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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

February's County Council Meeting

I missed the Monday City Council meeting--I was out of town. From the report in the Rensselaer Republican, it seemed to be an interesting one.

I did get to the County Council Meeting on Tuesday night. It was pretty routine. The Council made some additional small appropriations. Some of them were correcting mistakes that people had made when submitting their budgets, such as the one that involved IT equipment for the extension office. The Animal Control director wanted permission to use donated funds for microchipping animals that the shelter adopted out, saying that other counties were doing this and that it would keep their population lower because they would be able to quickly identify who owned the animal if it ended back in the shelter. The Circuit Court recorder is retiring and the judge wanted to hire the replacement before the actual retirement so that the replacement would get trained by the retiring recorder. Pretty exciting stuff.

The Council approved an inter-fund loan that I did not understand. Apparently it is something done every year. There were some amendments to the Jasper County Salary Ordinance that corrected three salaries of county personnel. The Sheriff gave the Council his annual report, the same report that he had given the Commissioners earlier this month. A member of the Council asked about the upgrade to the 911 system. It will likely be installed in late April or early May and will require that the system be down for a while. While it is down, 911 calls will be routed through a neighboring county, which is what happens if there are any technical difficulties. State regulations say a county can only have two PSAPS (pronounced Pee Saps, an acronym for Public Safety Access Points). Jasper County has one and two satellite sites, the Rensselaer and DeMotte police departments. There is vagueness in the state regulations and there is the possibility that at some time the state will decide that one PSAP with two satellites should count as three PSAPs. County officials are kept on a short leash by state officials.

Kevin Kelley gave a report on the Tourism Commission. Included in was a list of county motels. Rensselaer has three, Economy Inn with 31 rooms, Holiday Inn Express with 69, and Knights Inn with 30 rooms. Remington has two, Sunset Inn with 50 rooms and Super 8 with 47. There are also camp grounds, the hotel at Fountain Park, the White House Inn, and Saint Joseph's College, all of which are part of the Jasper County Lodging Industry.

For 2014 the Innkeeper's Tax (a 5% levy on lodging) raised $137, 457.26. The Tourism Commission had total expenses of $66,228.53, so the Tourism Fund increased during the year. The Commission gave funds (from $2400 to $8400) to the five big festivals, Water Tower Days, Touch of Dutch, Sandhill Crane Festival, Fall Festival, and Little Cousin Jasper Festival. It also gave money to nine other events or groups, things like the Remington Ride, Rock the Arts, and Rensselaer Oktoberfest.

A person from the South Shore Convention and Visitor's Authority gave the Council a handout that highlighted what they had done to promote tourism in the County. They host a website for Jasper County tourism at and designed a logo for the Tourism Commission, which can be seen at the link.

In March the Tourism Commission will be reviewing applications for funding for 2015. This year they will want more information than last year, including a look at the financials of the various events and festivals.

The County Surveyor addressed the Council saying that he needs a bit more money to do what he thinks is necessary. The head of the Council warned him that funds are tight and the state had trimmed the budget that they had submitted. (The state approves county budgets.) He was advised to get on the agenda if he wants any changes.

County Commissioner Kendall Culp was at the meeting and gave a brief rundown of several things that the Commissioners are doing. They had just given the Airport manager their proposal for the transfer of property to the Airport and there were still a few areas that might have to be smoothed out. They were also working with NIPSCO on relocating the county road that cuts through their property in Kankakee Township.

The Airport manager gave a report on highlights of the past year. He said that the Airport is a gateway to the county. He also mentioned that Excel Air, the maintenance company at the Airport, employs six people.

In the public comment section, Thomas Mathis from Wheatfield addressed the Council about the need for setbacks for manure lagoons. He was interrupted by one of the Council members who said that this was not a matter for the Council, which is limited to budgetary items.

The meeting then adjourned. As I left I noticed that the tree in the hallway had been redecorated to make it a Saint Patrick's Day Tree.

Friday, February 20, 2015

State of the downtown

The weather has been cold and nasty and I have been hunkered down, not getting out a lot. However, after the Lenten Luncheon on Ash Wednesday I took a look at what was vacant as I meandered down Washington Street.

The former gas station on the corner of Washington and Weston is again empty. It most recently was an auto repair shop called Bentlys.

Across the highway another former gas station has been empty for a year or two or three. The last business in there was Elk Investments.
 Most of the first floor of the old Horton Building is empty. Most recently the larger space was a day care.
The bakery has been for sale for quite a while but it is open for business. There is a sign in the window saying that there is office space for rent upstairs.
 The space next to Lafayette National Bank has been vacant ever since the bank finished its renovations. It is for sale.
The H&R Block store is in peak season. The small building next to it has been vacant for some time. A year or two ago I was expecting it to open as something because work was being done inside.
On the other side of the street, two buildings are empty, the former Bub's BBQ and the former doctor's office next to it.
Jack's Uptown Service is for sale. The owner wants to retire. On the other side of Front Street, Stunt Dawg Studio has new owners as the old owners have retired. I stopped in to meet them and they told me that they would keep the business as it has been.
 In the alley behind Jack's Uptown Service is a new business, Filson Climate Control Self Storage. I had noticed the new door a few weeks ago but did not know what it was. This week I saw a flier announcing that it offered heated storage for those who do not want to store things in the several unheated storage facilities that Rensselaer has. The address is 215 West Kellner Blvd, Suite 19.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Halleck Exhibit at the Historical Society Museum

The current exhibit at the Jasper County Historical Society is devoted to the career of Charles Halleck. Although it is an exhibit about a man who was an important figure in politics from the middle of the twentieth century, it is not an exhibit that lends itself to interesting pictures.

Halleck Hall at Saint Joseph's College is named after Charles Halleck. On the the day of the dedication (or was it the groundbreaking?) Ike Eisenhower came to Rensselaer to participate in the ceremonies. This drawing is from that day.

 As the one of the top Republicans in the House of Representatives for many years, he interacted with most of the big names in Washington from the period. Dirkson was the senator from Illinois and the minority leader in the Senate.
 Below is a picture of a ticket stub for a celebration that was held in Rochester, Indiana.

The exhibit has informative cards that highlight some key events in this political career.

 When he was majority leader in the house, he was the number two Republican in the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House was number one. When the Republicans lost control of the house, he challenged the top Republican and became number one as the minority leader. In 1965 he was defeated as minority leader by Gerald Ford.
Though Halleck lived in Rensselaer for a dozen years after I came to town, I have no real memories of him. He is buried in Weston Cemetery and is one of two famous internments there. (I do not belileve that the other one who is listed is actually buried in Weston Cemetery.)

Highlights of his life and career can be found on Wikipedia.

Friday, February 13, 2015

22nd Annual Regional High School Art Exhibit

Pictures are up for the 22nd Annual Regional High School Exhibit in the lobby of the Core Building at SJC. (Here is a link to a post on the 21st Exhibit.) There are always interesting things on display when the high school students exhibit. Below is a creation that seems to have been an assignment in a Tri-County art class to create an interesting garbage can. 
 My granddaughters would love this pen and ink drawing from a North Newton student.
Two Different KV students did the top and bottom pictures. There is nothing to say whether they were supposed to complement each other as they do.
A Rensselaer Central student did this mixed media portrait.
This ceramic octopus made by a South Newton student must have taken quite a bit of time.
 Perhaps this charcoal drawing of a rabbit is inspired by the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. It was drawn by a West Central student.
There are a lot of interesting items on display. I did not see a poster for the exhibit, so I do not know when it ends.

As I was leaving SJC, I noticed that a portable boiler was hooked up outside of the power plant. SJC converted from coal to natural gas this fall and they had some problems making the switch. Perhaps they have not resolved them all yet. A few years ago I would have known the story about this, but now I get only bits and pieces of information about what is happening there.
I did see, however, that this weekend SJC will host the annual science fair for middle school and high school teams.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

City Council Meeting 02-09-2015

The City Council met Monday night and I have delayed writing about it.  They approved the minutes of the last meeting and also of a special meeting of February 3--I do not know what that meeting was about.

The gas tracker for February will be a nine cents decrease per hundred cubic feet.

Much of the meeting was taken up with two presentations. The first was from the city's financial advisor who is preparing the bond offering to finance the new fire station. He said that the preliminary estimates are that construction costs will be about $3.3 million, but adding in a variety of other things such a payment for the various architects, engineers, financial advisors, etc., the total bond offering will be about $4.5 million. The bonds will be 25 year bonds that will be backed by the TIF revenues from Drexel Park, but with a backup of general tax revenue. He explained that to get an estimated interest rate of 3.3% the city will need to reduce risk to lenders, and if anything should happen to the TIF revenues, the lenders want to be sure that they will get their money back. Bids are expected to go out in March and the bonds may be sold in April.

The next presentation was a vendor who had been contacted by the police or fire department to present a proposal for a dispatch center. At present the city has one, at the police station, that also serves the fire department. That system is old and may not work as well when the fire station is moved a mile west. He was nebulous about cost, but said it would not exceed $300,000 even with all the bells and whistles. The bond guy, who had stayed for this presentation, said that it might be too late to include the item in the plans for the fire station.

The last item of importance was a discussion of remodeling the utility office to make it ADA and OSHA compliant. Only one remodeling bid had come in, from the Deerwood Group which is connected to Kem's Hardware, but more than one had been submitted for furniture and some heating-cooling work. After some confusion, the Council approved the remodeling, furniture, and one of the heating.cooling items. Councilman Barton abstained because he is employed by the Deerwood Group.

On Monday I noticed that construction had begun on a building at Cullen and Vine. A comment to an earlier blog post said that it would be a storage building.
This morning (Wednesday) the walls were up.

In other news, it appears that there will be no Community Garden this year. For the past two years it has been located behind Crossview Church north of town.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

County meetings 02-09-15

When I arrived at the Commissioners Meeting on Monday, I noticed that the Christmas Tree in the hall was still up. Then I noticed it had been transformed into a Valentine's Day Tree. If you hate to take down your Christmas decorations, perhaps you can transform them to Valentine's Day decorations and keep them up for most of the winter.
 The meeting itself was pretty routine. I discovered that I had missed their extra meeting of the 22nd--they had mentioned that there might be one and there was. The Health Department has two nurses resigning or retiring and the Commissioners agreed to allow the replacement of one, though that one may be allowed additional hours (though not 30 or more). Apparently when the Commissioners had in an earlier meeting allowed the Health Department to switch a part-time position to a full-time position, that move was made with the understanding that when the next part-time position became vacant, it would not be filled.

The surveyor discussed doing some of the GIS work in-house rather than with their outside contractor, a member of the board from Animal Control updated them on several items as did the manager of the Jasper County Airport, and the County IT director discussed installing a new system of panic buttons. The last item will cost $11,950 and was approved.

In the last two meetings there was discussion of closing a road that goes through NIPSCO property in Kankakee Township. NIPSCO had agreed to relocate the road in response to public comments. The Commissioners approved that solution. In contrast to the previous meetings in which there was much discussion, there was none at this meeting. NIPSCO came prepared, however, with their full team of experts ready to answer any questions.

Max L Farms, which did a great presentation in January before the Plan Commission and the BZA did not bring anyone to this meeting. So there was no one to object when the Commissioners decided not to follow the recommendation of the Planning Commission and allow their entire 99 acre plot to be rezoned from A1 to A3 (intensive agriculture). Rather the Commissioners only approved the part of the property that will be used for pig production to be converted to A3.

At about 9:30 three quotes were opened for the demolition of the building I always refer to as the old Johnny Rusk Building. The quotes ranged from $19,890 to $42,415. The Commissioners accepted the low bid, which was from the company that had demolished the county jail a few years ago. In a few months the building below should be a vacant lot.
The Sheriff gave the Commissioners his year-end report. He noted that the jail served 73,000 meals at an average cost of $1.53, which was under budget. There were no escapes and no deaths of those in custody. He said there was still some ongoing fine tuning of heating and cooling. He had two openings of merit deputies, one who transferred within the department and one who had to resign for medical reasons. The Commissioners approved their replacement. He noted that the county had recently had its first death from an overdose of heroin in the last 18 months.

After a short recess, the meeting resumed. The city had requested an easement from the county to put in the water main from the fairgrounds to the I-65 intersection. (This has been discussed in past city council meetings.) After a representative from the city was called in to explain what the city was doing, the request was approved.

A variety of items involving bridge repair, a cell tower agreement, appointments, approvals, quotes for falling-ice signs, and rug cleaning where discussed before the meeting adjourned.

In the afternoon the Commissioners reconvened as the Drainage Board. They elected officers and appointed members to the various bi-county (and maybe some tri-county) drainage boards (that deal with issues when a watershed is in two counties).

The Board approved drainage plans for Max L Farms with one change and then the drainage plan for Comfort Suites. I could not see the plans that the Drainage Board was reviewing so I am not quite sure where the location of this new hotel will be other than it will be east of I-65. The signed a few certifications and discussed a few ditches before a short discussion of the White Industrial Park that is on the White-Jasper border south of US 24. Right now water is pumped west into Jasper County, but the long-run plan is to have the water flow east. The Drainage Board feels it needs to protect Remington, which has water issues.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

February thaw

Below is the view from one of my windows on Friday night. Today the icicles are gone thanks to the warmer weather.

I have not been out much lately. It is not the icicles that are barring my way or the cold that has imprisoned me. Much more important is the condition of the city streets, which have been icy and treacherous.  I also have not been in the mood to write much--I will blame the weather for that too. However, spring is only six weeks away according to the new sign at Dr Balvich's office.
 Pizza Hut has finished remodeling. I had meant to post the picture below a week ago. Now the trailer is gone.
Also in the College Mall, work continues on the remodeling of office space for Help at Home.

According to the monthly newsletter of the Jasper County Economic Development Organization, IBEC has opened its fuel pump east of town. I have not been out there lately to check it out.

There are several county meetings next week. On Monday at 9:30 the County Commissioners will open bids for the demolition of the old Johnny Rusk Building. I will try to attend to see what else is happening.

Another picture from a week or two ago that I never got around to posting shows a diminished pile of rock being loaded onto a truck at the Babcock Quarry. That pile is now gone, but there are still a couple of other piles in the western part of the lot. I wonder how much longer they will be able to load trucks.
Enjoy the thaw--winter is not over and we will get some more cold weather before spring arrives.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My backflow inhibitor

Last week I was excited to see a city crew with a backhoe ready to dig up my front yard. At long last I was getting a backflow inhibitor on my sewer line.
 Last fall I noticed similar activity at a neighbor's house and asked what was going on. I learned that the city would install a device on a sewer line to prevent sewage backup into the basement when Rensselaer has extremely heavy rains. Further, the installation was free to the homeowner. (It turned out I had to pay a bit because of a complication explained below.) I put my name on the list and waited.

Early this year the city put flags on my lawn marking where the gas and electric lines were. Then about a month ago several guys came to the house with equipment to locate the sewer line. They put a long snake with a metal head into the sewer but they could not get past the the wall. They were quite sure that the line took a 90 degree turn there. They told me that I would have to have Roto-Rooter come in to find the line. Roto-Rooter has better equipment that can go where the city equipment does not go.

I called RotoRooter and a few days later they came. They scoped out my drain. The picture below shows where my sewer line drops down to connect to the city sewer. The main guy was rather surprised to see that my sewer line was cast iron the whole way. He said that with World War I the cast iron sewer lines were usually abandoned for tile. However, my house was built several years before WWI.
 It was cold on the day the city arrived, so I only watched bits and pieces. I was surprised that they brought in the big truck.
 Below is the device that they installed. They cut out a section of the cast iron pipe and replaced it with a section of plastic. The white part is the part with the valve. I saw the inside but did not get a picture of it. However, I did find a picture of what is inside on the Internet: see here and scroll down. The device is very simple. There is a thin, black plastic flap that is held in place with a simple hinge. Water can lift the hinge and go out, but water coming back will close push the plastic flap closed.
 The Roto Rooter guy told me that the drain was seven feet deep where it connected to the city sewer. That is what the crew found. You can see the top of head of one of the workers in the picture below--he is standing up.
 The crew filled the hole but left a tube down to the value just in case some maintenance needs to be done. They told me that if I ever have Roto Rooter back, I should tell them that there is backflow inhibitor on the line because if their probe goes past it, it might not be easy bringing it back.
Cities that do not have have combined storm and sewer systems do not face this problem. The city will soon be installing a facility on Lincoln Avenue to deal with the sewer system being overwhelmed in heavy rains, but the main purpose of that will not be to protect basements but rather to protect the river.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Groundhog Day 2015

We are having some normal February weather this week. It began snowing on Saturday night and it was still snowing a bit this morning. Even with blue skies above us, there was a trace of snow falling. The temperature on Sunday was just at the freezing mark, so the snow was heavy and sticky, ideal for snowmen. I saw several as I wandered around a bit this morning.

There was not a lot of traffic. The schools, including St. Joes, are closed. The public schools get to test e-learning. They are probably happy that this closure will not have to be made up. The roads were snow and ice covered and very slippery in spots. Spots on the road that were wet yesterday have frozen and been covered with light, fluffy snow, so it is hard to see where the road will be treacherous. Most of the people who were out were removing snow, either by hand, with a snow blower, a small utility vehicle, or a pickup truck.

The bright sun and newly fallen snow created a lot of pretty scenes if you did not mind the cold and inconvenience of trudging through about six inches of snow.