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

Friday, February 26, 2016

Returning to normal

Rensselaer was in the band of highest snowfall from the blizzard on Wednesday. It is hard to measure how much snow we got because of the blowing and the fact that we got a wet snow that compacted. The snow on the trees shows that the wind was from the north.
The blizzard closed county roads--the commissioners declared a snow emergency with traffic on county roads banned--and all local schools, including Saint Joseph's College, were closed. Even the public library closed for two days. Roads in Rensselaer were not unusually bad for a blizzard. The crews got them plowed and we did not have the drifting that some of the county roads had. Despite the days off from school, there were no kids at the playgrounds.
 The red cedars looked sad.
The mail was delivered on both days, but the Rensselaer Republican could not get Thursday's edition to the post office in time for delivery, so they made the issue free for download from their website. The east-west highways had serious drifting. The problems on US 24 west of Remington were featured on WLFI last night.

People got to use their snow blowers to remove the wet and heavy snow, something that they have not had to do much this winter. The blizzard was the first big snow of the winter and doubled our total snowfall for the season.
 While some businesses closed on Wednesday and Thursday, one opened for the first time. Mount Hood Pizza & Grill opened for business on Thursday.
 On Thursday the temperature rose above freezing and a bit of snow melted, enough to make puddles on some of the streets. By the afternoon most of Rensselaer's streets were dry. The county snow plows struggled with the heavy, drifted snow and the ban on travel was not lifted until 6:00 in the evening. Even then, some of the gravel roads remained unplowed.
Today school is back in session with a two hour delay. There are lots of snowmen around town--the conditions were ideal for building them and with the schools closed there was an abundant labor force. The forecast is for a warm weekend, so by next week much of the snow should be gone.

Among the many snowmen I saw around town, this was the most unusual.

I meant to post earlier today but I am having Internet connection problems.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Another kind of PET

A week or two ago a friend invited me to accompany him on a visit to the P.E.T factory near DeMotte. We traveled north on Tuesday this week. The facility is located just north of the intersection of SR 10 and US 231, east of Kersey and west of the KV Middle School.
 I have mentioned the PETs before, most prominently when they had a booth at the Jasper County Fair in 2014. The PETs are hand-powered tricycles that are distributed in poor nations to people who would otherwise be immobile. The DeMotte factory currently ships all of its production, which is currently six vehicles per week, to Swaziland.

The workforce is an all-volunteer workforce. Many are retired people who want to do something socially useful. Most are from the DeMotte and Wheatfield area with some commuting from Lake and Porter Counties. Each volunteer is assigned to a particular area, such as the wood shop, the paint shop, or the metal working shop. Seeing how the work was organized reminded me of the CDC Resources workshop, which breaks jobs down into simple steps.

Part of each PET is made of wood. Most of the wood is bought locally at cost and cut. There is no measuring in the production process. Everything is done with templates. In the picture below you can see some of the sizes that are used. the gray boards are the templates. They are placed on the table and the uncut board is butted up against it. Then a cut is made with a radial arm saw giving the exact size needed. To make a different piece, a different template is used.
 The pieces are assembled with screws and the screw holes are drilled using a template similar to the one shown below. The piece is either the seat or the back of the seat.

Pieces in various states of assembly are shown below along with one finished piece that has been painted, another task that has its own special crew.
 The vehicles have cushions that are made at the facility. The cushions start as sheets of foam rubber which are cut to size and then put into a cloth enclosure.
 The frame of the PET is made from steel and much of the frame is constructed at the DeMotte facility. First the steel is cut to the proper lengths. As with the wooden pieces, there are templates used for cutting so each piece has the proper length.
 After the metal is cut, it is buffered and holes are drilled. A before and after look is shown below.
 Sparks fly in the welding area.
 The fork that holds the front wheel is not produced at DeMotte but rather in Michigan. It has intricate welds and I think it is done with a robotic welding machine.
 The frame that is made in DeMotte is then attached to the fork to complete the frame.
 The wheels are made in China. They are solid so flat tires are not a problem the users will ever have to worry about. In the picture below you can see the painting area.
 After the vehicles are assembled, they are partially disassembled to be packed. In this section of the building you can see some boxes of pull PETs that are used for small children. There are three models of PETs produced in the 26 PET facilities throughout the United States, the pull PETs, PETs for children, and adult PETs. The DeMotte facility only produced the adult PETs. The pull PETs were produced in a Michigan facility.

The boxed PETs will be put into a container and the container will travel to Africa on a ship. Also included in the container are various other things, such as crutches and walkers. There is a mattress and a recliner on the pile. One of the volunteers in Swaziland has decided to stay there and so some comforts of home were being shipped to her. The PETs in the foreground need to be disassembled and packed.
 When they are packed, this is what the box looks like. The jugs serve two purposes. They are packing material to prevent shifting of contents but when the box is unpacked they will be used as water jugs in Swaziland. Some of them come from a car dealership. They had contained a fluid that will completely evaporate so they can be used for water--I think it was windshield wiper fluid but my memory is a bit fuzzy on that.
 Over the years the look of vehicles has changed. An older model is in the back and the latest is in the front. As users and producers figure out ways to make them better, the changes are incorporated into the design plans.
If you want your own PET, you are out of luck. The US has too many regulations and trial lawyers to allow distribution in the U.S.

The DeMotte factory produces six vehicles a week. Most of the volunteer work is done three mornings per week. The facility could easily produce double that production, but the cost of materials is about $250 per vehicle and it is that cost that limits production. Because the vehicles are given away, the cost must be covered by donations. If you or a group of people would like to make life better from someone whom you will never meet, consider donating.

The main PET website is here. The DeMotte website is here. Both have videos. The second video on the DeMotte website shows production in the DeMotte workshop at the end of the video and the person who took the time to give us a wonderful tour is in that video, working in the metal area.

Before we returned to Rensselaer, we stopped by a very different wood working business in the DeMotte area. The owner makes very intricate and detailed wooden models of vehicles. I did not take any pictures but you can see what he produces from his website, which gets many more hits a day than this blog or any other website I maintain.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A blizzard and some meetings

On Saturday we had a beautiful spring day. People were out, dressed in shorts. The park had a group of kids playing soccer and the playground equipment was entertaining a bunch of little kids

Today we are having a spring blizzard. The precipitation  started as rain in the early morning hours and then turned to snow. The wind may be the cause of power outages in many places. The forecast is for eight inches to a foot of snow. Area schools are closed and even the library is closed. This is a good day to stay at home. On the bright side, it is not bitterly cold, much of the snow will melt in the next few days, and the days are getting longer.

On Monday the Jasper County Planning Board met. It had two items on the agenda. First, it considered a rezone of a property near DeMotte. The owner wanted to rezone from A2 to R2, which would then allow the lot to be split so her daughter could build on the back half. A neighbor objected, but one of the members noted that the whole area was residential so the rezone would not change the character of the area. The Board approved the change, but the woman has additional regulatory hurdles to pass before she can build.

The other item on the agenda was the Unified Development Ordinance. Though this meeting had been advertised as a public hearing, there were only four or five people in the audience and they had little to say. The discussion of the Board was about wind farms and how far they needed to be from the Jasper Pulaski area so they would not interfere with the cranes. After discussion, they decided not to go with a mile rule but to define the area from 400N to 300W as the protected zone that would not be available for wind turbines. In addition, any wind farm proposal would need to undergo an environmental study, and that might make even some areas outside that zone protected. One environmental goal, energy that does not use fossil fuel, comes into conflict with another environmental goal, protecting wildlife. (The cranes came back just in time for the blizzard. I saw hundred in fields when I went to DeMotte on Tuesday.)

In response to a question, the Board said that the main effect of the changes to the UDO would not be to make it more or less restrictive, but to make it clearer. They had gotten rid of things that did not make sense for the county (the original was drafted largely by a consultant) and modified items that experience had shown had problems. The Board approved a motion to send the ordinance to the Commissioners who have final say.

On Tuesday night the County Council met for its February meeting. They approved three supplemental appropriations and heard a reports from the airport manager and the tourism coordinator. They also discussed bills before the state legislature that will affect the county. Next month they will begin discussion of the Local Option Income Tax. Because of possible changes at the state level, any decision on the matter may have to be made in the June meeting or earlier.

When I started writing this the streets by my house were still black. Now they are white.

Update: As of 10:00 Saint Joseph's College canceling the remaining classes of the day.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A quick city council meeting

Tonight's City Council meeting lasted 18 minutes.

Reverend Smith gave an invocation and during public comments said that on April 15-17 twenty area churches would be sponsoring an event called Revive Indiana. It will have people knocking on doors and perhaps some other features.

The agenda had three items, an ordinance to cancel outstanding checks that are more than two years old, several cemetery deeds, and a request for a family medical leave.

An open house is being planned for the new fire house. It will be held June 25. Below is picture of the state of construction as of Sunday.

Police Chief Phillips said that the state has told him there will be no traffic light at the Melville SR 114 intersection. The traffic count is now lower than what it was at the last count and it does not meet the requirements for a light. He also said that at the next meeting he would talk about a proposed radio system grant that seems to be connected to the communication tower that the Sheriff had been discussing with the county for months.

Councilman Odle asked the city attorney about the proposed sale of the Monnett building. It will be on the agenda for the next meeting.

Mr Bowles said that the computers purchased for council use have arrived and are being configured. Ron DeMoss said that the cemetery building had a furnace failure and that a new furnace costing $2800 had been ordered after the mayor's approval.

Assistant Street Superintendent Daniels announced that drilling was finished on the test well at SJC and that the contractor had installed some casing. A twenty four hour test will soon be run to see if the well can produce sufficient water.

Project Manager Lockridge said that there are upcoming meetings to discuss state resurfacing of US 231. This year the state will be resurfacing US 231 from SR 16 to the Washington Street Bridge. In 2017 the Washington Street Bridge will be rebuilt--everything except the pillars. The city must decide what to do with the water main that is attached to the bridge. Water service to the I-65 interchange is mostly done with service lines installed and one meter also installed. The customer with the meter may be getting city water as early as tomorrow.

It was the last City Council meeting for Weston Cemetery Superintendent Ron DeMoss.

All of that in just 18 minutes.

On to other topics. I heard multiple flocks of sandhill cranes flying over today. If they were not so noisy, no one would notice them because they fly so high.

In another sign of spring, Spring Break begins for SJC students March 4. Their baseball and softball teams are already playing games. The college choir had a concert on Sunday and their final concert will be on April 17 in the Chapel.

There is a new house under construction on Sunset Drive in the subdivision off Sparling.

The Library is hosting a stuffed animal sleepover this Friday. Kids can dump off one stuffed animal at 4:00 and pick them up the next morning at 11:00 and enjoy a picnic lunch. (I am sure my grandkids would an event like this.)

I found the gateway that was mentioned at the public hearing on the Wellness Center. It contains a huge amount of financial information about all Indiana local public entities, though it may take you a while to find them. The URL is Another site that lets you look at government is one that contains pay for federal employees. It is here. It does not seem to be run by the government.

Finally, below is a picture of a light that will illuminate the parking lot of the new fire station. It seems to be LED.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Limelight 2016

The annual Limelight exhibit is on display at the Fendig Gallery. It features work done by students served by Cooperative School Services and CDC Resources. (Here is a link to last year's post that has links I am too lazy to make again this year.)

The exhibit seems to be a bit smaller this year. The pictures from the students served by Cooperative School Services share themes. There are a number of the cardinal pictures in the exhibit. These pictures are done in the school art classes.
The ribbons that the Cooperative School Services students have are different from those next to works by people served by CDC Resources in Rensselaer.
The exhibit runs until March 11. The Gallery is open Monday through Friday from noon until 2:00. The annual Limelight exhibit is timed to coincide with Indiana Disability Awareness Month (which is March), though as I write this the event is not listed on the Indiana Disability Awareness website.

In other news, there was an interesting series of comments on a post of the Facebook group Rensselaer Indiana Friends about the opening of the Mount Hood Pizza and Grill. The target date is February 29. You can read the string of comments here if you have not seen it already.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

School Board kills wellness center proposal

Here is the short version: After hearing the presentation for the proposed wellness center and comments from about 30 citizens, the Rensselaer Central School Board voted against approving a preliminary project determination resolution. The result is that the proposed wellness center is dead. It can be revived, but the process must restart, meaning that another public hearing would be required.

And now for a longer version if you are interested.

The Rensselaer Central School Board met for its monthly meeting on February 16 with an audience of approximately 80 citizens, almost all there for the public meeting about a proposed wellness center. After the normal start-of-meeting preliminaries, Superintendent Ned Speicher gave a financial report. He announced that the 2016 school budget had been approved by the state. He had a slide showing that assessed valuation in the school district had increased from about $600 million in 2009 to about $750 million in 2015. The property tax rate had remained under the level of 2009, which was .66, bouncing around between .57 and .61. He noted that the general fund, which is the money paying for the routine activities of the school, is completely funded by state taxes and that the state had cut those monies in 2008-2009 from about $12 million to about $10.5 million and that though that amount has gradually increased since, it remains below $12 million.

The Board approved incentive performance for teachers and administrators. This approval had been delayed because of the delay in the state's release of ISTEP results. The primary and elementary schools had scored an "A" and the middle and high schools a "B".

Next was a presentation of the proposed wellness center, which was largely the same as the presentation given at the City Council Meeting, reported here. However, both an architect and a financial advisor were present to add some details. The architect noted that the building would be pre-engineered, essentially a kit that is assembled on site. Apparently there are enough of this type of building being built to have a company or companies specialize in their production. The proposed building would be 125' long and 200' long. The running track around the center courts would be about .1 mile.

The financial consultant said that by refinancing bonds there would be some savings. The effect of the refinancing would be that the costs of the project would not appear until either 2022 or 2023 and then for six years the bond repayments would be higher than they otherwise would be. There was something about financing being done with a lease that I did not understand.

Then it was time for public comments. Most people speaking were in favor, with many pointing out that Rensselaer Schools have limited indoor practice space so that early morning and late evening practices are needed for some teams and that these times may impair school work. Some pointed to benefits to the community at large and said that the building was needed to move the community forward. Also mentioned was the trend for building prices to rise 2 or 3 percent a year and the very low current interest rates, which may not persist.

Those who had reservations focused on the financing. The rise in assessed valuation mentioned at the beginning is almost entirely due to the rising value of farm land and as a result farm land owners would pay a disproportionate share for the facility. A flat tax rate has not meant flat taxes to farmers. Their tax payments have increased because the assessed value of their land has increased. Also, the legislature is changing the way farm land is assessed and with the poor harvest last year and declining crop prices, the value of farm land may decline. If it does, the tax rate may have to exceed the .66 level that the board wants to keep as a maximum.

Then it was time to take up the approval of the preliminary project determination resolution. Koczan moved but there was no second, so president of the board Luddington relinquished the chair to Korniak so he could second. Parrish wanted to table, but Luddington wanted a discussion first so he called on the board members for their comments, ending with Parrish. Parrish moved to table, which Zeider seconded. The vote was four in favor with three against, not meeting the required 2/3 vote needed to pass. A vote was then taken on the main motion. In favor were Koczan, Korniak, and Luddington. Opposed were Parrish, Zeider, Lane, and Cozza. With that vote the proposal died and if it is reintroduced, the process muse begin anew.

The room then emptied and the Board took a short recess before finishing the rest of the agenda. They approved a roofing contract for the high school for $78,400 and had a long discussion about a safety response service that works through a cell phones application. The service has been recommended by the sheriff's office and the Rensselaer Police Department. It would have a one-button push that would give a faster response than calling 911 in case of threat of harm in a school. It would also have a second level push that would alert adminstrators to a stress situation in a classroom. The way the system is configured will be largely determined by the school administration. The cost was $4000 setup and $400 per month maintenance fee. The proposal passed.

The board also approved a number of other items before adjourning. The meeting lasted nearly three hours.

Monday, February 15, 2016

23rd Annual Regional High School Art Exhibit.

The annual high school art exhibit was being set up in the lobby of the Core Building when I was looking for an interesting picture or two of the Science Olympiad. (Last year was the 22nd, so this year must be the 23rd.) I was impressed with how many interesting pictures were on display.

Below is a clever adaptation of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" for Halloween. You can find dozens of adaptations of Munch's painting with a Google search and this one is as good as or better than most that pop up.
The picture below seems appropriate for our area of Indiana. I would have titled it "Corn-fed Beef".

In addition to paintings and drawings, there were some sculptures and pottery.

I have a soft spot for tessellations, though there are some differences in the fish heads so technically tiles are not pure tessellations. I doubt if many tessellation artists would color a print in this way.
I also will notice any art that highlights typefaces. The next two portraits are constructed entirely with letters. The students who did them are from South Newton High School.

The use of letters is a type of pointillism.
The exhibit starts Feb 15. If you are in the area, it is worth taking a look at.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Odds and Ends, Feb 13, 2016

The cold weather has again put ice on slower moving sections of our little river.
The forecast is that it will warm up next week.

SJC hosted the annual regional Science Olympiad today. Some of the students must have gotten up much earlier than normal. They found the stairwell in the Science Building a good place to nap. (It is carpeted.)
Every team had its own special tee shirt.
The teams that come to this regional competition varies from year to year. The Rensselaer Middle School was at SJC again this year and the high school team again chose to go elsewhere.

The well drilling rig is still in the field west of SJC. The ice around shows that they hit water. The question is whether they hit enough to make the well worth developing.
The Pub has reopened and today was its grand opening.

This past week I had to go to West Lafayette to sign a paper. I noticed that there were piles of stone and some kind of construction going on at the US 231 and I-65 intersection. What are they doing?

At the US 231 and I-65 intersection in White County the gas station and the Ludys Restaurant are closed. When I passed by several weeks ago they looked closed, but this time I was on 231 and it was clear that both were closed.

The big building that White County built on the Jasper County line on U.S. 231 is still empty.

Several weeks ago a car knocked down some utility poles near the entrance of Weston Cemetery. One of them had a street light. The street light has been replaced with a LED light. Its light is whiter than the other street lights in the area.

LEDs are the future of home lighting. GE has decided to phase out their production of CFLs by the end of the year. I doubt if many people will be rushing to stock up before they gone.

Some of the street grindings produced when the City resurfaced streets last fall are now in Brookside Park, giving a new surface to the track. (They have been there for months, but I never got around to mentioning that.) I am old enough to remember cinder tracks.
This weekend we have two holidays to celebrate, Valentine's Day and Presidents Day. Government offices including city offices and services will be closed on Monday, as will banks.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

More notes from Monday's meetings

I stopped in for the start of the Animal Control Board meeting on Monday night. The meeting got started late and did not have a quorum, so no votes could be taken.

The director reported that in the past three months four injured cats had been euthanized and none in January. Almost all of the animals coming into the shelter have been reclaimed, been adopted, or gone to a rescue service. The volunteer program has begun with 66 hours of contributed service in January. The opening for a part-time person who would work only in the shelter received 52 applications and the director had selected one for a job offer. The board reviewed the applicant.

Then it was off to the City Council meeting. The gas tracker for February will be a reduction of six cents per hundred cubic feet. After the presentation by Ned Speicher (reported here), Trace Bowles, manager of operations and engineering for the electric utility, requested a replacement for a line worker who is retiring. The position will be an entry level position and after one year the person will be expected to take classes for the next four, eventually topping out and becoming a full line worker. This is a skilled position that requires a substantial amount of training. Bowles outlined a long-term plan to staff with trained workers as older workers retire. He or the mayor noted that most of the linemen for REMC had at one time worked for the City.

Bowles also reported a committee's recommendations for new lap tops for the Council members. The recommendation was for a Dell laptop that was midrange in price and features. The iPads that the Council members currently are using will be given to the utilities that can use them.

The mayor presented a plaque to Ron DeMoss for twenty years of service. Mr DeMoss has one more Council meeting to attend--as superintendent of Weston Cemetery he is expected to attend all Council meetings. He will retire at the end of the month. The City has posted a job opening announcement on its web page and if anyone is interested in applying for the position, the application is due the 12th.

Brad Cozza, the Airport Manager, gave a brief report on 2015 airport operations that was much the same as the one he gave to the County Commissioners. He noted the new website for the airport that has two functions, to tell outsiders about the area and to tell locals about what is happening at the airport.

In Administrative reports, Clerk-Treasurer said that Rural Development, the agency of the U.S. Agriculture Department that is lending money to the City for construction of the high water treatment plant, requires her to be bonded for $550,000, the amount equal to one year's bond payment. (Money from the Feds comes with many hoops.) The Council voted to allow her to find the bonding.

The Mayor said that he has continued to investigate a second link of the gas utility to a high pressure line and that there will be a presentation on the topic in the March 28 meeting. The assistant superintendent for streets and sanitation reported that the test well had reached a depth of 260 feet as of 2:00 on Monday.

There have been more comments than usual on yesterday's post. I hope that means that there is enough interest to get people to go to the School Board meeting on Feb 16.

Today's picture is of Weston Cemetery, tended for twenty years by Ron DeMoss. The markers in the foreground are those of a prominent early family, the Halsteads. Micah Halstead came to the county in 1851 but then left for the West Coast. He returned a few years later and married Virginia Harris and several of their children are also buried in Weston Cemetery. On the same plot are two unnamed infants and son Edwin, who was murdered in 1871 while teaching school in Dakota Territory. You can find directories to the cemetery on the City's website and you can also learn about some of the burials from the findagrave website.

It looks like we have a week of real February weather ahead of us. Unlike last year when the Great Lakes almost froze over, this year there is little ice on them. Maybe that will change in the the next week.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A proposed wellness/recreational center

The main event at the City Council meeting on Monday evening was a presentation by RCSC Superintendent Ned Speicher of a proposed wellness center. It would be a building with 25,000 square feet located at the east end of the high school. The rendering below shows how it would be located.  (Forgive the poor quality of the pictures. They are photos of what was projected onto a screen during the meeting.) Some of the white roofs are recent replacements. The section with the white roof that is nearest the parking lot is the proposed building. The space is presently lawn.
The building would be a steel building. Facing it with bricks would add another $500,000 to the cost.

As for cost, the estimated cost is $4,800,000. It would be funded by $1.8 million in cash taken from various accounts and $3 million in debt. The debt would not be a new issue but would result from refinancing the 2007 debt issue. There would be no need for an increase in taxes or tax rates. The total amount of debt that the school corporation would owe would be $32 million. The school sees no need for additional buildings or major capital projects in the foreseeable future so this debt should be manageable.

The building itself will be a big empty space. The presentation had pictures of similar buildings at North Montgomery and Wheeler. Both of them reminded me of the Recreation Center at Saint Joseph's College. I am not sure how big that building is, but the proposed building looked about as long but perhaps a bit narrower. Below is a photo of the slide showing the floor plan.

The floor would not be wood but a hard surface. It would be used by athletic teams and the marching band for practice and also be open to the public. At present many people get exercise by walking the halls and they could instead walk the track that would be around the outside of the building. Curtains could isolate various areas so a basketball practice could be taking place alongside a softball practice. The area would connect up to the swimming pool, and the proposed building could make the swimming pool more available to public use.

If a project costs less than $2 million, all that is needed is School Board approval. If it will cost more than $10 million, a referendum is required for approval. This project falls in in the area that has a potentially complicated route for approval. As I understood the process, after School Board approval, those who object to the project can oppose the decision by gathering 100 signatures. That sets into motion a campaign of competing petitions, those for and those against, with the side with the most signatures of registered voters living in the school district winning. If the project gets the go-ahead and there is no opposition, the building could be completed in the fall of 2016.

The next step in the process will be a public hearing at the next school board meeting on February 16 at 7:00. The meeting is scheduled for the Board Room at the west end of the Van Rensselaer School. If you are interested in this project and want to learn more or if you want to voice support or opposition to it, you should attend this meeting. (And it will not conflict with the County Council meeting this month because the Council meeting is on the 23rd. However, the Jasper County Historical Society meeting will conflict. It is scheduled for the 16th at 6:30. The agenda for the evening is to construct a timeline of key events, places, and people to Jasper County's History since the 1950's.)

The presentation argued that this center would improve quality of life for Rensselaer residents. Mr Speicher noted that RCSC students received brochures from three area school corporations enticing them to change schools. He also noted that Rensselaer has had a shrinking middle class and that the number of students eligible for free or reduced school lunches keeps increasing. Rensselaer needs to be competitive with other areas in amenities in order to attract residents.

Again, if you are interested in learning more, go to the meeting on February 16. (The other items of interest at the City Council meeting will be in another post.)

Finally, for those of you who like everything presented in map form, here is a final picture of the proposed building and the rest of the high school.

Monday, February 8, 2016

First meetings, Feb 8 2016

The  County Commissioners met for their February meeting on Monday, February 8th. Before looking at some highlights of that meeting, I would like to mention that the draft Unified Development Ordinance that the Planning Commission will discuss at an public hearing later this month is available on-line. You can get a copy here. Warning: it is 332 pages long.

For me the most interesting bit at the meeting came as the result of a question from the public about a proposed wind farm in Barkley Township. He said that a company from Texas has been signing contracts with farmers about installing turbines on their land. This does not mean that a wind farm will be built but rather seems to be the first step in the development. If not enough farmers or the strategically located farmers sign up, the project gets dropped. Only then will the next steps of getting required permits and approval go forward. There is also interest in a wind farm for Carpenter Township. Maybe something will happen and maybe not.

There was also an exchange between the two Commissioners who were at the meeting and members of the public about the frost law. One person, who was on the agenda, runs a business which plows snow for Rensselaer businesses. He said that their pay loader exceeds the 8 tons that must stay off the roads during enforcement of the frost laws but this piece of equipment is needed to clear parking lots. Another citizen said that her farm transports grain to a buyer in Lake or Porter County and that the delivery dates are contracted several years out. She wanted to know how the law affected her and what she could do to comply and yet still make the contracted deliveries. During the discussion Commissioner Maxwell noted that it was not just paved roads that are damaged when ice is melting, but that gravel roads also suffer a lot of damage.

The Sheriff was late to the meeting and because an executive session was scheduled for 10:30, he only delivered a copy of a report. He was delayed because the mist of the morning had frozen on roads in the north part of the county and had caused hazardous driving. One of the accidents caused by the treacherous road conditions had resulted in a fatality.

Other tidbits from the meeting: Animal Control is working on getting the minutes of its Board meetings on the county website. The director of Emergency Management is applying for  a grant that would allow the county to purchase a sand bagging machine. The airport has both a waiting list for hangar space and empty hangar space--the hangars built before WWII do not work well for modern planes. The airport also would like to have the runway lights off when they are not being used rather than dimmed. An approaching plane can turn them on remotely. Two new members were appointed to the Airport Authority Board, one replacing a member who did not want to be re-appointed and the other filling a slot that had not been filled.

Finally, there was a lengthy discussion about the leaning tree of Deer Park (which is an old subdivision in the north part of the county). The tree is threatening a structure on a neighboring property, but it is not clear who owns the property that the base of the tree is on. The neighbor says it is not his land but county land. The county may have an easement for a road that was never put in and will never be put in. 

The Drainage Board meeting in the afternoon talked about tiles and ditches and unless you are an affected landowner, none of it was very interesting.

A post from a few weeks back mentioned a new gas station being constructed in Monon. The station is a Casey’s and it has had its ribbon cutting

The tree on the second floor of the Court House is now decorated for Valentine’s Day.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Planning for the future

The test well that has been discussed in a couple of recent City Council meetings is being drilled in the field west of the Banet substation on Sparling Drive. A city employee who had been at the site told me that the drillers hit limestone at about six feet, which is not surprising given that Charles Street, where the bedrock is about two feet below the surface, is just to the east of this. The plan is to go down 300 or 400 feet. If the well can produce enough water, it will eventually become part of the city's water system.

On Thursday morning the Rensselaer Park Board met for a lengthy meeting. Brandon Schreeg, who works for an company that designs parks and other things, was a guest and Board members told him what they plan to do. Highest on the agenda is to make soccer fields in the old Monnett property. The land still has not been transferred--the title work has taken a long time and there are still a few details to work out. The Board wants seven soccer fields in the property, which is what was there last fall. However, they would like to keep fields away from the highway and use some of the land on which the old school building set. The problem with that land is that it was not filled with nice dirt but with fill that has rocks and debris from the old school.

Schreeg suggested that if more parking was needed that the existing lots to the north be widened a bit so that cars could park on both sides of the lots. He seemed to have reservations about adding parking to the west of Jordan's Floral. He was also unsure to what extent the plans were already fixed and to what extent his firm should make suggestions.

There was a short discussion of the old Administration building on the Monnett lot. The city is trying to sell it, but it will require substantial renovation to make it ADA compliant and it also has a mold problem in the basement. My guess is that the building will be demolished in the next five years.

Two people from the Jasper Foundation attended to discuss fund raising. Needed for fundraising are renderings of what is being planned and naming opportunities. A really big donation could name a park or ball field. Smaller ones can name light posts and benches. Smaller yet and a name can go on an inscribed paver.

As the meeting proceeded, a variety of topics came up. There were second thoughts about using Iroquois Park as a dog park. The occasional flooding bothered some people. An alternative was suggested, the city property with the two no-longer-used pump houses on Bunkum Road, which has about 6 acres. The city uses this for storage and for dumping snow in the winter, but the thought was that perhaps the city was not using all of it. A small fountain was suggested for the Monnett property, but then others thought it could be replaced with art work. Very little was said about Brookside.

There will be another public meeting before plans are finalized (or mostly finalized). It will be held when enough progress has been made so there will be new information that was not available at the last public meeting.

(I walked through the Core Building at SJC today and noticed that SJC has embraced naming opportunities. There are now little plaques above the benches in the hall with a donor's name and some of the classrooms also have donor names on them.)

The city has a job posting for the position of Weston Cemetery superintendent. Ron DeMoss will be retiring at the end of the month.