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

Friday, January 27, 2017

Winter returns

Winter has returned with a bit of snow decorating the scenery this morning. We will have below average temperatures for the next few days.

The Elza Street apartments now have a roof and one can see what the building will look like when finished. Soon the exterior may be finished and then there will be no point in taking additional pictures.
The workers are busy on Lincoln Street with the high rate treatment plant but it is very difficult to see what they are doing. Much of the work is inside the structures. Today more concrete was being poured.
Financial problems at Saint Joseph’s College have been reported in the Lafayette paper, WLFI, and the Rensselaer Republican. A letter from the president of the college about the problems has been posted on Facebook.

This is not the first time that SJC has faced crisis. A year or two before I came the Administration Building of the College burned and that loss required many changes that were aided by a large fund raiser. A year or two after I arrived in the mid 1970s they had a financial crisis that resulted in the Board invoking financial exigency, which allowed the College to downsize staff and faculty. For several years after pay was frozen. I hope that SJC is able to figure out a way forward from this crisis as they have in the past.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Primary School Art Exhibit

It is time for the annual primary school art exhibit in the foyer of the Core Building at SJC. Since last year's was the 23 annual, this must be the 24th annual exhibit.
It is always fun to see what projects the teachers are giving the students. Does anyone remember the Op Art?

The snowmen drawing is an exercise in perspective.
A little pop-art pointillism is fun.
This was as close to zentangle art that I found. (The Jasper County Public Library has a zentangle event on February 8 with limited seats available.)
More than one school was doing foil reliefs.
I have learned a lot about symmetry in the past couple years. This picture attempts to illustrate reflective or mirror symmetry, where one half the image is a reflection of the other half.
Except for the R, the other letters in the word "symmetry" can all be formed with symmetry, though the S will have two-fold rotational symmetry, not mirror symmetry. Besides R, letters J and P cannot be formed with symmetry unless they are very oddly shaped.

The awards ceremony for the exhibit will be February 5.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Two planning meetings

On Monday evening (1-23-2017) the Jasper County Plan Commission met. They elected the same officers for 2017 as they had for 2016 and they decided to move the March meeting, if needed, to March 20 to avoid a conflict with spring breaks for local schools.

The first item on the agenda was a rezone from residential to agricultural for land in Wheatfield Township. This item had originally come before the Commission in July (see the background here) and  because there were questions about the archeology of the site, had been continued until a survey was done. The item was back on the agenda again in September and continued, and now there was a request to continue it until the March meeting. The Commission voted to deny the continuance. That means the process, including notifying neighbors, must start again. The Commission felt that too much time had elapsed since the case began and that those interested in the hearing would not be aware of it.

The second item was a rezone in Walker Township but the petitioner had not gotten the notice in the newspaper by the appropriate time so the case could not be heard.

The Commission voted to have a public-comment item added to the agenda for future meetings.

Below is a picture of the Babcock Quarry, which has no relation at all to anything else in this post. Here is a link to a picture of the quarry in early August, 2016. The water has risen noticeably since then.

On Tuesday night the Rensselaer Advisory Planning Commission met to discuss an amendment to the original platt of the Biddle Subdivision, which is located south of the CSX tracks on the east side of Mattheson Street. The developer, James Shanley, wanted to combine ten lots that front Mattheson into five lots. The original lots were 80' by 120' and the new lots would be 160' by 120', which would make them a bit less than half an acre each. The proposed change was approved unanimously.

This was a new group for me. I do not think they meet often.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A meeting and a move

There were three major items at the City Council meeting on Monday night. First was a public hearing on a grant proposal to help fund a water main from the new well south of town to the water treatment plant. The grant will request $550,000 and the City will provide $975,100 funded by bonds. A spokesman for Commonwealth Engineering was there to explain that the project would include a 12-inch main from the well. It will run along Sparling and then down Milroy until it cuts between two houses and connects into the treatment plant from the back. Well number two, which is no longer used because it is contaminated with chemicals, will be capped and the well house demolished. There will be new sidewalks along Sparling where there are none now and they will extend to the substation. The pictures below show more.
The City is working on getting everything ready and has marked the route with flags and stakes. The City will be ready to move when the grant is decided.
The well is needed. The City is using both of its existing wells at capacity.

The second major item was bid openings for the switch gear and transformers for the proposed substation on the northwest corner of Bunkum Road and CR 850W. There were three bids for the switching gear with a low of $332,408 and a high of $439,729. There were four bids for the transformer ranging from $408,203 to $502,971. The bids were given to an engineer from IMPA who will make recommendations at the next Council meeting.

The final big item was a discussion of the future of the old fire house. It will be used by the police department and the discussion was about how to make the changes needed. The mayor suggested that it be done with a design build. This is a new term for me, and here is an explanation from Wikipedia.

The police department's need for more space is mostly for storage. At present they use both the basement and second floor of the City Building. There was discussion about the settling that has occurred. To remedy it, the space under the the floor has been pumped with filler three times, with the last time about 23 yards of concrete being used. The settling should not be a problem for the police department because they will not be putting large trucks on the floor and also the floor will be opened up to redo the drainage and heating so problems can be identified.

In other news, I noticed that Hamstra was working inside the space that was formerly Fashion Bug. I asked several people what might be happening and today I got an answer. My source said that the space is being divided as the picture below shows. One part (I do not know which part) will be the future home of Jasper County office of Division of Family Resources. The current office, which is on the corner of College and Grace, has a for rent sign on it even though it is still occupied.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pictures, Jan 21 2017

Saturday was sunny and warm. I saw two young guys jogging with only shorts and shoes (and socks) and they did not look cold.

The warm weather is the result of a warm front that brought us about an inch and a half of rain on Thursday and Friday. The river is full, but still a bit more than a foot below flood stage. The City is cutting down some of the trees that line the river in Weston Cemetery.
 What will be the high rate treatment plant now has a prime lakeside location. It probably would not have been used if it had been completed--though we got a lot of rain, it came down gradually over many hours.
 Today was Train Day at the Library. I did not get any really good pictures. The exhibit had trains with most of these gauges. One of the exhibitors said that the trains running on the Z gauges were very touchy--everything had to be just right or they would not run. When I was a kid I had a trains that used the O gauge but my kids had HO.
 The other day I stopped by what will be Embers Station because I saw the owner painting a decoration on the wall. He asked me not to take a picture of the painting in progress but did let me take some pictures of the progress inside. Below is what the two garage bays now look like. The pipes in the floor are drains and mark where a bar will be be. You can see the oven in the wall.
 A closer look at the oven. (For better pictures, see here and scroll through the series by clicking the arrows.)
 I had not realized that the oven was not inside the building but behind it.
 This week saw rapid progress on the Elza Street apartments. Below is a picture from Wednesday.
 Here is the site on Thursday.
 And here is the building on Friday.
 It has been a long while since I have visited the Antique Mall at Greene's Furniture.  (Here is a post from 2009.) While shopping for furniture on Saturday I stopped by. This large bronze stature is near the entrance. It would make a statement in any home.
 The old stove would be useful for power outages in winter. It was in excellent shape.
 I noticed these porcelain advertising thermometers because my father had one, but not for these products. They were once fairly common. The price on the Land O'Lakes thermometer was $99 and for the Burpee thermometer $140.
 There is a lot of stuff to see and if you are interested in antiques, a lot of stuff to buy.
 Speaking of furniture, two years ago R&S Used Furniture opened across from R&M. They have  closed because of health of one of the owners.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Court house faces

The Jasper County Historical Society has as its mystery photo this week a picture of a stone face. I recognized it as part of the Court House, but was not sure where it was. My initial guess was that it was around what was once the main entrance on the Washington Street side of the Court House. In addition to the gargoyles, there are two faces in the decorative trim.

Below are close-ups of the two faces on either side of this entrance (which is no longer an entrance).
They are stone faces, but not the right stone faces.
The mystery picture shows decoration around the Van Rensselaer entrance, which is now only used by Court House personnel.
Below are close ups of these two faces.
Here is the Historical Society's picture of the face above.

The Harrison Street entrance also has elaborate decoration around it, but no faces. The Cullen Street entrance is unadorned but is now the only entrance for the public. It was probably made the public entrance because it is the only one without steps.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A couple of meetings

The Park Board and Corporation held a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon at City Hall. Attending the meeting in addition to the members of the Park Board and Corporation were Mayor Wood and Councilman Cover, two people from the Jasper Foundation, Brianne Hooker and Jack Drone, and the two trustees of the Rex Blacker Trust, Ed Dumas and Rich Baunach.

Mr Dumas urged the Board to get behind a fund-raising campaign. He said that the people who had guided the fund raising for the Jasper County Hospital expansion could do the same for the parks. They would not do the actual fund raising, but would organize and coordinate the campaign. The campaign would not be limited to those who live in the city limits because many people in central Jasper County use the parks and they might be interested in contributing.

After making his pitch and answering some questions, Mr Dumas left. The Mayor and Mr Cover thought the Board should agree to the Dumas proposal. Some Board members wanted to know if hiring a professional fundraising organization would step on the toes of the Jasper Foundation, which under its previous personnel had been willing to do fundraising. Mrs Hooker said that she could not do what the previous head of the Foundation had suggested she could do, but the Foundation would help in any way it could. After further discussion, in which some people wondered how much money could be raised, the Board approved a motion to go with the Dumas' suggestion.

A couple hours later the Jasper County Council met. The first order of business was election of officers. The Council stayed with the incumbents, Rein Bontreger president and Andy Andree vice president.

The meeting did not have much on the agenda and the next item, a report from the Wabash Valley Alliance, was the most interesting. Wabash Valley receives County funds for their work in mental health and addiction counseling. During the July-to-June year they served 507 people in Jasper County, which was down 56 from the previous year. The cases were divided almost equally between males and females. The number 607 is about 1.5% of the population and would be higher if many the residents of the northern part of the county did not got to Lake and Porter Counties for services. Wabash Valley provided over $1.5 million in services and collected from insurance and government payments less than one million. The shortfall was covered by various grants and about $200K from the County.

The spokesman mentioned that their clients included children and that schools referred some of them. Among problems the children had were hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, and addiction. When asked about how much addiction affected their case load, he said that between 60% and 80% of their clients had some kind of addiction.

He mentioned that Lafayette hospitals are seeing an average of 1.5 overdoses a day that are treated with Narcan and said that the widespread use of Narcan may be increasing overdoses because it has reduced the risk of death from overdosing. (Economists call this the problem of moral hazard and it is a pervasive problem with anything that reduces the costs of bad decisions.) He also mentioned that Wabash Valley had sold its West Lafayette hospital and it was now called Riverbend Hospital.

In other business, the Council approved an interfund loan that is used to pay for ambulance service. I do not understand how it works but this is something the Council does every year The loan is paid back at the end of the year. The Council approved three additional appropriations. The Sheriff requested a large transfer of funds to allow his department to purchase a new computer server. In a future meeting he will request additional appropriations to replenish the accounts from which the transfers were made. The whole thing involved timing--the end effect will be that of an additional appropriation but because the request was not publicized early enough, it was done as a transfer.  The Sheriff noted that the jail had 1103 bookings in 2016 and currently has 81 inmates, several of whom are serving their sentences locally because all sentences less than one year are now served in county jails.

The Council had two vacancies to fill, one on the Alcohol Review Board and the other on the Redevelopment Commission (which rarely meets because its only responsibility is with a TIF district adjacent to Fair Oaks Farms). Both appointments were delayed until the February meeting.

Commissioner Kendall Culp reported that the Frost Law will be enforced beginning today (Wednesday). He said that the County should be getting its matching grant of $1,000,000 for roads from the state in the next week or two. Finally, he said that we can expect some higher taxes and fees from the state legislature to finance road repair. Because people are driving more miles with less gas, the revenues from the gas tax no longer are sufficient to keep the roads in good shape.

Below are some pictures. The first two are of the new hangar at Jasper County Airport. The building is almost finished and from the exterior looks almost the same as the hangar building to its south. (The old hangars to the east are the old hangars built 70 or 80 years ago and are showing their age.) The first picture is the south wall and the second is of the north wall.

Next is a park related picture. The City now owns this house on College. It is the first house south of the old Monnett building. It will probably be demolished as it cannot be sold or rented.
Finally, a crane was assembling itself on Tuesday at the construction site of the high rate treatment plant. I never did see what it was used for.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Mostly updates

Below are some pictures I have recently taken. The first shows one of the many trucks carrying parts for the high rate treatment plant on Lincoln Street. This one was unusually large--the truck had an escort vehicle for its oversized load.
 The above picture was taken about a week ago. The picture below is from Sunday and shows the progress being made in framing the second floor of the Elza Street apartments.
 The Indiana Department of Transportation recently demolished the buildings on its old site in the northeast corner of Rensselaer. In the past week they have been taking down the fence that surrounded the property and digging out the fence posts. As the picture shows, those posts were anchored in concrete.
 Sydney Jacobs moved to the northern part of the old Chrysler building in mid summer and for a couple months did not have cars on the lot--I think there was some regulatory hurdle. Now they are fully stocked. With Ed White across the street, there are a lot of cars for sale on that block of N McKinley.
 The Visit Rensselaer Facebook page noted last week that there is a new statue in front of the hospital. It is, of course, a stature of Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone. I suspect that all the Franciscan Health hospitals have this or similar statue.
 An upcoming event that many kids will enjoy is the Family Train day at the library on Saturday.  Here is the post from two years ago.
 On Sunday the Prairie Arts Council had a reception for the photography exhibit currently showing in the Carnegie Center. It was well attended. Below is a picture of a saw-whet owl, which is a winter visitor to our region. This picture is used on the publicity cards for the exhibit.

Most of the pictures have short explanations with them, so you not only get to enjoy the wonderful pictures, but if you read the notes, you will learn a little about each of the birds pictured.
Over the weekend I stopped by the open house for Rensselaer's newest photography studio, Rustique Memories, which is located on the second floor above Unique Finds. The woman who runs the business is from Remington and is available by appointment most of the week. She also said that she works at Witko, which is located just north of Wolcott. I had never heard of the business, but they do packaging. (While searching for them up on the Internet, I found another Wolcott business that I did not know existed, Indiana Ribbon and Bow.)

For the past week or two I have been trying to clean out old computer equipment. I still have one old computer that reads floppy disks, so I decided I needed to check them and then toss them. Is there any use for these things?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A foggy day

After last week's bitter cold and yesterday's high winds, today gave us fog. Below is a view of the Court House from Front Street.

The ice in the river was melting but still there in places. I took some pictures but they do not show the ice clearly--water was running over it.

Work on the second floor of the apartments on Elza has started.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

City Council and SJC ribbon cutting; two posts in one

At the beginning of every Rensselaer City Council meeting, the Mayor asks if there are any citizen's comments. Usually no one speaks, but in the first Rensselaer City Council meeting of 2017 there was one that I thought was very interesting. James Shanley had the plans for a 52 lot subdivision on the east side Mattheson Street south of the railroad tracks approved in 2004. Drainage was an issue and at first the plan was to drain to the south, and then that was changed to the North, and then the CSX railroad told Rensselaer that it would cost $60,000 to tunnel under the tracks, and eventually dirt from the hospital expansion was placed on the lot and that triggered a response from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corp of Engineers, which told him that he had to start all over on the permitting process. I had thought that the reason that the lots were not developed was because the housing crisis hit in 2007-8, and that may have played some role, but from Mr. Shanley's telling, regulations played a key role.

Anyway, he now has someone interested in purchasing some land for a house--he had previously sold three acres to Mr Sayler for the apartments that are being built--and he would like to get all the permits and permissions so the house can be built. He agreed to the Mayor's suggestion that he meet with a couple councilmen, the building commissioner, and the City;s project coordinator to see what could be done.

The main item on the agenda was a public hearing for the proposed electric rate increase. As usual, no citizens had any comments. After a few comments by the City's financial advisor, the Council passed the second and third readings of the ordinance. The effect will be to nullify the electric rate tracker that was passed a meeting or two ago. The new rates will take effect in 30 days.

The gas tracker for January will be an 11 cent increase per hundred cubic feet.

The Mayor introduced Steve Miller, the new operations manager for the electric utility. He replaces Trace Bowles, who left several weeks ago. Mr Miller recently retired from the Frankfort electric utility. He will start January 22.

In Superintendents' comments, the Police Chief announced that the Board of Public Works approved a Chaplain Program. Details will be announced in the future. There was some discussion of properties that have been or will be purchased by the Blacker Trust. There were questions about exactly what restrictions were on the land recently given the City on College Avenue next to Staddon Field.

The Utility Office is running parallel software as it transitions to new software. It has almost completed the transition. The Board of Public Works approved the tenth payment for the high rate treatment plant, which is now 75% completed. Finally, there will be a public hearing at the next Council Meeting for an OCRA grant for funds to connect the new city well to the water treatment plant. The City went through the whole process in 2016 but ultimately was not able to submit the grant.

On Tuesday SJC and Sodexo held a ribbon cutting for the new Shoppes at SJC. It is part of the almost complete repurposing of the ballroom floor in Halleck Center.
 The new Shoppes replaces the old Bookstore. Students no longer purchase books from the College Store--they are now purchased on the Internet. I am not sure how the system works--it is all new since I retired in 2010. The new Shoppes runs along the whole south side of the building, converting what were offices and lounges into three stores, one that has SJC branded clothing and other stuff.
 A second is a convenience store for food, and the third is Jazzmans, which is a coffee shop and has been in operation since 2012.
 When I mentioned that the Shoppes was open in October, I said that I was told that the registrar would be moving in where the old bookstore was. A comment said that it would be the admissions office and the welcome center. We were both right. The space that the Bookstore was in now has three offices, the Admissions Office with their Welcome Center, the Registrars Office, and the Financial Aid Office. I asked what would happen to the spaces these offices vacated and got very little information. The Admissions Office had been on the top floor of Xavier-McHale Hall and the Welcome Center on the south end of Schweiterman. The Registrar's Office had been on the second floor of Xavier-McHale.
 The space has been completely remodeled, with lots of little offices carved out of the space.
 On the north side of the floor, what had been the Chaplain Office is now full of computers and I was told will be used by Admissions as a call center. The open lounge area has been reduced in size, as a conference room has been carved out of it. Beyond the new conference room is the former home of Financial Aid, and that space will now go to Student Development.

An alumnus of SJC and one of my former students has a recent video on Youtube on the importance of comedy. Click here to watch it. (It starts with an annoying ad that you can click through.)

Embers has constructed a large oven in what was Jack's Uptown Service. They have posted pictures on the Facebook page of The Station Brewhouse at Embers.