will now be able to bid on it. If you want to buy, you have 30 days to contact the mayor and place your bid. The city has been working on the Zigler tile to get improve drainage for the future site of the fire station. Work is almost finished and 800 feet of 24 inch tile has been installed. Pizza Hut is apparently undergoing some remodeling. The Park Board will meet next Monday at 6:00 in the old Monnett School building. The mayor has written Commissioner Culp asking if the county would be willing to share the cost of installing a sidewalk/walkway to the fairgrounds. Comments noted that IDOT also needs to be contacted if the project is to move forward. May 4-8 will be cleanup week, with the same procedures as in the past.

Earlier in the day I ventured out to the USDA building for a meeting of the Steering Committee of the Upper Iroquois Watershed Initiative. One of the projects of this group was the recent rain garden planting at Potawatomi Park. On the way I stopped to check the water in the Babcock Quarry. I was surprised to see a section of open water with about 150 geese.
From the meeting I learned that a construction of a canoe launch where the Iroquois approaches Mount Calvary Road seems to be on schedule for the summer but no site has yet been found for a launch on SR 16 in Newton County. The USGS will likely be installing a sentry gauge at Foresman in mid February that will monitor water quality. This will add to the information currently collected at the Foresman site.

Most of the meeting was devoted to discussing the Cost Share Program. (You can find out more about the program here.) The program's purpose is to encourage practices that will improve water quality. The discussion showed that it might be difficult to determine which projects would be most cost effective. In addition to effectiveness, the projects would have to satisfy the guidelines of the program--there was a representative from Indiana's Department of Environmental Management at the meeting to clarify what the requirements were. In the end the group decided to set February 13 as a deadline for applications and to meet about ten days later to make decisions on which proposals to fund.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Train day at the library

The public library had an exhibit of toy trains on Saturday. I got there in mid afternoon and by that time there were only a few people there. There were three trains set up in the conference room, including the one below, which was the most elaborate of the three. The pink train was a princess train--perhaps designed to get girls interested in toy trains.
 There was a film running on a TV in the corner but I did not have the time to sit and watch it. I found the bulletin board with information about the Miniature Train Company of Rensselaer interesting. I did not know that it was only in existence for eight years. I do not know where its factory was located, how many people worked there, or why it closed.
I also did not know that Edson Murray owned it.
 In addition to the trains, there was a table staffed by a woman promoting the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum located in North Judson. I have never visited this area attraction, but if I get the right grandkids at the right time, that can change. For 2015 the first train excursion will be on April 4, and then the regular season will begin on May 2 and it looks like they run every Saturday until the end of October.

If you missed the special day, you can still see some old toy trains in the display window, though I do not know how long they will be there. When I was a child I had a windup train that was similar to this, though I think the engine was modeled after the steam engines that were disappearing when I was young.
 I never had anything like this old train set from the 1920s.

I have been researching my family history and discovered that trains played a more important role in my life than I realized. A great grandfather worked on the railroad as a section boss, which meant that he went out each day with an assistant or two and checked the tracks. Now tracks are laid on solid foundations, but in the 19th century they were just put on the prairie with little or no bed preparation, so the track was not always stable. It had to be constantly checked. When my ancestors moved, they moved along the rail lines.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

22nd AREAE

The 22nd Annual Regional Elementary Art Exhibition is brightening the lobby of the Core Building at Saint Joseph's College. It has a short run--only until Feb 1.
 I do not know if all the schools had entered when I visited this morning. Each school had a separate set of peg boards to use for display.
 The bit of abstract art below was created by a Kindergartner. I wonder if the two swirls that resemble eyes were done on purpose or randomly.
 The student who did this crayon etching was in third grade. Do you think the student was a girl or boy?
 I thought this picture below, done by a third grader, was the most entertaining entry in the exhibit.
Here is a link to last year's exhibit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

More interesting than the agenda suggested

The County Council had its first meeting of the new year and from the agenda it seemed that it would be short and simple. The first order of business was election of officers. Rein Bontreger was unanimously elected as chair, but the vote was split 3-3 for vice chair, with Gerrit H. DeVries, John T. Price and newly elected Paul Norwine voting for Price and Stephen R. Jordan, Andrew Andree and newly-elected Gary Fritts voting for Andree. Bontreger broke the tie, electing Andree. (The previous vice chairman was Dan Stalbaum, who was defeated in November by Fritts.) I am not sure what the significance of the vote was, but I am sure there was some meaning to it.

On the agenda were requests for some additional appropriations. The Recorder's office needed an extra $709 for some reason, and the Jasper County Drug-Free Community Fund needed the Council to approve release of fines and fees of $33,000 for funding. Rensselaer Police Chief Jeff Phillips is the new head of the Drug-Free group.

The Council then made appointments to eight different groups. Most were re-appointments--only when someone could not serve was there a new appointment.

Councilman Price then stated he liked the recent Rensselaer Republican article about Representative Gutwein's bill to increase penalties for dealing in stolen scrap metal. This is an issue that has been discussed in both the Council and in Commissioners meetings.

Three people associated with county government gave progress reports to the Council. The Coroner reported that the new facility near DeMotte had been completed and was getting constant use. His office had 83 calls last year and six so far this year. He expressed concern that the Fase Center next to the Sheriff's Annex did not have an automatic defibrillator. The Airport manager said that the new vehicle used for plowing was very helpful.  Then Brian Overstreet told the Council that the County Extension will need to make some adjustments to its budget for electronic equipment. This item will be on a future agenda.

The most interesting bit of the evening, though, was the concern of a citizen from the northern part of the county. He gave the Council an 11 page handout that argued that the Board of Zoning Appeals was not acting appropriately. He had a couple of concerns. He thought that they gave variances when they should be rezoning. A variance is a special exception to the zoning regulations and is not as visible. People who are moving into an area can more readily see what the zoning is than what the variances are, and if there are a lot of variances, they may face unpleasant surprises. The citizen said that a neighbor had been given a variance for an at-home business and during its peak times there could be up to 50 union workers using the site--a lot for an at-home business. He also thought that BZA did not do the findings of fact properly. Before the BZA approves changes, it votes on a series of findings of facts, and having attended a bunch of these meetings, I can attest that the votes are formalities--there are no real findings of facts presented. Finally, he faulted the BZA for not opening the meetings to public comments--though they have at times. The Council members seemed unwilling to do anything about his complaint other than suggest that he talk to the lawyer for the BZA. (However, see the comment.)

Kevin Kelly of JCEDO told the Council that he wanted to raise the salary for the second person in his office, which is presently vacant. With the addition of tourism promotion that his office now does, he thought that the position should no longer be an entry-level position but rather something that would attract more experienced applicants. Also, the last two hires each lasted a bit over a year before they moved on to more attractive opportunities elsewhere.

After the meeting, the Council members posed for a picture. Can you match the names given in the first paragraph above to the people in this picture?

After the meeting one of the people who attended mentioned to me that he had never seen the leadership at SJC in such disarray. The search for the next president is still on-going and the interim president announced this week that he is leaving next week for health reasons.  The vice president for business announced a week or two ago that he is leaving in February for a job at another college. The vice president for development position is still open, and the vice president for academic affairs is also an interim appointment. The only senior administration position that is properly filled is the vice president for student affairs.

Today was a gloomy, wet, snowy day here in Rensselaer. It was nice further south. I met a man this afternoon who said he had come from sunny Indianapolis where it was 45 degrees. The lousy weather did not start until past Lafayette.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Some quick notes

New tiling is being installed just to the west of Kirby Risk, probably to get the site ready for the proposed fire station.
 The new MacAllister building is now enclosed.
 The same building but a different angle. Notice all the mud. We are enjoying a January thaw, and the result is mud everywhere.
 On Monday I noticed two columns of steam to the north from the Schahfer generating plant, which is almost 20 miles away. There was almost no wind, it was partly cloudy, and the sun was shining on the steam clouds, highlighting them.
My guess is that those on the left were from the stacks and those on the right were from the cooling towers.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pizza and a movie: a ribboncutting

The newly opened Noble Romans Pizza had a ribbon cutting on Thursday night.
 The Blockbuster chain is no more, but there are still a few Blockbuster stores and Rensselaer has one. It is no longer a franchise but a licensee. The Blockbuster name and rights are now part of Dish Network.

The new pizza part uses space that previously had movies, but the store has not reduced their inventory of movies. Rather they have stacked the older ones on the shelves, so they use less floor space.
 I had the opportunity to take a quick tour of the kitchen area and of course I accepted. New are some larger freezers. As a franchiser Noble Romans wants their franchisees to produce uniform pizzas, so they supply the crust already prepared. I suspect that much of the space in these freezers or cooler is used for crusts.
 At the very back of the kitchen area there were large stacks of boxes. The store expects to sell (or give away) hundreds of pizzas this weekend. (Did you get the post card in the mail that tells you that the first 100 people in line at 5:00 today (Friday) will get a free pizza?) In addition to prepared pizzas, they sell "take-and-bake" pizzas--pizzas that are prepared but which you have to bake yourself.
 I was surprised at how small the pizza ovens were. They are automated and pull the pizza through the oven automatically so they are all cooked the same. I suspect that at 5:00 today they will be given a real test.
 Here is the view from behind the counter with some of the people who came for the ribbon cutting in front of it. The cash register at the right will serve both the pizza business and the movie rental business.
The owner said that a combination of a rise in the price of Redbox prices with a small decline in their prices made them cheaper than Redbox.

Below is the view of the pizza area from the customers' point of view. The addition of the pizza business has increased the number of employees.
I had heard that some of the other Blockbusters had put in Noble Romans, but that was wrong. There was, however, another small chain of video rental stores that added pizza and they liked the results. If this combination of pizza and a movie works well in Rensselaer, it will probably be added to the four other Blockbuster stores owned by Thayer Entertainment, Inc. They are in DeMotte, Delphi, Monticello, and Rochester. The owner lives in Monon.

I talked to the person who does most of the day-to-day managing of the five stores about how a video rental store works. They buy their videos from several sources. New releases are rented most frequently, and they are displayed on the outside walls. When their popularity wanes, some of the copies are sold, often on eBay but also through Amazon. He said all of the eBay sales are through auction, not through the buy-it-now feature. He starts the bids at one cent and offers free shipping. I asked it he ever had DVDs that sold for one cent and he said that that had not happened.

Then it was time to sample the pizza. There were a number of different kinds offered and I liked all the ones I tasted. (The menu is here.)

 They also offered bread sticks (which I did not try) and a cinnamon round drizzled with icing (which I did try and liked).
They have a new Facebook page and if you look very closely you might find me in one of the pictures.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hanging Grove and some odd, old news

I have heard stories that Hanging Grove Township got its name from a hanging (execution) that took place there. However, here is a very different account of the source of the name from an article in the Rensselaer Union of March 9, 1876 (Vol VIII No 25).
The article was a reflection on the old times.

I found the above item as I was searching through very early Rensselaer newspapers looking for some obituaries. I could not find any obituaries--apparently it was not something the papers covered back then. I was struck by how little local news they had. Most of the coverage was for national and political news, and the papers also included stuff that was not news at all, things like humor and other bits of entertainment. The local news was confined to a column. Here are some of the things in the local news column from Feb 24 of the same newspaper (which seems to have been at best a weekly);
 There were a lot of blacksmiths in 1876, and probably also a lot of alcohol.
 The item that really caught my attention, though, was this one.
The old newspapers are on microfilm. There is a way to get better screen shots, but I did not have a flash drive with me so instead I just took pictures of the screen.

As for obituaries, the library is working on an index of obituaries published in local papers. They have a list of obituaries that were published in the Rensselaer Republican from 1910-1939 and from 1950-59 and are working on other decades. It takes a lot of time to go through ten years of newspapers searching for obituaries and then entering the basic data into a spreadsheet.

Monday, January 12, 2015

First City Council Meeting 2015

There was a larger than normal audience at the Rensselaer City Council meeting on Monday evening. (If you are not familiar with the seating arrangements, the council and the mayor are seated in the front of the room. The various city superintendents are along the wall on the right and in the back row with the table. The audience has the seats without the tables.)
 There were three items that I thought especially interesting. The RCSC superintendent introduced the new assistant superintendent and then announced that beginning on February 1 the Rensseleaer School Corporation would be part of a pilot e-learning program. (WLFI has been running reports on this program.) Any school closings after February 1 will be converted to e-learning sessions and will not have to be made up. About 30 schools districts currently are in this program, including Delphi and Twin Lakes. So far this year there have been three delays and three cancelations. As a result of the cancelations, there will be school on Martin Luther King Day, Presidents' Day, and one other day.

The manager for the large apartment complex west of the College Mall wanted some utility bill relief. The complex had a water leak that lasted for several months. It was obvious from the meter that there was a leak, but searching through the apartments could not find it. Finally a company from Indianapolis that specializes in finding underground leaks was called in. The found the leak in a pipe under the concrete slab of one of the apartments. The episode cost the apartments over $25,000 and they were asking the Council for some help. Because the amounts of water and the cost were not available at the meeting, the mayor appointed two council members to a committee to consider the matter and make a recommendation to the council. It was clear from the comments that there will be no relief from the water charges, but there may be some from the sewer bill since some of the leakage may have been absorbed by the ground and not entered the sewer.

At the end of the meeting Butch Claussen addressed the council about the need for a sidewalk from town to the fairground. He pointed out that a sidewalk could get the present foot traffic off the road and also provide recreation with a walking/biking route to the fairgrounds. There was discussion of whether the walk would be better on the north or south side of the highway and also whether the Indiana DOT should be contacted. (The Department of Transportation is not currently interested in SR 114. Their two priorities for Rensselaer are the Mt Calvary Road/US 231 intersection and the Washington Street Bridge.) The city, however, is also worried about SR 114 because the development along it is changing its nature. More turn and passing lanes will be needed as the development continues. My impression is that if a plan can be put together with a route and negotiated easements, the city would have a project that might attract some grant money. There are a lot of people who would like to see this sidewalk built.

Other things: The Bomber Football Championship signs are at the press. An employee of the City Utility Office was given a plaque for ten-years service--the Rensselaer Republican should have a picture this week. The gas tracker will raise gas prices by six cents per hundred cubic feet for the four billing cycles of January. The Council ratified a poll of council members approving paying college tuition for a city employee. The Council approved a request by the manager of the utility office to seek bids for remodeling the office to meet ADA and OSHA requirements. Finally, in the strangest item of the night, there was a request to vacate an alley that goes through the middle of a house that was built in 1873. The owner wants to sell and a title search revealed that it was built on a city right-of-way. The agent for the owner did not have the complete legal description of the property, so the city's attorney told the council that they should table the matter until the next meeting.

Before the Council meeting the Board of Public Works opened bids for completion of the road that runs to Fountain Stone Theater, but there was no mention of the results at this Council meeting.

We had several inches of new snow Monday morning and if you could ignore the difficulties this causes for getting around, you could appreciate how beautiful everything was. Tree branches had an inch or two of snow on them and the result was a classic winter scene.
On Sunday before the new snow, I took a look at the river from the Bowstring Bridge, shown above. The river was completely frozen over and I could see footprints and bike tracks on the snow that covered the ice. As someone long removed from childhood, I could only marvel at the stupidity of playing on river ice, but I also recognized that when I was young, I might have done the same thing if I had been near a river like the Iroquois.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Another closing?

I noticed a couple ads in the Rensselaer Republican informing readers that Peerless Cleaners was no longer doing dry cleaning, but that the Laundry Room was.

A sign on the door informs people that dry cleaning service is now provided at the Laundry Room at 105 E Drexel Drive. Outside are a number of machines used to clean and press clothing.
I do not know what the story is here. If you know more, feel free to elaborate with a comment.
The weather forecast for the next week promises somewhat warmer temperatures, though there are no days in which we will be above freezing. Snow is on the way. I wonder how many days school will be canceled next week.

Update: I asked the ladies who know everything about this closing and they said the answer was here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It was colder last year

As you shiver and deal with the cold, remember that it was even colder last year.

That said, it is cold. I have an enclosed porch that faces south and water freezes in it only when it is very cold, and water froze the past two nights. The river is frozen in places where the current is slow, such as upstream from the Talbert Bridge
 and downstream from the College Avenue Bridge.
 Though we did not get much snow so far, there are big piles in the parking lots.
 Some holiday decorations are still in place.
Even though school was canceled today, I did not see any kids out playing in the snow as I rode and walked around town.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

First meeting of 2015

I woke up this morning as the city was plowing two or three inches of new, powdery snow from the street next to my house. The bright morning sun on the newly plowed street provided a scene that captures what January is like in northern Indiana.

Then I was off to the first Commissioners meeting of the new year. The agenda looked short so I expected a quick meeting. The meeting started with the commissioners voting to keep the same officers as they had last year and then proceeded to routine stuff--approving the Recorder's request to replace a worker, discussion of repairs for Animal Control, and approval of meeting requests before a pause to recognize Bill Campbell for serving 29 years as a member of the Board of Health. A picture of him with his plaque and the Commissioners should appear in the Rensselaer Republican.

There was a public hearing scheduled at 9:00 to discuss a road closing request by NIPSCO, and as everyone kept watching the clock, the Commissioners filled the time with more routine business: Community Corrections was having water problems, the Highway Department was looking at Working Well as an alternative for random drug testing, the Health Department wanted one of the pool cars located at the Annex, three appointments were made, and how Workman's Compensation might affect a volunteer policy was discussed.

At 9:00 the public hearing for the road closing that NIPSCO was requesting was re-opened--it had been continued at the December meeting because some members of the affected public were not able to attend. The representative from NIPSCO reviewed the company's reasons for wanting to close the road and then suggested the solution that I expected after the December meeting, that NIPSCO would relocate the road half a mile east, building it on NIPSCO property and then turning it over to the county. 

There were some comments from the public, but not really about the road. The Walker Township Trustee wanted a tipping fee for any fly ash brought in from the Bailey or Michigan City plants. One of the farmers who has power lines adjacent to one of this fields was upset that sometimes NIPSCO equipment went into his field and damaged crops. NIPSCO had a contingent of people there from engineers to lawyers who were ready to answer questions. I suspect that with the proposal to re-locate the road NIPSCO's request will be granted at the February meeting.

The meeting broke and I talked to several people, including some of the NIPSCO people. I had heard at an earlier meeting that they had found uses for some of the byproducts of burning coal, with the residue from some of the units being recycled and while other units had their residue put in the landfill. I asked why they could not recycle all of it. I learned that different units burn different kinds of coal. I had assumed that all the coal came from Wyoming but this was wrong. They have three different kinds of coal that they burn, including some from Illinois, and different coals and different ways of curbing emissions gives different byproducts. In addition, NIPSCO and others are very reluctant to look for new ways of recycling because of regulatory risk. Regulations can change unexpectedly and something that was permitted can suddenly not only become forbidden but may entail cleanup costs. For example, one person was asking why NIPSCO did not sell gypsum that is produced in burning coal for use by farmers as a type of fertilizer.  The answer was that they did not want to be faced with the possibility of some future regulation that would make them liable for any problems that might occur from having farmers use their gypsum on their land. 

The meeting resumed with the sheriff's concerns. The deputy who serves civil process papers was leaving and he wanted to replace him. He noted that the county collects $13 on all papers served, and those fees plus those from sheriff's sales go to the general fund. That amount roughly covers the cost of the civil process deputy. After the Commissioners approved that replacement informed them that the likely replacement would be internal, which would open a different position, a merit deputy. The Commissioners approved that replacement as well. Then he discussed a product that re-inforces glass windows so that an attack like the one on the Rensselaer Police station, in which a person smashed a window in an effort to get to the communication officer, would not occur at the jail. Then there was a discussion of the proposed upgrade to the 911 equipment. The person in charge had gone through the list of the original specifications and trimmed out those things that have never been used. As a result, the cost of the upgrade will be considerably less than the initial estimates. There was also a discussion of the ambiguity in existing law that may affect Jasper County. At present if a call from a land line in Rensselaer or DeMotte comes to the 911 center, it is automatically routed to the dispatchers at Rensselaer or DeMotte. The county considers Rensselaer and DeMotte satellite sites, but it is not clear from the existing statue exactly how they should be considered. There will be an attempt in the next legislative session to clarify the situation. (A lot of time in these meetings is spent on details like this, which is probably why so few members of the public do not attend them.)

The Commissioners' attorney said that the county has a temporary easement with the neighboring property owner that will help with the demolition of the old Johnny Rusk building. Bids for demolition will probably be opened in the February meeting. 

The remainder of the meeting--at least an hour--was spent discussing the airport. The Airport Authority wanted the county to deed the land used by the airport to the Airport Authority with a reversion clause--that in the event that the airport no longer uses the land, it reverts to the county. An alternative favored by one of the commissioners was a 99-year lease. A third alternative was a hybrid--a deed for the land occupied by the airport operations with a lease for the adjacent lands. A central issue was the rental income from the farm lands that would be involved, with a side issue that the deed would split a field that is most conveniently farmed as a single unit. After long discussion in the meeting that built on much longer discussions at previous meetings and between various parties, it was time to set a course. Commissioner Walstra moved to deed the land to the Airport Authority with the provision that in event that the land was damaged, the county could refuse any reversion and that the Airport Authority would not use any of the land as collateral for any loans. He noted that the income from the farm land would lessen the need for the Airport Authority to tax, so that in the end the public should not be affected by which entity got the farm income. Commissioner Maxwell said he preferred a lease. Commissioner Culp, who had favored a hybrid, seconded Walstra's motion, which passed with two in favor and one not voting. (It is very unusual to have a split vote.)  There then followed further discussion on details of how the contract should be formulated and what would happen to the current three-year lease to the farm land. The issue will be back for another meeting or two.

The Commissioners will continue the meeting on Tuesday, January 20 if needed.

On the way home I stopped by the Library to take a picture of the trains in their display window. The Library will have a special Family Train Day: Saturday, January 24 from 10 a.m.-3:00 p.m.  Come and enjoy model train displays, train movies and more.  All ages are welcome, registration not required.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Winter returns

We got some snow on Sunday--just a bit--but may get more tonight or tomorrow morning.
 Visibility was less than a mile on Sunday afternoon, but the skies cleared during the night so we could see the full moon.
This morning when I got up the temperature was below zero according to the city weather station. It will be a cold, wintery week.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A tour of Donaldson's (part two of two)

In part one of the Donaldson's adventure, we had walked along the storage racks to the north end of the building and then walked east to the end of the storage area.

Turning back to the south we can see the doors of the shipping bays. There are 102 of them.

In the foreground below are recycling bins. Donaldson's recycles as much as it can, thereby cutting its disposal costs. Before it began aggressive recycling, it was filling a dumpster or two each week. Now it fills a dumpster in about six months.
 Loading Dock 3 had a UPS truck backed up to it. UPS is used for very small orders. I got distracted at this station by the machine that fills the little air pillows that we all get in packages. I never knew where they came from (and never really thought about it), but they are made by a machine in the packing line. You can see the plastic on the roll, which then is pulled up and magically filled with air.
 The machines weigh and measure the package and compute the cost that UPS will charge. The cost is not printed on the box but rather recorded and electronically attached to the shipping numbers so that UPS and Donaldson's knows what the charge for each package is.
 The truck is hand packed to fill it as tightly as possible. Usually two of these trucks are filled each day.
 Below is a look from near the truck back to the line. The dimensions of the box are computed with a laser and the conveyor belt has a scale built into it.
 Most of the distribution is not done with UPS but with semis. Here is a load waiting for a truck. Each pallet may be going to a different destination. The ability of Donaldson's and the trucking companies to route these shipments efficiently, minimizing cost and transportation time, is an under-appreciated aspect of American life. We all depend on it and yet we never think about it.
 These are orders that have been delivered by pickers but have not been inspected and wrapped. Notice that each order contains different sized boxes, which means that it contains a variety of different items.
 The pallets are wrapped in plastic by machine. The pallet is set on a rotating platform and as it rotates, it is wrapped. In the early days of this center, wrapping was done manually and a wrapper would walk for several miles a day in the process of walking around pallets and wrapping them.
 This pallet below contains only one type of filter. This type of shipment is usually what is made to OEMs,
The current Donaldson's building was built in three stages, We are now in the middle stage and the reason that the pallets look so neat and uniform is that these are pallets of product arriving from the factories.
 The pickers drive around in these funny looking contraptions. They tow pallets that are filled as they complete an order. The pickers work only from the lowest level of the shelves and the items that are above that level are usually not the same as the items at the lowest level.
Another machine, one that can put pallets up on the top shelves (which is the seventh level in the newest addition).
From the south end of the building international shipments are made. Donaldson's is a world-wide company with factories and distribution centers in Europe, China, South America, and Australia (among other places). Not only are finished products that are produced in the U.S. shipped abroad, but materials that the overseas factories use are shipped from Rensselaer.

About ten trucks a day depart for overseas destinations. The trucks travel to Chicago, where the containers are put on trains for either the West or East Coast, and from there to ships. My guide pointed out special packing material to keep the load secure for a boat trip that might not always be smooth.
 Things passing through Rensselaer will end up in all parts of the world. We are part of the global economy.

At the very south end of the building recycling materials were being packed up for shipment out of the plant. Donaldson's sells metal to Rensselaer Iron and Metal--you can see one of their blue dumpsters below. They also have to dispose of damaged or outdated product, and this they give to a dealer that will shred it and sort it. I was surprised to learn that filters are like food--they have a sell-by date, which is usually about four years after manufacture.

It was a fascinating tour and I only captured some of what I saw and heard in this post. I hope that my experience lets you know a bit more about what happens in the biggest building in Rensselaer.