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

Monday, August 29, 2016

And suddenly, poof, they are up

I have been visiting the east end of Maple Street each week to see what progress is being made on the National Gypsum expansion. For weeks all that was happening was movement of dirt. The last picture I had taken was on August 12 and it is below.
 On Sunday I was surprised to see the walls of the addition had been erected. It may be hard to tell from the photo below because the addition has the same style walls as the original plant. However, you can see through the windows that there is no roof on the new part. I am pretty sure I was there on the weekend of August 20=21, so the walls were put up in just a week.

I noticed that the Preferred Medical Academy that had been located in the Town Mall (the old Sears Building) is gone. I am not sure how long it has been gone. I could not find a website to see if it had moved to another location and its Facebook page has been deleted. It had provided training for certified nursing assistants.

WLFI reported that the Magnetation plant north of Reynolds may shut down at the end of September. The company employs about 165 workers and has been in bankruptcy proceedings for some time.

This morning (Monday) a new crane arrived at the worksite of the high rate treatment plant.

The mosquitos population has grown and there are some really big ones in that population.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Miscellany 8-26-2016

The elm tree that has its own plaque may be dying. Almost half of it no longer has leaves.
 The streets and roads matching grants that the City and County have been waiting for have been announced at www.in.gov/indot/3570.htm. Jasper County received the maximum possible of $1,000,000 and DeMotte, Rensselaer, and Wheatfield received smaller amounts. Remington is not on the list.

Work has continued on the Hanging Grove School memorial.
 We seem to have water everywhere, but here is one place it is not.
Doggers is getting a food truck--I have not seen it yet. Mount Hood Pizza has gotten their liquor license.

The bells in the SJC chapel are again ringing quarter hours. They had been silent during chapel renovation.

More concrete was poured this past week at the high water treatment plant.
 Below you can see some of the concrete for the square structure.
 I cannot figure out what the front part of the building is for. What vehicles are tall but very short?
 A few days ago the area around Kokomo had tornados. I found some pictures of the crop damage on Facebook.

A enormous amount of clothing was collected to help the families that lost their apartments in the recent fire. Most of it was not needed by the families so a sale was arranged to raise some money for them. I was amazed at how much stuff was in the sale.
 Almost all of what you see below is shoes.
 The tables were stacked high and there were bags under the tables. There was one corner of stuff that never got sorted and put out.
I asked what would happen to all the stuff that did not sell, and judging from the few buyers, there must be a lot. There were thoughts of sending it east to the Kokomo region or perhaps donating it to Jasper Junction.

The huge piles of clothing show two things: a great many people want to help when they see fellow citizens in distress, and much of their effort is completely ineffective.

(A few years ago when I taught at SJC, I told a class of students that most of the stuff being collected for Katrina relief would end in landfills. I was surprised at how hostile some were to my observation, which I am pretty sure was correct. They took it as a personal attack.

If we had a local thrift store, and it is quite possible that we will get one in the next few years, I know how I would like to see situations like this handled. However, lacking a thrift store the current inefficient way may be the best we can do.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ribbon Cutting Comfort Suites

Comfort Suites has been open for business for about two months and on Thursday it had a ceremonial ribbon cutting and open house. A larger than normal group came for the ribbon cutting. It certainly was much larger than the group that posed for the ceremonial groundbreaking in August, 2015.
 After the ribbon was snipped by the owner's four-year-old son, the owner, Jatin Patel, gave a tour to anyone interested. The lobby has distinctive lighting fixtures and unlike many such lobbies, does not have a hallway balcony on the second floor.
 Off the lobby is a large breakfast nook. (The food on the table is for those who came to the ribbon cutting.)
 Off the breakfast area is the kitchen, similar to kitchens in many other hotels.
 Also off the lobby and screened from it is the business center at which people access the Internet and print boarding passes.
 The exercise room is small. This space is designed as a meeting room in many other Comfort Suites.
 Mr Patel wanted a much bigger meeting room that is standard for the franchise. It seats 30 or 40 people and was designed to be ideal for athletic teams that stay overnight before or after competing at SJC. It can be rented by members of the community or, if a group rents enough rooms, is a benefit of staying at the hotel.
 The standard room has two queen-sized beds.
 It also has a sleeper-sofa. I think everyone on the tour was impressed with how nice the rooms are.
 Below is the standard bathroom.
 There are some other room configurations. We were shown one of two rooms that is designed to be handicapped-accessible and one of two rooms that is especially large. Below is its bathroom with two sinks. The thought was that it would be ideal for a bridal room, a room in which a woman could prepare for her big day, perhaps spending the night with the brides-maids. It can also be used by anyone who wants an extra big hotel room.
I asked Mr Patel how does a new hotel get business. How do people know that it is open when it first opens? He said that he spent days on the phone with companies telling them that the hotel was there. The listing in the Comfort Suites website was also extremely important because so many people find rooms by searching the Internet. People also just stop at convenient intersections. Before they opened, they lighted the parking lot and a number of people stopped thinking that it was open. He said that having options at an intersection makes it more attractive for travelers, so his new hotel probably is not having a significant effect on the Holiday Inn Express, also at the intersection. I wondered if lack of options was a reason that businesses kept failing at the US 231/ I-65 intersection, but he said that the main problem there was the bad water. (The Patels at one time owned the Carson Inn at that intersection.)

Here is the hotel's Facebook page, here is the corporate site with info on the Rensselaer hotel, and here are some reviews from tripadvisor.com.

The Patels were their own contractor and did some of the construction work themselves. Because the family has a lot of experience in the hotel business (Jatin likes to tell about how when his parents went out of town when he was eight-years old, they left him with babysitters but he ran the motel, which is now the Interstate Motel a bit to the east), they knew some of the things they wanted to avoid and other things that they wanted to be sure to include. The hotel is a great addition to the intersection and to the Rensselaer community. It currently employs 22 people.

Still to be constructed is an outdoor swimming pool.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Monday’s three meetings

When I arrived a few minutes late to the City Council meeting on Monday evening, the Council was in the process of passing an ordinance for raising the price of trash stickers and dumpsters. The ordinance reflected the recommendations it received in the last meeting. The price of a trash sticker will rise from $2.00 to $3.00 and the change will take effect beginning September 21.

Trace Bowles, manager of the electric utility, reported that the utility was unhappy with the performance of the company currently doing compliance reports that are required by state and federal regulators and would like to switch to a different company. He had gotten cost estimates and found that the cost would be about the same and perhaps slightly less. The Council approved the switch.

Titan Construction had inspected the roof of the gas department and found that there were serious issues with the western part of the roof. Patching would cost about $2400 and that would serve until a replacement that would cost in the range of $70,000 to $75,000. The section of the roof that needs replacement is about 70 feet by 120 feet. The Council approved the patching for $2400.

The Council approved replacing a sewer truck for $42,305. The old truck is from 1998.

The Police Department requested hiring an additional dispatch officer. They currently have five dispatch officers and eleven other officers. The issue arose when a meeting revealed that the head of the dispatch department was considering other jobs because of stress. Calls have increased in the past few years and are now running in excess of 10,000 per year. The dispatchers are the persons answering calls to the utilities when the calls are after hours, and because of that, the request suggested that the cost of the new position, which will be slightly less than $61,000, be borne by the utilities. About 47% of the utility calls are for electricity, 30% for gas, 19% for water, and 4% for sewer. There was a discussion of whether any motion would need to be passed by the Utility Board, which has the same voting members as the City Council. The Mayor suggested that the Council and Utility Board were one and the same so no special meeting would be required but the Clerk/Treasurer suggested that problems from an Owen Street project suggested that the meeting would be a good idea. In the end, a special committee of Watson, Cover, Phillps, Bowles, and C Lockridge was appointed to study the matter and report back to the Council.

In various announcements, it was revealed that the appraisal SJC had of the well site came back at $66,000. (I believe the City’s appraisal was about $19,000). Negotiations continue. A lightning strike in Saturday’s storm took out the SCADA system at the power plant and it will cost and estimated $250K to replace it. (Tuesday’s Rensselaer Republican had the details of what the SCADA system does.)

The meeting adjourned a few minutes before 7:00 giving me enough time to get to the Court House for two more meetings. The BZA had only one item on its agenda, a Meteorological Tower in Barkley Township. A permit for this project had been approved in the June meeting (which I missed because I was out of town) but the company decided to use a different location, so needed to go through the process again. The tower would be 260 feet tall with three guy wires. The comments from the audience were not directed at this tower but rather at the wind farm that this might lead to. One person wanted to know if it would affect his wife’s pacemaker. The representative of the company said that research showed that the major concerns from wind farms were the flicker effect and the noise, and as a result, towers were placed at least at a distance of 1.5 times their height from any residences. The special exception was approved but it is clear that if this leads to a wind farm proposal, there will be opposition from the area residents.

After the BZA adjourned, the Planning Commission met. The first item on the agenda was skipped because the people involved were not present. The second item was a return to an issue from the previous month, the request to rezone a ten-acre property north of the US 231/SR 14 intersection from commercial business to agricultural. After a great deal of discussion, a motion was made to deny the request and it passed 5 to 3.

The third item was for split of a property in the DeMotte-Wheatfield area.It was granted after some discussion. Finally, the section of Comprehensive Plan dealing with flood plains was amended. The change was needed to make the Plan compliant with recent changes in State regulations.

In related news, the new roof on the gazebo in Hal Gray Park has been finished.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Pictures 8-22-2016

Last week on Thursday the freshmen who had not already arrived on campus for SJC sports were supposed to move in. A number of businesses were there to greet them. The Chamber of Commerce people said that they did not talk to as many this year as in the past.
 On Wednesday work was still being done to Gallagher Hall. Note the different color of the two panels on the left in the picture below.
 One activity for new students was a volunteer day on Saturday. I noticed that all the bays were open on the city building on the corner of Vine and Melville, north of Columbia Park. I had never seen all the bucket trucks for the electric linemen parked together. There were SJC students sweeping out the building.
 On Saturday we got about three inches of rain and that was in addition to about four inches in the previous week. A line of storms passed through and following it was a thin tail of more rain that trained over Rensselaer. A few miles north and a few miles south people got much less rain than we did. Yards were flooded all over town and the Maxwell Ditch by Brookside Park was flowing over Jackson Street.
 The river is up but will not reach flood stage (12 feet). It peaked at just under 11 feet. Rensselaer got a lot of rain but much of the watershed got much less. We will set some daily flow records.

The city had four pumps working to move water over Jefferson Street near Lincoln. Before Rensselaer was built up, there was a swale that ran in that area up past the power plant to the northeast part of town. The early city residents blocked it up but water goes where it wants to go and the loss of that drainage continues to cause problems whenever we get heavy rains. That is why the intersection of College and Front and the low stretch of SR 114 near the power plant flood.

At least one of the pits at the construction site for the high water treatment plant got a lot of water.

The workers had been erecting forms last week. New piles of rebar have been delivered to the site.
 In other construction news, a new sidewalk is being installed around Lafayette Bank and Trust.
 On Sunday morning I encountered a doe and two fawns in Weston Cemetery. They wanted to cross the bridge over the Maxwell Ditch but there was a runner on the other side. The doe eventually decided to retreat up the hill. My picture was not as clear as I wanted it to be.
 Sunday was the last day on which the city pool was open. I thought it might close early for lack of patrons as it had on Saturday, but a bit after I arrived a pack of kids who had been picnicking in the shelter arrived.
 The start of school and the closing of the swimming pool are two indicators that summer is coming to an end. Another is the appearance of Halloween displays in the stores. I noticed this one at CVS on Sunday afternoon.

I forgot to mention that our bison came in second in the popular vote at the state fair and was one of four that received honorable mention in the judges decision.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Church Renovations II

At the end of June I had a post about renovations to the floor and pews at St Augustine Church. I expected to have an update in mid July. At the beginning of July the pews were being installed.
A few weeks later they all seemed to be in place, but the kneelers still needed to be installed. Then a problem arose because the people who had installed the pews had gouged the tiles and that needed to be tended to. It was not until this past week that the basement was abandoned and services returned upstairs. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Start of budget hearings

The Jasper County Council met on Tuesday night to begin their budget hearings and discussion. Before that part of the agenda, they approved additional appropriations for tracking devices for inmates of Community Corrections and for the court’s law book budget. They had a public hearing for the growth factor (at which no members of the public said anything) and approved attaching it to the property tax. (I would explain what that means if I understood it.)

They had some time before the scheduled public hearing on the budget, scheduled for 7:30, and there was a discussion of the possibility of a county park, which some citizen has been asking various council members about. No one on the council was willing to investigate the matter but if citizens are willing to do the homework, they are welcome to do so.

The budget hearings themselves are almost impossible to follow if you are in the audience. The Council members have a thick binder full of numbers and the discussion is almost always in reference to what is in the binders. There were three budgets discussed at the meeting, those of the Highway Department, the various parts of the Commissioner budgets (which include a big variety of things), and JCEDO and Tourism. During the discussion of the highway budget, it was noted that about 350 different communities and counties submitted grants for matching road funds. This was the first year of the program and local officials did not expect nearly that many proposals. Only one county in the state had no proposals originating from it. Both Jasper County and the City of Rensselaer submitted proposals and they should know in a week or two if their proposals will be funded.

During the presentation of the Commissioners, someone mentioned that the eastern part of the county had received more rain than Rensselaer this week. Rensselaer got about three inches and some places in the eastern part of the county were four and five inches. The Commissioners were frustrated by the climate control work being done by Havel in both the Court House and jail. They may slow down the project to make sure that there will be savings from it. There was a long discussion of the budget for the Fair. The current fair office may be replaced because the building is old and in need of work. During fair week 230 families reside in the campgrounds. As mentioned in a post on the Commissioners July meeting the county would like to purchase land on the west side of the fairgrounds that it is currently leasing, and a resolution of interest was passed to allow the county to proceed with negotiations to purchase the land.
The short discussion of the tourism budget mentioned that assistance with South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority is being phased out as the local office has learned to do many of the things that South Shore was previously doing. The meeting was recessed and will continue with more budget discussions this week.

Voting for the bicentennial bison has yielded a very close contest between Martin County and Jasper County. As I write this, both are over 10,000 votes and Martin county is ahead by two votes. No other county is close to 1000. (If you have not voted, you can do so here. Jasper County is on the second page.) Today (Wednesday) is the last day to vote.

I do not have a picture for today’s post and I need one for the link I make on Facebook. Here is the flow in the Iroquois River for the past 45 days. Today we will probably set a daily record. The flow for the day will average more than 500 cubic feet per second and the previous high flow was 465 cfs set in 1958.



Friday, August 12, 2016

High humidity

It seems that every year when the LaRue Pool closes, we get some of the hottest days of the year. On Thursday the weather station downtown reported that the dew point was 80 degrees and it felt like 109 degrees. This morning the dew point was 76 degrees. The temperatures are not unusually high but the dew points are awful.

We have not had a decent rain in August and the river is very low. I noticed a picnic bench in the river under the College Street Bridge. The river will have to get a little lower before people will be able to use it.
 The apartment fire was smoldering most of the day on Thursday. In the afternoon the smoke was intense enough to bring a small fire truck to dowse the embers.
 Friday morning more of the building had collapsed. The Rensselaer Republican reported that it was structurally unsound so the state fire marshall had not completed his investigation.
The Republican also had a story on how the community has responded to help the people affected by the fire. If you are on Facebook, you probably saw some of the efforts to help.

The people doing the Red Cross blood drive on Thursday had a bad day. First they got caught in the delay on I-65 caused by a hazmat fire. Then when they finally arrived at the Knight of Columbus Hall, they could not get their Internet connection to work. They ended up canceling the drive.

 On a brighter note, the gazebo in Hal Gray Park is getting its new roof.
 The roof is being installed on the building for the high water treatment plant and a rebar shell is being put into place in the eastern pit.
 Forms are being erected in the western pit around the concrete base poured earlier this week.
Construction at the National Gypsum plant is still in the dirt-moving stages. I am always impressed at how much dirt has to be moved before construction begins. The first pile at the site now has an impressive growth of weeds.

Jasper the county bison is now in second place in the voting on Facebook. We are being whipped by tiny Martin County. I expected that we would have trouble with some of the big counties, but did not expect a county a third our size would outvote us. Go here to vote: https://a.pgtb.me/nLRbbr (Jasper is on the second page.)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Big fire

The western building of Park View Apartments burned this morning. According to WFLI, the fire started bit after midnight and there was one fatality. There were still fire trucks and police vehicles at the site when these pictures were taken, about 7:30.
 Below is the back of the building. Note the water--there was a lot of standing water around the building and even in Columbia Park.
The Rensselaer Republican posted some impressive pictures on Facebook and probably will have the full story in Friday's edition.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Time to stock up?

The Rensselaer City Council met in a long session--about 100 minutes--on Monday night. The main item on the agenda was a trash study by the City’s financial advisor, John Julien. The City currently is not raising enough money from trash fees to cover the cost of the service. His company estimated that the cost in the next few years would be about $540,000 and that the city would need about $58,000 each year to cover equipment replacement. It gets income from recycling, environmental fees, dumpster fees, and trash stickers, but the income will be short by about $130,000 each year and that $130K must be met from the City’s general fund. His recommendation was to increase the cost of trash stickers from $2.00 to $3.00, the cost of small dumpsters from $12 to $18, and the cost of big dumpsters from $38 to $57. There was a question of whether the dumpster cost was competitive with what commercial haulers charged and he did not know. Several people with some experience in the matter suggested the City’s rates were low but that the City did not provide dumpsters and the commercial haulers did. The Council agreed to write an ordinance based on the recommendations of Mr Julien. It will not take effect for a while and there was concern that people would rush out and stock up on the stickers to beat the price increase (which of course is the rational thing to do. Another way of beating the price increase is to recycle more--it is a free way to get rid of unwanted cardboard, paper, some plastic and glass, and cans.) If you put out a can per week, the present cost of trash pick up is about $100 per year. That cost will soon be $150.

Mr Julien also updated the Council on several other projects. The second tap into the gas pipeline (the City currently taps into the pipeline about six miles south of the City and wants a second tap in the Pleasant Ridge area) and the pipeline into Rensselaer will cost about $2 million. The estimate is that this will increase gas costs to customers about seven or eight cents per hundred cubic feet. Construction could start before the end of this year. A hold-up right now is that the gas trunkline wants prepayment for the tap but by law the city can only pay for services after they are rendered. A work around may be an escrow account.

His company is also doing a study of the electricity rate structure and are about 45 days away from a recommendation. One item that will affect it is a proposed new substation on the corner of Bunkum Road and CR 850W. This was discussed in more detail later in the meeting. Currently the I-65 area has only one feed from the City. The proposed substation would tap into a NIPSCO line and provide a second feed, giving the area more protection from service interruptions. The cost will be in the $1.6 to $2 million range. The Council approved moving forward with this project.

A final item in Mr Julien’s report was remodeling the old fire station for use by the police department. A rough estimate for this project is $1 million and he said that the City would not need to borrow but could cover it with money from LOIT and the Drexel TIF revenues.

In other items, the City approved closing the street in front of City Hall on September 24 for Oktoberfest. It passed an ordinance for Internal Control Standards, something that the State Board of Accounts requires. It will be followed by a written policy detailing how money is to be handled. Current practice has checks on handling money, but they are not written as policy. The gas tracker for August is a 2.5 cent decrease per hundred cubic feet.

The electric utility received permission to update its arc flash study. This is needed for OSHA compliance and specifies what kind of equipment and clothing are required in certain areas. There was discussion of a committee report about which vehicles employees should use when traveling out of town on City business. The end result was a motion to purchase a truck for the electrical utility manager and use the car he is currently using for out-of-town travel.

The City has received an environmental study for the abandoned INDOT property in the northeast section of town and it does not look good. The City will try to get another study through KIRPSE if INDOT will allow access to the site. The Mayor noted that the buildings date back to 1932 and all kinds oils and chemicals may have been dumped there. If the site is not clean, the City will not take it. If it remains in State hands, it will likely just sit there with no clean up.

The Police Chief asked about the leak survey that the gas department will be doing. It will start Monday and he expects to get calls about strange people poking around in people’s yards. The City will be considering submitting a planning grant for improving downtown sidewalks and lights. Finally, it was noted that on Monday the high rate treatment plant had a big concrete pour resulting in a 3.5 foot base in the second pit. Below is a picture of the equipment used.


I would guess that about 60 truckloads of concrete were delivered to the site. It seemed that every five to ten minutes another truck arrived and they were pouring from mid morning to mid afternoon. Here is a picture of the result.


The City Council will meet at 4:00 on August 10 in a special session to discuss 2017 salaries.

In other news, Benton County recently dedicated more wind turbines, these sponsored by Amazon. Here is a link and here is an article about it.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Beauty and The Beast

Last week the Carnegie Players presented Beauty and the Beast, a musical based on a Disney cartoon movie. The Players have been presenting plays since 1994, usually two a year, and this was one of their best productions. The costumes were unusual because the plot involves people who are turning into objects. There were costumes for players as knives, forks, plates, a clock, a chandelier, a tea pot (Mrs Potts was cast as Mrs Potts), a vanity, and a duster.
The sets were attractive and I liked the way that the stage crew shifted them between scenes in the village and the castle. The production had some talented singers not only in the major roles but in the chorus and dance scenes.

The crowd was respectable but not a sell-out as the Fendig Theater productions are, but then the Summer Theater audience has a lot of parents that attend all three shows. A cast member told me that the audiences reacted differently on each night--Friday night was louder and reacted more than the other two nights.

The cast was quite large with eleven named parts and 22 others in choruses and ensembles. Some of the cast came from distance, with one cast member living in Watseka, Illinois. There are a lot of people who enjoy performing and the Carnegie players give them the opportunity to be on stage.

There were a number of small girls in the audience who were Belle fans and they were delighted not only to see the play but also to have their pictures taken with Belle and other members of the cast

Overall, it was a high-quality community theater production that was very entertaining. (Even when it is not quite professional quality, community theater can be more entertaining than professional theater because the audience knows some of the cast.) Checking the Internet, I see that a non-cartoon version of the story will be released in March, 2017.

(The program said that the use of cameras was prohibited so I am not going to share any pictures. There were lots of pictures on Facebook of Fendig's Wizard of Oz but I have not seen any of Beauty and the Beast.)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

It's gone

I have not been in the area of the Babcock Quarry recently, so today I decided to see if the old house was still there. It is not. It must have been removed a few days or weeks ago because there is no trace of it left.
 The water level in the pit keeps rising.
 There are piles of stone in the storage area north of the road.

The masonry work on the building at the high water treatment plant construction site has been completed. Late in the week the remaining blocks were loaded onto a trailer pulled by a city truck and hauled away.
 There is something emerging from the eastern pit. I assume it is a form for a concrete pour.
The western pit seems to be bigger and it contains a lot of rebar in a circular pattern. There were problems with the walls caving in and stone and plastic seems to have been the solution.

On Wednesday I attended part of the Airport Authority Board meeting. It started late because several members were going over budget numbers in the office. While the other members were waiting they discussed several things, mentioning that there was less crop dusting this year because corn prices are low. They also said that traffic to the air show in Oshkosh had been brisk and resulted in a lot of fuel sales.
The meeting began with a presentation from a representative from their fuel supplier suggesting that the airport fuel farm become branded with the Phillips name. There are some benefits to that and no apparent downsides, so the board agreed to become a Phillips dealer.
A second presentation was about a preliminary investigation of establishing an avionics shop at the airport. It would be a private business as Excel Air is or might be a partnership with Excel Air. The board was interested but there are many steps to be taken before this becomes a reality.
The T-hangar contract has been signed with Hamstra. The contractor wanted to know what color the trim of the building should be. 
I suspect there was much more business to discuss, but the sun was setting and I needed to leave. (Have you noticed that the days are getting shorter?)

Voting is now open for the bicentennial bison at the Indiana State Fair.  If you are on Facebook, you need to like the Indiana State Fair in order to vote. You can only vote once every 24 hours. Jasper is currently far ahead of the other bison. Go here for more. (Jasper County is on the second page.)

Tonight will be the final showing of the Carnegie Players' Beauty and the Beast.