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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Highlights from 2015

Another year enters the history books. Looking back, there were many interesting things that happened in Rensselaer during 2015.

Perhaps the most enjoyable posts from my point of view were two that started the year and recounted my tour of Donaldsons.

New construction was the subject of numerous posts. Big projects are the fire station and Comfort Suites. Others included a new road in the Gasper Park area, Stash It Storage, and the water main to the Interstate. Below is fire station as 2015 ends.


Businesses opened or moved. Ribbon cuttings or open houses were held at MacAllister, Dance Magic, Gutwein-Risner Insurance, RPJ Trucking, Healthy Glow, and the Chamber of Commerce. E-Zea Detailing opened in one spot, had a ribbon cutting, and a month or two later moved to a spot in the Roberts Auto Center building. Paul's Auto Repair opened in the space vacated by E-Zea, returning to the place it had been several years ago. Other new businesses were Anytime Fitness, Renew Salon, BBs Crafts and More, R&S Used Furniture, Preferred Medical Academy, and a tattoo shop. (I undoubtedly have missed some.)

There were changes in the restaurant business. Devon's and Slice of Pie Pizza closed. Royal Oak opened as did Doggers. Ayda's moved to a much bigger space and became a much bigger restaurant. Blockbuster added Noble Romans Pizza.

There were other closings. Jack's Uptown Service closed as its owner retired. Peerless Cleaners shut early in the year. Foxy's Hair Salon left in May. Dale's Steak and Chop Shop closed in the fall. The old Johnny Rusk building was purchased by the county and demolished. A small building on Front Street was removed to make way for a parking lot for CTS. The final Fall Festival took place in August.

One of the really big stories of the the year was the purchase of Jasper County Hospital by Franciscan Alliance. The public became aware of the deal from proceedings of a Commissioners meeting, a reason this blogger goes to these meetings. Other meetings that were interesting included a School Board meeting at which the Jasper Foundation purchased the Staddon Field area, clearing the way for park planning to go forward. This bloggers favorite meeting of the year was a County Council meeting that discussesd local taxes.

The other really big story of the year was the extensive flooding of June. A number of river flow records were set as heavy rains in the area inflicted considerable damage on the corn crop. 2015 will not be a year that area farmers will look back on fondly.

A lot of maneuvering in Indianapolis kept daily train service as Iowa Pacific took over the Hoosier State Amtrak route. SJC hired a new president. City elections mostly returned incumbents.

With that I will stop because I have already mentioned too many things for them to be highlights. The big four are, in my opinion, the June floods, Franciscan taking over the hospital, construction of the new fire station, and construction of the Comfort Suites.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Another record to close out the year

The river broke its previous flow record for December 29. The previous high flow was quite recent, in 2009, with a flow of 1720 cubic feet per second. It was slightly above that this morning and as I write this in the evening, it is at 1900 cubic feet per second and the river is still rising. We will close the year with a new record, adding to a whole lot set in June. (However, we will not set a flow record for December 30 even though the river is higher than it was on the 29th. The old record is from 1991 with a flow of 2200 cfs. The river is peaking today at about 1940 cfs.)

This is a minor flood, with only a few roads closed and most of those in Weston Cemetery. In June the rails on this bridge were a foot or two below the water.
A flood seems to be defined as whenever the river is over its banks. It is about a foot and a half over when I checked a few minutes ago. It was a bit lower when I took this picture from the bowstring arch bridge looking toward the Washington Street Bridge.
If the temperatures are cold enough this week, there will be interesting ice formations on the trees shown above as the water recedes.

I missed a couple of meeting on Monday night. The BZA agenda had one item, a special exception for a business to repair and assemble firearms. The Plan Commission met to discuss further the Unified Development Ordinance. I did not notice that they were meeting until after their meetings were over.

The Carnegie Players are holding auditions for their winter production, Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Auditions are January 4 & 5 6:30 to 8:00 at the First Presbyterian Church. The play will be held at the First Presbyterian Church on March 4 & 5.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Back to normal

After spending Christmas away from Rensselaer, I was surprised to see all the water in the fields as I returned on Monday afternoon. I did not see ice-coated tree branches until reaching the Houston Subdivision south of town. I checked my rain gauge and found that it had almost four inches of water in it. I think I emptied it about a week ago. Maybe on Tuesday the weather will allow me to go out and take some pictures.

On the way to the city council meeting on Monday night I noticed that Weston Lake had returned and the city was pumping water on Jefferson Street north of Lincoln Street. When I got back from the meeting I checked the river flow meter and saw that the river had gone over 12 feet, which is considered flood stage.

At the city council meeting the mayor and the city council members who won election in November were sworn in. The only new face will be Rick Odle, who is replacing Russ Overton. Below you can see him being sworn in by Frieda Bretzinger, city clerk-treasurer. You can also see Russ Overton in his final meeting as a council member. (Odle will replace him at the next meeting.)


As for the meeting itself, the electric tracker for the first quarter of 2016 that is set by IMPA will be small decrease. The council approved continuing membership in the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns. The power plant recommended retaining Wilcox Engineering for assistance with forms and regulations concerning environmental compliance. The plant needs to be approved to continue operations.  The council approved a recommendation from its engineering consultants, Commonwealth, to award the construction contract for the wet weather treatment plant to Bowman Engineering contingent on getting all the details finalized for financing.

The council approved increasing coverage for non-employee theft from $100,000 to $500,000. The clerk-treasurer and the utility office manager asked for approval to obtain bids for new software to help run their offices. They think that it will be cheaper in the long run. They received approval.

In what I thought was the most interesting item of the evening, the mayor announced the search for a site for a new water well, something not need now but perhaps in the future, had taken them to St. Joseph's College. (Recently the city had been considering a site two or three miles out Bunkum Road.) Their consultants had suggested that there may be good fracturing point on the campus that would allow a well that could produce 800 to 1000 gallons a minute, the amount needed to make a well worth developing. There has been discussion with SJC, but any lease agreement needs SJC Board approval. The Council voted to approve a test well and a second motion to allow the mayor to give a signed land lease agreement to SJC for its board's approval.

In various comments, several people thanked Russ Overton for his four years of service on the council. The police department received $3200 in the trade in of their old squad car, more than the $2000 that was mentioned in the previous meeting as the minimum they would receive. It was noted that water, downed electrical lines, and lots of broken branches had resulted in a very busy day for city employees.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ambulances, Animal Control, Frost Law, Manure Pipelines, and More

The reason for scheduling a second Commissioners Meeting in December is to approve claims before the end of the year. That approval took about fifteen seconds on Monday morning. However, the Commissioners had a number of other items on the agenda that took more time.

Animal Control had two items. One was a draft of a volunteer policy. Because it included a waiver of some kind, the Commissioners referred it to their attorney for review. The second item was a restructuring of duties, and the Commissioners wanted time to look at it. The restructuring was explained in an article in the Rensselaer Republican last week.

The ambulance bids were again on the agenda. A representative for Lakeshore EMS said to ignore what he had earlier said about a possible agreement with Franciscan for patient transport because the discussion had generated animosity. With the Lakeshore EMS bid no longer competitive with present services, the Commissioners awarded the bid to Prompt, the current provider. They will continue to receive $17,500 per month for providing services.

Most of the people at the meeting then left, but the Walker Township Ambulance people did not. They have been trying to get government plates for a new ambulance but the state contests their status as a government agency. The problem arises because the service is provided as the result of an agreement of three townships, Walker, Wheatfield, and Kankakee. The state demands to see an ordinance showing that they are a government entity and there is none. It was noted that the state encourages local governments to work together, but when they do, the state sometimes throws up road blocks. The Commissioners did not have an immediate solution.

A discussion of a proposed manure pipeline, an item that had been discussed at length earlier this month, drew comments from members of the audience. The pipeline will pass by six residences. There were questions of the possibilities of leakages and contamination of wells and of whether the pipeline would interfere with drainage tiles. It was noted that the pipeline will only be used occasionally to move manure to the fields; it will not be in constant use.

After a number of items of more-or-less routine business, there was a question about a proposal that will be introduced in the state legislature providing funding for county roads. Jasper County would receive a fairly large amount under this bill and the question was why. The answer was that the state puts some of the county income tax into a stabilization fund so that in bad years money can be taken from it and hikes in other taxes or borrowing can be avoided. Jasper County has almost $6 million in its fund (and Rensselaer has almost a million), but they cannot touch that money unless it is released. The bill going to the legislature will, if passed, release some of that money for roads. Counties that have large balances will get more than counties that have small balances. Jasper County has a large balance.

After some other routine business, there was a long discussion of Frost Laws, laws that restrict restrict heavy vehicles on county roads when the frost is leaving the ground. When the laws is in effect, signs need to be posted telling drivers what the restrictions are. Though there are usually only a few days in the winter and spring when heavy vehicles will damage the roads, limiting the law to just those days imposes a heavy cost of putting up signs and notifying drivers. Further, the state says that counties cannot have the law in effect for more than 90 days. The consensus of the commissioners was to have the law in effect from January 15 to April 15, but to actually enforce it only during the times when traffic would cause harm. The discussion will be put into the form of an ordinance by the county attorney and will be on the agenda in the January meeting.

With that, the meeting concluded and I said goodbye to this smiling snowman on the second floor of the Court House.
Have a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tuesday night fun

Tuesday evening had only three meetings, not the four of Monday. The Jasper County Historical Society met for its annual Christmas Party. The Rensselaer Central School Board met for its monthly meeting, as did the County Council.

I stopped by the Historical Society's party and enjoyed some food and conversation. I was the first to leave and I arrived at the County Council meeting about eight minutes late, while the Council was approving transfers of funds.

Karen Wilson then addressed the Council with her pitch that everyone should be involved with the Indiana Bicentennial events in the coming year. It was much the same presentation that she gave to the Rensselaer City Council the night before. I think I misunderstood her on Monday with the number of nominations for torch bearer. The torch will be in Jasper County for two hours on Oct 11, 2016. There are twenty slots open for people to carry the torch (and they get some freebies like a tee shirt and maybe a hat and jacket). Anyone can nominate or be nominated (though if you do nominate someone, it would be courteous to clear it with the person you are nominating). Jasper County will be the 82nd of 92 counties on the torch route and the torch is scheduled to be in Indianapolis on Oct 15, 2016. January 31 will be the last day on which you can nominate a torch bearer.

Citizen Tom Mathis from Wheatfield gave the council members a letter he had received from the public access counselor. (You can read it here.) He has argued that the BZA has not followed proper procedures regarding variances and says he has been refused information that legally should be provided to him, which is why he appealed to the public access counselor.

Some of the people who had attended the Animal Control Board meeting on Monday night attended the Council meeting expecting a discussion of a pay raise for the new director of Animal Control. (See here for the introduction of the issue to the Council. I cannot find recent minutes of Council meetings on the County website.) They were told that the issue would be on the agenda for January 19. If it is, the meeting should be interesting.

I had reason to look at county tax rates recently and noticed that next year Jasper County will be the third (rather than second) highest county tax rate. Pulaski and Wabash Counties are higher. Pulaski has a tax that is almost the same as the state income tax and is the only county with a tax above 3%. 21 of the 92 counties have taxes of 2% up to 3%--Jasper County is in this group. 61 of the counties have taxes from 1% up to 2%, and nine have tax rates below 1%.

Having heard people complaining about how high the income tax is and from farmers about how their property taxes have been soaring, I wondered if Jasper County was awash in tax revenues. So I asked  for an explanation during the public comments section of the meeting. Here is how I understand the answer.

The amount that the county is allowed to collect in taxes is set by the state. The state estimates the amount that will be collected by the county income tax and then looks at the assessed valuation of the land to determine what property tax rate will result in the target amount of revenue. If the assessed valuation of farm land has been rising more rapidly than the assessed valuation of home and business property, taxes will be reduced for the latter group and increased for the former. Since the farm land in fact has been rising more rapidly in assessed value than other kinds of property, the tax burden is being shifted to farmers.

Here is a numerical example that illustrates what has been happening. (The numbers are for illustration only--they are picked for convenience.) Suppose in a base year the value of farm land is $1000 and the value of other property is also $1000 and the tax rate is 1%. Then the tax paid by farm land will be $10 and the tax paid by the other property will also be $10, or a total of $20. Now suppose the value of the farm land rises to $1500 and the value of other property rises to $1100, or a total of $2600. To maintain the same total tax revenue of $20, the tax rate needs to be a little less than .77%. At that rate the farm land will pay $11.55 and the other property $8.47, or a total of $20.02. Hence, even with an income tax meant to reduce property taxes there can be people complaining about rising property taxes. (After the meeting one of the council members said he was not sure that the state did not get some of the money that is earmarked for the county.) If the value of farm land falls, as it very well may as the result of reduced crop prices and poor recent yields, and the county income tax rate is reduced, we will see an increase in the property taxes on homes.  (But if you compare property taxes on homes in Jasper County to property taxes just about anywhere else, you will see that ours are very low.)

(Sorry for the math. Does anyone know why Pulaski County has an income tax rate that is substantially higher than any other income tax rate in the state?)

Late Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning city utility crews were busy for several hours repairing downed utility poles along Lincoln Street. It appears that a vehicle left the road coming into town on Bunkum and hit the utility pole on the corner of Abigail and Lincoln, knocking it down. As it fell, it pulled down two other poles along Lincoln. About a dozen homes lost electrical power.


This morning there were three new poles and bits and pieces of the three old poles. City crews will have to spend some time today completing the repairs. It seems they did enough last night to restore power but decided to wait until decent light to finish.

The third pole that was replaced.



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Renew and new

The space that was Larry's Shoe Repair has been completely remodeled into a beauty salon with the name "Renew Salon". It has been open for business since at least Monday.

This is the area for hair cutting.
There is a small but attractive waiting area.
The largest room is set up for hair washing and drying and nails.
The owner is originally from Rensselaer (her father did much of the remodeling), but until recently was living in Indianapolis. She still travels to Indianapolis once a week to take care of clients she has there. She has been in the salon business for eight years.

Update: Renew's Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/renewrensselaer?hc_location=ufi

Having seen how Renew Salon gave a complete makeover to an old interior, I decided to look at something else that is always new, fire station construction. (I am not sure when my last post about the fire station was--maybe here.) Walls are up on the east side.
Some of the brick facing is in places, especially on the north side.
The view from the southwest corner.
The retention pond now looks like a retention pond. It is a very large retention pond.
On the way to the fire station I noticed a large dumpster being delivered to the north end of Mattheson. A house there had had a fire. I do not know if they will demolish or repair.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Meetings, hot and cold

Monday evening saw four public meetings. At 5:30 the Animal Control Board met in the story-time room at the Rensselaer Library while the Board of Public Works met in the City Council Chambers. At 6:00 the City Council met at City Hall while the Jasper County Library Board met in the main conference room at the Rensselaer Library. I hate it when so many meetings are going on at once.

I opted to begin the evening at the Animal Control Board. I was very surprised to see the room full of people--I counted 18 guests, including myself and the editor of the Rensselaer Republican. As the meeting started, the chairperson told the guests when they would be allowed to talk about various issues.

The Director's Report mentioned that Animal Control had received permission to hire a part time Animal Control Officer and a search was underway. The Director also noted that he and an employee had attended training in Indianapolis on how to properly use chemicals to subdue animals.

A member of the audience wanted to discuss why the interim director had been let go. He was told that the Board could not discuss personnel issues.

A volunteer policy was approved and sent to  the County Commissioners for enactment. There was a discussion of live trapping in which Animal Control would provide live traps to the public for use in trapping nuisance animals. Some other counties do this. There are some DNR policies that would have to be followed. One member of the audience with experience with feral cats commented that if the use was restricted to daylight, virtually no feral cats would be caught. The Board members wondered if the Commissioners would allow them to collect a deposit refundable upon return of the trap. The issue was tabled.

The next issue was a discussion of a fee for people who drop off animals at the shelter. It was noted that most of the animals in the shelter are dropped off rather than captured and brought in by an animal control officer. Many people prefer to take old pets to the shelter rather than taking them to the vet to be put down. Some people in the audience noted that a fee might have unintended consequences as people might avoid the fee by dumping their animals far from their homes and then the Animal Control officers would have more strays to pick up.

It was a few minutes before 7:00 so I left and headed over to the City Council meeting, arriving as roll was being taken. The first item was a presentation by Karen Wilson, who is head of Bicentennial planning for the county. She was at the meeting to drum up support for the Bicentennial, trying to get as many levels of government and organizations involved as possible. She noted that there have already been 20 nominations for the torch run to be held next October and that the route through the county has been set. It will arrive from the north, go through DeMotte to the KV schools, then through Rensselaer and around the pond at SJC, then back to SR 114 and out to I-65 where it will be handed over to Newton County. It will then go north on I-65 and exit at SR 14 so it can go by the Fair Oaks Farms.

Several ordinances and resolutions were approved. One was a new ordinance for bonding employees that handle money. It was needed because of changes in regulations. The utility office wanted to change policy on bad checks. Currently two bad checks in six months resulted in a person being banned for life from paying utility bills by check. With the new policy the refusal to take checks for payments will only last a year. The gas tracker for December will be a six cents reduction per hundred cubic feet. Kevin Kelly, head of JCEDO, requested that the city support his organization. The city said it could contribute only $3250, $500 less than its pledge. Kelly said that he was willing to discuss current prospects with them in private meetings and that JCEDO was currently pushing for more state funding for county roads, something that may pass. He also invited Council members and city employees to JCEDO's Christmas open house on Wednesday night. The police department received permission to purchase some computer equipment to enhance video surveillance of various buildings and locations. The current computer and recording equipment no longer handles the newer cameras that have higher resolution. The request for $2500 for upgrades was approved.

The mayor noted that before the Council Meeting on December 28th, newly elected officials would be sworn in. The Gas Department would like people to fill our the questionnaires that they are receiving in the mail. It will help them with state and federal regulators. Finally the City Project Manager reported that the water main project, which is being built from west to east, has reached Four County Supply. The contractors will be taking two weeks off over Christmas and New Years but hope to finish by the end of January.

The meeting adjourned and I returned to the Library to find the Animal Control Board meeting still in progress. It was in the audience participation stage and having missed almost an hour of the meeting, I had a hard time figuring out what was going on. Many of the people in the audience worked for area animal rescue operations (one gave a link to this organization), and they were upset about recent personnel changes at Jasper County Animal Control. There was a lot of emotion. The editor of the Rensselaer Republican attended the whole meeting, passing up the City Council meeting. (I think she made the right choice.) I look forward to seeing how she interprets this unusual meeting.

And now for a picture. I saw a rainbow this morning as a break in the clouds allowed the sun to shine through rain to our north, but I did not get a picture of that. However, I did photograph a colorful sunset from a few days ago, though my camera never does justice to the colors.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Some weekend events 12-12-15 and 12-13-15

The annual Rudolph Run was held on Saturday with the start and finish in Brookside Park. It featured warm weather, some holiday costumes, and an overall first place by a female runner (who has been a star of the girls cross country team at Twin Lakes for the past four years). She was about a minute--maybe two--in front of the first male to finish  The second female to finish is shown below--it was the most in-focus picture I got of the race.

On Sunday afternoon our U.S. Representative in the Congress, Todd Rokita, visited the high school for a town hall. It was had a very small audience, which actually made it worthwhile to attend. After some preliminaries, Congressman Rokita spoke for a few minutes, telling the audience what he has been doing in Congress. He is on the Budget Committee, where he serves as Vice Chair. He pointed out that discretionary spending--the spending that the Congress authorizes each year--is only one third of total spending. The other two thirds (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the debt, and various entitlement programs) is automatic, determined by underlying legislation. To change it requires that the underlying legislation be changed. He noted that the amount being paid out on Medicare for those who currently get it exceeds the amount that they paid in by a considerable amount (which is not true of Social Security, where the gap is quite small).

He is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and as such had a hand in writing the recently passed and signed bill that, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, "guts No Child Left Behind," the education bill sponsored by the Bush Administration. It should reduce the role of the federal government in education, moving decision making from the federal government to the states and local schools.

He also mentioned some transportation bills he has worked on, including one that should make it easier to separate cars from trucks on busy highways. It was partly based on research done at Purdue University.


Then it was question and answer time. The first question was how we can pay for improving and maintaining our roads. Congressman Rokita said he did not like paying for this from general revenue but preferred the use-tax approach, where those who use the roads pay for them. That has traditionally meant the gas tax, which has not been increased at the federal level since 1996. He leaned toward increasing the gas tax, but realized that electric vehicles get a free ride with it and that the politics of the day make any changes unlikely. He thought it should at least be indexed to inflation.

Asked about Radical Islam, he responded that his focus was mostly on domestic policy issues. He said that we should be very selective in where we intervene militarily. War is very expensive in both blood and money.

He responded to a question of how he viewed the replacement of Speaker of the House John Boehner with Paul Ryan. He said that he had a personal relationship with Ryan from his work with him on the Budget Committee and that there was a generational thing involved. There has been a lot of turnover in the House in the last ten years so many of the Republican congressmen are younger. Boehner seemed more comfortable with older ways of doing things than many of the new congressmen.

A question asked Obamacare's requirement that any employee working more than 30 hours be given benefits, a requirement that has caused many employer, private, public, and not-for-proft, to limit employees to less than 30 hours per week. The Congressman said there were no changes on the horizon. Another question asked about a USDA regulation that requires an appraisal before a mortgage is issued and the Congressman confessed he did not know the details but would have his staff research the question.

There were three or four other questions and the meeting broke up. Channel 18 from Lafayette filmed the entire event but did not seem to have a reporter present. I did not check their newscast on Sunday to see if they used any of the footage, but someone told me I was on their broadcast. (I just checked, and you can see how the TV station reported it.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Starting the 200th year

Indiana is celebrating its 199th birthday today, which means it is now in its 200th year. There will be many activities in the next year linked to the state's bicentennial. There were at least three local events kicking off the bicentennial year. The Jasper County Public Library had small events in each of its branches. The Rensselaer branch featured cake and punch.


After halving my cake and eating it too, I had some time before the next events. I got involved in a math problem and was not watching the clock carefully enough, so I was a bit late to the dual flag raisings, one at the Court House by the county officials and the other at the fire station by city officials.



The county had its bicentennial flag up and the group was posing for a picture as I got there. In the background you can see the fire station and second flag raising. If I had been there in time, I might have found a vantage point from which I could have gotten a picture with both groups clearly visible--a missed opportunity that will never come again.

As I was on my way over to the fire station, the flag was being raised. By the time I got in position for a picture, it was up but the group was still intact. The bicentennial flag is the mostly white flag below the State of Indiana flag. (Here is a picture from someone who was there.)


In other news, a few days ago the Governor announced that I-65 would be expanded to three lanes from south of Merrillville to the Lowell exit. It is clear to anyone who travels on I-65 that it should be three lanes in each direction, so any progress to achieving that is welcomed.

I saw on Facebook that Republic Services will be closing its Morocco service center at the end of 2016. That is a blow to the economy of that area. I hope that someone will find another use for the building.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A tour

On Wednesday night I attended an open house at Advance Auto Parts in Remington. There seemed to be more staff in the reception area than guests. I am not sure how many people saw the invitation, but I think only 25 or 30 showed up. Maybe that is all they wanted.

Advance Auto Parts built the Remington distribution center as the recession hit, so the building was empty for several years. That may a bit ironic--during the tour one of the staff members remarked that the recession was good for the auto parts business. When people postpone buying new cars, they buy more car parts. The center has been in full operation for three or four years. It is currently Jasper County's largest employer, with over 400 employees. Most of them do not reside in Jasper County. There are more employees who live in Tippecanoe County than Jasper County. It has taken the company a while to get fully staffed with a stable workforce, but they apparently are past that problem. Most of the workers work either ten-hour days Sunday through Wednesday or ten-hour days Wednesday through Saturday. The facility runs seven days a week, twenty four hours a day.

After meeting some of the managers and enjoying some snacks, most of the guests went on a tour of part of the facility. I asked several times if I could take a picture with the understanding that I would use it on a blog, and I was told each time, "Not yet." "Yet" never arrived, so I have no pictures. I wanted to get a picture that might indicate just how big the building is. Other than a sports stadium, we almost never are inside a building that has as much floor space in a single room. Their building, at 550,000 square feet, may bigger than sports stadiums.

The Donaldson's distribution center in Rensselaer is somewhat similar, and you can see pictures of that here. There was more activity in the Advance Auto Parts center, more noise, more variety in the boxes on the shelves, and more conveyor belts. I think the way that the facility operates is also quite different. Donaldson's supplies many different kinds of stores, while Advance Auto Parts supplies only their own retail stores. There are over 3000 of them nationwide, and somewhat over 400 are supplied from the Remington center, stores from Tennessee to Minnesota and Ohio to Missouri. While Donaldson's is shipping a great many of little orders to a great many stores (and places overseas), Advance Auto Parts is shipping fewer big orders to many fewer stores. The conveyor belts seem to be central to the Advance Auto Parts center. I do not recall more than a few small conveyor belts at Donaldson's.

It seemed that the workers at Advance Auto Parts did not gather together an entire order as they do at Donaldson's. Rather they seemed to be finding the parts of a shipment and putting them on a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt takes the parts to an area that reminded me of the luggage area in an airport terminal, though it was much bigger. Although there are very few pictures on the Internet of the interior of the Advanced Auto Parts distribution center (or DC as they staff refer to it), I did find one here, on the site of one of the contractors who built the center. In the lower left you can see a conveyor belt that turns and runs through some machines that read what is on each tray. As the trays are transported further, they are dumped along the brown, sloping parts. These are divided into 72 or 74 areas, each representing a store. The order for each store is then assembled and packed into large crates. I asked how often mistakes were made. I was told that the goal was 99.5% reliability, but that was hard to obtain. Sometimes smaller packages get jostled out of place while on the conveyor, and they then do not get deposited in the correct slot.

The building has either no heating/cooling or at best rudimentary heating. The machinery and vehicles provide enough heat to keep it comfortable in the winter and in the summer it can be opened enough to circulate in fresh air. All the many vehicles on the floor are battery powered, and every few hours they must be plugged in to recharge. Some of them lift twenty or thirty feet up to reach upper shelves, and in these vehicles the drivers are hooked onto a safety line. As we entered the main floor, a display said that the center had gone 41 days without an accident.

The center has its own IT department. I did not ask exactly what they did--I should have. Distribution centers depend heavily on the processing of computers. I should have asked if they write their own software or they purchase it from a vendor of distribution software. Even if they purchase the software, they would need to customize it.

I recall the tour guide saying about a million items came into and left the center every day. I think it was every day. We only saw about half of the building. As the tour ended, there was a flood of workers coming into the break room for lunch. Adjacent to the large break room was a smaller room with several dozen microwaves.

It was an interesting tour. I wish I had been allowed to take pictures, but I try to do what I am told when people are kind enough to let me see how their business operates.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Park news and more

Rensselaer now has a downtown mural. Do you know where it is?
On Monday evening the Rensselaer Park Board held a public forum in the Library. The room was changed from the large conference room to the Story Time Room because Santa came to visit kids and pulled rank. There were about twenty five people in attendance.

Various members of the Board outlined plans for soccer at the Monnett property, baseball and tee ball at Brookside Park, a trail in Bicentennial, and dog parks in Iroquois Parks. I had not heard of the walking trail in the shape of an 8 for Bicentennial, but the rest of the items have been discussed repeatedly at previous meetings.

Members of the audience asked a lot of questions, probably more about the proposed dog park than any other item. A few suggested that Iroquois might not be a good location because it floods. (I think that the fact that it floods makes it ideal--the flooding is a reason it is so little used.) One person asked what was being planned for small children and whether any discussion had been held about possible splash pads. The answer was that the Board had to prioritize and soccer and baseball seemed to be the most important right now. There apparently has been thought given to removing the baby pool at LaRue and making that end into some kind of splash park area.

Construction estimates were $400,000 for Staddon/Soccer Park, $31,000 for a walking trail in Bicentennial, and $26,000 for an Iroquois Dog Park. There are naming opportunities available. If you would like your name on a ball field, a bench, a light, a sign, pavement, or watering station, contact the Park or the Jasper Foundation. If you have the money, you can provide the name.

The library staff was probably a little unhappy because the meeting went until library closing and then some people wanted to talk a bit more.

After the meeting I asked someone who works in the USDA building if anything had been done with the canoe landing that had been planned south of SJC. I was told that the parking lot had been completed, so on Tuesday I checked it out. (It is on Mt. Calvary Road at the end of the last field before the bridge over the river.)

Here is a closer look at the rules and regulations.
The crushed-stone road curves in to a parking area.
However, the river is still another thirty or forty yards away from the parking area. There was a path worn in the Creeping Charley and the tall grass indicating that some people had used the landing.
There still is no boat ramp and the bank is about four feet high with the current water level. It would be a difficult task putting a canoe or boat in with the way the site is now.
The river has little current at the site. About a mile downstream the waters of Slough Creek and Carpenter Creek join the Iroquois, roughly doubling the flow. The river is more suitable for canoeing in Newton County than it is in Jasper. When competed, this may be a popular put-in spot.

I forgot to mention a couple items from the Commissioners meeting on Monday. A back-up generator is being installed this week at the Fase Center near DeMotte. This is a project that has been discussed in several Commissioners meetings. It will provide back up for both the Fase Center and the Sheriff's Annex (which includes the County Morgue). As a result, the Fase Center will now be able to house people in an emergency, so new policies will be drawn up.

The other item that I thought was interesting was a question during the Sheriff's presentation. One of the Commissioners, looking at the result of the jail inspection (the jail passed) noted that the census had been low this past year and he asked why. One reason that the Sheriff gave is that people can now use credit cards to provide bail.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

First commissioners meeting of December

This month the County Commissioners will have two meetings. The second will be on the 21st. It is used to clean up whatever needs to be cleaned up before the end of the year.

On Monday the Commissioners held the first meeting. I arrived a few minutes late, near the beginning of the "Buried Cable" part of the agenda. The buried cable was actually a manure pipe proposal to move cow manure from a dairy farm located in the eastern part of the county to nearby fields. The discussion took about twenty minutes. The Commissioners thought that there would be other, similar requests in the future and they saw the need for county-wide specifications. However, they like the idea of the manure pipes because it reduces wear and tear on county roads.

After a few other items, there was a request for the county to release and waive their right of way for a building across the highway from the KV High School. The building is in the process of being sold and the sale would not go through without the waiver. A title search revealed that the building, constructed in 1979, overlapped county right of way by a foot or two on two sides. The Commissioners granted the release with the condition that if the building is demolished the rights would revert to the county.

The next big item was a discussion of ambulance services. First there was a presentation of whether the county should have township or a county-wide ambulance service. The presenter argued that the county would benefit financially from a county-wide service. It would reduce staff and ambulances. Most counties that have county-wide ambulance service have two ambulances stationed in one end of the county and two at the other end.

The presentation was followed by a discussion of the bids that had been opened at the last meeting. Lake Shore had the low bid, but that was for only one ambulance. Their spokesman said that they would be adding a second for hospital transfers and the second could also be used as a backup. However, the folks in attendance from Franciscan Rensselaer knew nothing about this. The issue was deferred to the December 21st meeting with the hope that the everyone would be on the same page.

After a short recess the meeting reconvened. There was a discussion about ownership of the road that NIPSCO will be constructing to replace a road that they want closed. NIPSCO wants the county to own the road, and after the discussion, the Commissioners decided that the county could do that. (Apparently the land under many county roads is not owned by the county. The county owns an easement.)

The Commissioners agreed to convert the annex north of town that houses the surveyor's office from propane to natural gas.

In what I consider the most interesting bit of information to come from the meeting, a member of the fair board announced that there will be no Fall Festival next year. Instead the Fair Board will have fireworks on July 2 with perhaps a grandstand event and a dinner.

After a few routine items, the meeting adjourned. There were a number of items of interest to parties involved at the Drainage Board meeting in the afternoon, but nothing of general interest.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Christmas parade 2015

I decided I should try to get some pictures of the set up of the Christmas Parade because taking pictures of the parade itself, with moving objects in dim light, usually does not yield good pictures. The staging area was the old Monnett School area, where most parades are organized.
4H had a float and the 4Hers were probably posing for someone else when I passed by.
Some things that are obvious when the parade is organized are usually missed when watching the parade. How many people look at what is behind the vehicles.
I am not sure if this entry was representing the SPAW or the animal shelter. My guess is the first.
Below is the completed float from CDC Resources. It had a lot of detail that was hard to see if you only saw it in the parade.
The most important ingredient in any parade is the candy. The back of the CDC Resources float had plenty of candy to give to or throw to the parade watchers.
 The Grinch was on the float for Crossroads Auctions. In the background you can see the 4H float.
 Trinity United Methodist Church has had Nativity floats for the past few years with sheep, a donkey, and a camel. They did not disappoint those who expected a repeat performance this year.
As the twilight deepened, the parade started. Near the front were fire trucks and emergency vehicles. One of the fire trucks was from Remington, which held its Christmas parade in the afternoon.
 Big Dog Rentals featured Snoopy.
I did not see the Abate float during the set up. If there was a prize for the most lights, it may have won it.
 In some of the past Christmas parades, Santa has ridden in a horse drawn carriage. This year he was on top of a fire truck.
There was a lot more, but a dozen pictures is enough for this post. (And most of my other pictures weren't very good.)

(More pictures here and here and here. Click the arrows to see all of the pictures.)

Friday, December 4, 2015

A very short art exhibit

SJC has an end-of-semester student art exhibit in the lobby of the Core Building. It runs only from Dec 2 to Dec 8. (SJC is closing the dorms on Dec 10 and reopening them on Jan 10, so the campus will be quiet and mostly locked up for a month.)


There are a lot of interesting drawings.

One class must have had an assignment to do something with a tree. There were a number of interacting or expressive trees. Here one tree is consoling another that has had its top lopped off. It is entitled, "The Unseen Pain of A Tree."

This tree drawing by another student is titled "The Observer."


There are also ceramics on display. This tea or coffee pot has a resemblance to the tree drawings.

The Art Department has its studios in Raleigh Hall, which is also home to a weight room for the athletic teams. I noticed that the weight-room part of the building has a new name on it. (The sign has probably been there for months, but I just noticed it.)