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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

City Council meeting 03-27-2017

The first part of the City Council meeting on Monday was filled with legally required items. There was another public hearing on the Sparling well project and the Office of Community and Public Affairs grant of $550,000 that the City is seeking. There was little new information and no members of the public spoke. The project is expected to cost about $1,500,000. The grant proposal is due April 7, the awarding of grants will be June 7, and if the project is funded, construction could start in the Fall with completion in summer of 2018.

A second public hearing followed for an additional appropriation of $746,649, funds that the State returned to the City from the stabilization fund of the Local Option Income Tax. The proposal was to use this money for streets. Again, no one spoke to the issue. After the public hearing closed, the Council passed ordinances or resolutions needed for both of these projects.

Moving to more regular business, the Council approved an electric tracker adjustment that will reduce electric bills for the April-May-June quarter. It approved a recommendation to hire a tree removal company for the cost of $26,500 to remove 32 trees. And it approved purchase by the utility billing office of new computers and software for a bit under $7500. The funds for the computers will come from the four City utilities.

The Cemetery Superintendent would like to have a small parking lot west of the creek (the Maxwell Ditch) so that people who use the cemetery will have a place to park. Currently some park on the road, others pull off onto the grass, and still others park at Brookside Park. The lot would be for five to seven cars. He was give permission to get quotes. He also suggested that the City host one of the traveling Vietnam War memorials. These arrive on a Wednesday and leave on a Sunday. There is some cost, which the Mayor thought would be easily raised, and the need for many volunteers. The Council expressed support and we may see the Wall at Brookside Park in 2018.

The gas department open house will be April 28. The Council approved $1200 for the event. The Indiana Regulatory Commission requires gas utilities to educate the public on gas line safety and this event is the City's way of meeting that requirement. 

A very large crowd of 4,000 to 6,000 is expected for the SJC Little 500 on April 22 and local and state law enforcement is trying to get ready. They are expecting a long night.

At 4:00 on April 28 there will be an Arbor Day planting at the Primary School. Testing of the Wet Weather treatment plant should take place on Wednesday. Construction should be substantially complete by the end of the month (which I think means that it should be ready to handle a flood.)

One of the superintendents noted that steel was going up at the O'Reilly site. The concrete pad was put in place last week by a contractor from Fort Wayne.

On Monday lots of materials were unloaded at the site and the frame started going up.

The exterior of the Elza Street apartments seems to be almost finished with the completion of the brick facing.

I was wondering if the Youth Center on Sparling would be affected by the closing of SJC. I asked one of the people at the meeting if the Center had City water and was told they did. There are City water mains both along Sparling and the highway to serve Houston subdivision. Jasper County owns the land that the Youth Center is on. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Regional Middle Level Art Show

The third and final of the three area school exhibits is now showing in the lobby of the Core Building at SJC. As I entered the lobby, I instinctively tilted my camera to take a picture of the optical collages from North Newton students
 This colorful and well drawn peacock had a big gold sticker that indicates that the judges liked it a lot. It was from a student at KV.
 Using a marker and watercolor, a student at DeMotte Christian School did this design that also merited a big gold sticker.
 I did not recognize what the point of this work was until I read the caption. It is a Piet Modrian inspired animal and there were a number of other items from the same assignment given to Rensselaer students. (The Modrian part of this is the design of the giraffe's spots.)
 Faces are hard to draw so I am always impressed with a well-drawn face.
 There is a lot of detail in these colorful hands.
The show runs until April 9, the day of the Awards Ceremony.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The last one

The current exhibit at the Fendig Gallery is the final SJC senior and faculty art exhibit. Titled "The Whole Nine Yards," the exhibit features works by nine senior art majors. It seems to me to have a dark feel to it, and perhaps that is appropriate given the dark times at SJC.
 The show runs until April 14. The next show will be the annual photography show and if you have pictures you would like to exhibit, there are entry forms at the gallery. The hours are MWF 11:00-1:00 and TTH 9:00-1:00.
 There were a number of items that used insulating foam. Perhaps it came from an assignment.
The reception for the exhibit will be Friday March 24 from 6:30 pm until 8:30 pm.
 This drawing reminded me of an Escher picture.

On Wednesday evening a group of alumni and Board of Trustees members hosted an informational meeting at the high school about their attempt to keep SJC alive. They do not represent the administration or the majority of the Board but instead are part of the faction that opposed the decision that the Board took on February 3. Below are some of the items that I thought were interesting. (For those who want to know more, the Rensselaer Republican had an article on the meeting in the Thursday edition with the promise for a follow-up. Part of the meeting was also streamed on Facebook, try here.)

Only 606 of the 904 students enrolled this semester lived on campus. Reasons given for the difficulty in attracting students included the falling birthrate, on-line education, and the questioning of whether a college degree was worth the money. An alumnus who pledged $10 million some years ago only gave $2 million. (I wonder if perhaps he decided that the College was not being managed well and that is the reason he did not fulfill the pledge. I also wonder if the perception that the College was not well run might be the reason that the alumni contribution rate was only 18%.) The EPA required that SJC switch from coal to natural gas and that cost about $1.1 million. (The amount was probably higher than it should have been because the College did not install the right equipment initially and had to redo some of it.) Councilman Scott Barton later in the meeting noted that if the College were in City limits, its utility bills (over $1 million) would be 25% lower There was no convincing explanation as to why the College had not sought to be put inside the limits.

The payment on the debt to build the Core Building and the Apartments was only interest, no principle. The auditors have delayed their report to give the College a chance to fix problems, but that delay seems not to have helped. If the auditors find that the financial condition is such that there is question of the College's ability to survive, it will lose federal funding. The administration of the College seemed to be planning a major campaign for funds and was waiting for the completion of a strategic plan to launch the campaign. During the wait they were not actively fundraising but instead were friend raising, getting ready for the big campaign. The administration seemed to not recognize the seriousness of the financial situation and they had no plan B.

Thirty members of the Board were at the meeting in early February and the vote was 18 to suspend operations and 12 opposed. There were three options presented, and the suspension seemed to be the least awful. Some of those who voted to suspend seem to be having second thoughts. My guess is that they did not recognize that their vote to suspend may actually have been a vote to close the College. Some of the assumptions behind the suspension have since proven to be false. The Board apparently has some strange things in its bylaws--the only way to remove a Board member is for the Board member to miss three consecutive meetings and only the Chairman of the Board can dismiss the President of the College. The Board was meeting only three times a year.

If enthusiasm and drive could save the College, the College would be saved based on the passion that was displayed by the people hosting the meeting. Unfortunately there are huge problems that remain. The decision to suspend and the way it has been handled have done tremendous damage to trust and to the SJC brand. I wish them well and hope they are successful.

If SJC cannot be raised from the dead and if no other group is found to take over the campus, the campus will be empty next year and it will be vandalized. If the buildings are not heated, they will deteriorate. Whoever is in control will have to make a decision to keep the entire property intact or to separate it into parts and try to sell the parts. Some of those parts may have value and others, such as dorms, may have none at all, but the value of the parts will probably be less than the value of the whole. It will interesting to see what happens. I hope there is a happy ending but right now I cannot see one.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Several meetings

Since I need a picture to attract attention on Facebook, here are two from the wet water treatment plant showing the completion of the piping that will take water from the plant to the river. In the first you see what may be the last concrete pour on the project (though I have thought many previous pours might be the last). It is sealing the connection between the culvert and the catch basin. (Terms may be totally incorrect.)
Below is the complete union.
I found five meetings to attend on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday evening the Jasper County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) met to consider two cases, both quite simple and both from the northern part of the county. In the first a couple wanted a variance. They had purchased a landlocked property on the assumption that it was buildable but found that it was not when they applied for a building permit They had an easement to the property, but the code says that they need to own the access. So they had purchased access, but it was only 60 feet wide and that required a variance because the code wants 250 feet of frontage. In the second case two brothers wanted to split a parcel to build houses but the split would leave the frontage at 230 feet and the code says that it should be 250. Both cases were approved.

Next the Jasper County Plan Commission met. Their first case came from a gentleman who wants to build storage lockers (at least that is what I think he is planning) on two lots a bit to the west of KV high school, next to the Franciscan Wheatfield Health Center. There were a number of people attending who seemed to be opposed, but they never got a chance to state their concerns because the petitioner had not had the sign he was supposed to have posted up long enough and he did not send the 118 notices to neighbors early enough. (The location is north of a very large subdivision.) The case was continued to the April meeting.

The second case was someone who wanted approval for a two lot subdivision, which meant he wanted to sell two of his five acres so someone else could build a house. It was approved. There was then a short discussion of procedures and the need to simplify them so they did not contradict one another and they would be easier to understand by the public. There was unhappiness expressed with the UDO. That discussion was continued to the next meeting.

As I left these meetings I saw a notice for a PTABOA meeting on Tuesday morning. The meeting of Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals began with the three members being sworn in by County Clerk. The Board had two items on their agenda, both churches requesting tax exemption for properties. One in Remington had purchased an adjacent house and was planning on demolishing it. The other was a church that I think is in DeMotte that had moved into the facilities of another church. State laws says that they should be exempt from property taxes but the PTABOA has to check and make sure that they are what they say they are.

On Tuesday evening the Jasper County Historical Society met at 6:30 to hear the story of the plane crash of March 23, 1947, two days short of the 70th anniversary of the crash. The story had been told last summer and the Rensselaer Republican reported on it at that time. Two young men who had served in the army at the end of WWII had taken the free lessons to fly a plane that were offered to vets and were flying recklessly in the McCoysburg area, buzzing homes. As they tried to do a loop, their engine stalled and they crashed into a small pond. Despite efforts to save them, they perished. It turns out that the plane they were flying had a gravity-fed fuel line so that it could not be flown upside down. When they did the loop, they were too close to the ground to recover from the engine stall. The entire meeting can be viewed on Facebook in the feed of the Jasper County Historical Society.

In the business section of the meeting, which I viewed via the video because I left early to go the Jasper County Council meeting, updates  to several projects were reported. The most interesting was the upcoming restoration of the log cabin at the fairgrounds that will take place during fair week. There will be log cabin experts who will explain how restoration is done and members of the public will be invited to help in the restoration process. There will be much more publicity as fair time approaches and this looks like it may be an interesting part of the fair this year.

The other item of interest is that the family of the late Sandra Gersbach donated Indian artifacts that she had collected and that they will be sorted and categorized in the near future. I have long thought that the historical society should have something on the pre-European populations of our area and perhaps this will be the foundation on which to build that story.

The Jasper County Council meeting had a short agenda. Not on the agenda was a quick update by the County Clerk on the special referendum for the Tri-County School Corporation in May. At the next meeting she will ask for funding to support the election but she expects that the school corporation will reimburse her office for those expenses.

There were three items from Animal Control. One was a request to use some money from the donation fund for security cameras, another was a request to transfer money to purchase a washing machine, and the last was a request from the Animal Control Board  for a bonus for the director, who is being paid at the level of a shelter worker, not as a manager. For this last item, the Council told the Board they needed to go first to the Commissioners.

The meeting ended with a discussion of the local income tax, which is no longer called the local option income tax. Gary Fritts noted that Jasper County is in the top ten in the state in terms of income tax (it is third) but in the bottom ten in terms of property tax (Rein Bonteger said it was 4th), and that he was OK with that. He preferred that the taxes be based on income rather than property. He also noted that many counties were raising their income taxes and few were lowering theirs. There were questions about how the county gets back the income taxes and how much is kept in the stabilization fund. Apparently the revenues that the county gets are based on taxes two years earlier. This discussion will continue in future meetings.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Some pictures to end the week

The week has flown by, but all weeks seem to fly by. Work continues on the wet weather treatment plant. At the end of the week there were only two more pieces of culvert to put in place and they are along Lincoln just east of Weston Cemetery. It took me a few seconds to understand what this sign said. I suspect the spelling is a joke. A second grader would probably understand it more quickly than I did.
The sign is next to the gas regulator by the entrance of the cemetery and the chain link fence on the east side has been bashed in. Perhaps that is what prompted the sign.

Work was progressing on the Iroquois Access Pipeline and there were no demonstrators. The pieces were being brought one at a time by the little tractor that is visible in the middle of the picture. I assume that this is for testing. The usual way of testing this type of plant is to run river water through it.
Progress is very apparent week to week at the future site of the O'Reilly Auto Parts store. The old foundation has now been completely removed. There were some very thick pieces of concrete at the western end that had to be broken up.
At the Elza Street Apartments bricks are being laid to form the facing of the three gables.
I noticed that ceiling fans in the ceiling of the outdoor sitting area of what will be Embers Station Brewhouse.

At SJC there is buzz about possibilities for using the campus next year. One name mentioned is the Renewable Nations Institute. The individual who heads this group was previously interested in Dana College of Nebraska, which shut its doors in 2010. Here is a newspaper piece on the college and attempts to find another use. Rensselaer may have a similar story. In another piece, the head of Renewable Nations Institute said that he had been watching 50 properties of schools that had closed and not one had reopened as a college.

On Friday St Leo University from Florida was on campus. I asked if they had had interest and the representative said that one baseball player had committed. A note from the SJC admissions office mentioned that there were several schools that would allow students to finish their degrees on-line so relocation would not be necessary. On-line education may do to brick and mortar schools what on-line shopping is doing to brick and mortar shopping.

Strack and Van Til has removed their self-checkout lanes and replaced them with two regular checkout lanes. Self service works better for gas stations than it does for grocery stores.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The last transfer fair

On Tuesday morning I stopped by the 230 S College to see the rubble pile of what last week had been a house.
The back story, it you do not know it, is that this property was bought by the Rex Blacker Trust in 2013. This trust was given funds by the late Rex Blacker to support Rensselaer Parks. In late 2016 the Blacker Trust gave this property, which has about a fifth of an acre of land, to the City of Rensselaer with restrictions. The house could not be sold or rented. There was some question if it could be sold and removed from the property, and I have not learned the answer to that question. In any case, it no longer matters. It is now part of the park.

My next stop was City Hall to see what was happening at the monthly meeting of the Alcohol Review Board, Usually these meetings are quick and uninteresting because they simply renew permits, but the legals in the paper said that there was a new permit request by Pizza Hut. The meeting did not take place because it lacked a quorum. The permit for Pizza Hut was to serve beer and would replace the permit that it currently has, which allows it to serve both beer and wine. There was one other person in attendance, from the Hideaway in Kersey. They want to switch to be smoke free and for some reason that requires them to go before the Alcohol Review Board. All the items from the March agenda will be on the agenda for the April 11 meeting.

Then it was time to visit the third and last transfer fair at SJC. I expected this one to have fewer schools and fewer students than the previous two, and my expectation was correct. There were 85 schools registered but about a dozen of them were no-shows. (Weather may have been a factor--it seemed that many of the no-shows were from the north.) Most of the schools were from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio. A few schools came from substantial distances, such as Presentation College in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Immaculata near Philadelphia, and Pine Manor near Boston.

I was interested in how much success the attendees were having in attracting SJC students. Big winners seemed to be Indiana Colleges. Marian had the most applicants of the schools I talked to, with the University of Indianapolis and Anderson College also having large applicant pools. Location matters--some students are looking at schools that are near their homes. Other students are going back to the schools that they applied to when they were leaving high school and choosing their second choice from that list. As I was leaving I talked to an SJC coach and asked him how his team was doing and he said that most of them had found places. Some had gotten better offers than they had at SJC. He said that coach-to-coach connections were important in helping many of the student athletes choose their next school.

It seems that most students have either made a choice or have narrowed their options to a few schools. Several schools in attendance thought there might be some students who are procrastinators and who will not make a choice until the last minute. Perhaps. One of the SJC admissions counselors said that some of the students were intimidated by the number of schools at the first fair and had walked out.

In contrast to the students, very few of the faculty and staff seem to know what they will be doing next year. They have resumes out and some are interviewing, but there are only a few names mentioned of those that have found positions for next year.

I saw several people who had ties to SJC, including two former students of mine. (I did not recognize them and only only vaguely remembered them.) One of them had read the 990 forms going back to 2001 and wondered how the Board could have not reacted to the deteriorating fiscal condition. Another person with a SJC connection noted that there was a fierce resistance to change at SJC and that resistance to change was a reason that some former staff and faculty had left. In talking to people about why the college reached the end of the line, I have heard a number of opinions about what the key failings were. It would be nice if someone with the proper competence could look at all the documents and interview the main players and come up with a report that explained exactly what happened and why, but I doubt if that report will ever be written.

Western Governors University was at this fair and I had a nice chat with their representative. They had not known about the previous fairs. I am not sure how many SJC students will consider them because they appeal more to older and nontraditional students, though they are finding an increasing audience among younger students. WGU-Indiana is the Indiana branch of WGU. If you live in Indiana, you get state aid for enrolling and your degree will say WGU-Indiana, but the curriculum and the classes are the same as the parent entity. An Indiana student in one of their on-line class will have classmates from the other states that are part of WGU. I mentioned the possibility of residential colleges letting students take some on-line courses in specialized areas that their college might not want to offer and she said that WGU was starting to be interested in collaborations, something that they have not done in the past.

SJC now has a web page for bus trips to other schools. Four schools are offering them. The provost of one, Eureka College in Illinois, was formerly a provost at SJC and that is probably the main reason that they have made an extra effort.

After leaving the fair I again stopped by 230 S College. The wreckage was mostly in a large dumpster.
On Tuesday night Rensselaer was getting bursts of lake effect snow. Because the winter has been mild, the Great Lakes are mostly ice free and with a north wind the air can pick up a lot of moisture from Lake Michigan. We may get an inch or two, which will be one of our heavier snowfalls of the winter.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Weather, meetings, construction, and demolition

Are you enjoying the ever changing weather of March? Last Wednesday we had blue skies but very high winds that blew many of the trash cans on Front Street into the street.
 Over the weekend the temperatures dropped and we had light snow all day on Monday. Fortunately most of the snow that hit the roads melted and the water evaporated. Below you can see the snow on the construction site of the wet weather treatment plant. By the end of work on Monday only five of the culvert pieces were still above ground.
 The construction shown above was the subject of two of the agenda items for the meeting of the Board of Public Works late on Monday afternoon. The Board approved pay request 12 for Bowen Construction. The amount was about $339K. The project is officially 92% complete. A start-up simulation is scheduled for March 20. There are some extra funds that will be used to install a liner in a sewer pipe from the library to the lift station.

The second item was a payment of almost $26K to Commonwealth Engineering for three invoices, the largest of which was to pay for someone to monitor the construction.

The third agenda item was an amendment to an engineering contract with Commonwealth to design a phosphate injection system for the water treatment plant. It does something to coat the interior of pipes. The final item was the appointment of three people to a Technical Review Board that will oversee design needed to transform the old fire station into a new police station.

The City Council meeting on Monday evening had a very short agenda and I was the only person attending whose name was not on the roll call. A gas tracker increase of three cents per hundred cubic feet was passed for March. Also approved were a transfer of funds, the purchase of a new laptop for the building inspector, cemetery deed request, and payment for a new appraisal for the old Monnett School building (seen in the background in the picture below). The for-sale sign indicates that it has a new, lower asking price.
 As for the foreground in the picture above, which was taken on Friday, the house is now rubble. I forgot to check it on Monday morning, but that might not have mattered. I was told that the demolition was very quick.

There are some complications in getting the lien release for the well property on Sparling. The City does not want to buy the property until it finds out if an OCRA grant will be funded and the closing of SJC creates additional complications. The Council passed a motion to allow the City to use an escrow account or a line of credit depending on which the owner of the mortgage prefers.

Cleanup week will be May 1-5. Grace Street will be closed for construction from Park to Cullen, probably beginning on April 10. The meeting lasted only twenty minutes.

Last Friday I took the picture below at the College Mall. The footings for the future O'Reilly Auto Parts Store were being poured.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A special meeting

There are Xs marked on the foundations of the old school in Hal Gray Park and they may indicate that there are plans to remove them. I could have found out by attending the Park Board meeting on Monday night but I decided instead to go to a special meeting of the County Council and Commissioners that was held at the same time.
The special meeting was a presentation from three people from Umbaugh, which is the County's financial advisor. In February the County refinanced the jail bonds  and the new interest rate was 1.97%. The refinancing will save the County a bit less than $25,000 each year until maturity, or about $91,000 total. In the process of refinancing the bonds, S&P examined the County's bond rating and, as a result, dropped the County from AA+ to AA. Although AA is still an excellent rating, the County leaders were disappointed with the downgrade and this meeting was a result.

The first speaker explained how S&P arrives at its ratings. There are some factors that the County government has little control over, such as the economy. The rating was done before SJC announced that it was closing or else that might have been listed as a negative. Someone mentioned that another threat to the local economy was the possibility that NIPSCO will close two of its units at the Schahfer Plant. However, there were several changes, some quite simple, that the County can make that will help it the next time it undergoes a rating evaluation. Having a capital improvement plan and written policies for debt, reserves, transparency/fiscal report, and investment are all things that are looked for in the ratings evaluation.

The second speaker told our county representatives that Umbaugh could help them with long-term comprehensive planning. This was prompted in part by another problem that may have been revealed in the rating process. Since 2013 the ending cash balances of the General and GAGIT Certified Shares funds have declined from a bit above $7 million to a bit below $4 million. Some of the other funds have grown, but the decline in ending cash balances in these two funds is troubling. The pitch here was that Umbaugh has the expertise and experience to prepare a plan that will help budgeting. The purpose of a plan is to identify problems and remedy them. The cost will be about $25K to $30K to set it up with updates after that for about $10K to $15K.

The Commissioners will meet in two weeks (they always reserve the option of a second meeting in case it is needed) and will consider the proposals from Umbaugh. The Council will meet the following evening and will be able to act on anything that the Commissioners approve. Judging from the reactions of the people in the room, they will hire Umbaugh to prepare a long range plan and to help formulate the various policies that S&P says that they should have.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A meeting and some pictures

The warm weather has encouraged a lone crocus to bloom in my yard.
The March Commissioners meeting had lots of little items but no big news. The meeting started with a postponement. The Pitstick rezoning request from the Jasper County Planning Commission was moved to the April meeting. The Planning Commission had split 3-3 on the request and the attorney for the Commissioners wanted more time to examine the law that might apply to the case.

There were two GPS items on the agenda. Community Corrections wanted to purchase (or lease) newer GPS equipment from the same company that it currently deals with. The request was approved. A person from Synovia Solutions introduced himself and tried to interest the County in leasing GPS equipment for County vehicles. The tracking would allow the County to see exactly how the vehicles were used.

Four bids were opened for leasing County and Airport farmlands. The bids ranged from $170 per acre to $252. The County and Airport have about 193 acres of farm land to lease.

The Commissioners approved a request from the Surveyor's office to provide (for a fee) information to a wind farm company in Texas. There has been renewed interest in wind farms in Jasper County in recent months.

There were several items involving using the County right-of-way. Two that were not in the Cable Permits item on the agenda were from Century Link and NIPSCO, the first for fiber optic cable and the second for gas pipelines. The Commissioners have decided that they will no longer approve any installation by plowing, which is often the cheapest way to install cable. Instead the installation must be done with trenching or boring. With plowing a blade or plow is pulled through the soil, creating a slit into which a cable in placed. Here is an explanation with an illustration and here is a video.

The reason that the County does not want plowing used is that if the installers hit something, such as another buried cable, a tile, or a culvert, they will not know that they have hit anything. With trenching bits of the hit object will come up to the surface so that the installer will know something is hit. Some of the County right-of-ways have many buried things in them and the County does not always know what is there.

Animal Control is planning an open house for the public in May. They also requested a new hire to replace a part-time person who worked only two weeks before she was offered a better job.

Software and electronics were involved in several requests. The Prosecuting Attorney requested approval of a contract that will allow her department to go paperless for child support cases. The County IT supervisor asked for approval of a new panic button system for County offices. The Sheriff reported that the video visitation equipment that is the only way that visitors can visit with jail inmates is failing and needs to be replaced.

Mentioned several times during the meeting was the problem with the Court House flag, shown below. The problem with the flagpole seems to be something at the very top, so it is a tricky repair.
Here are a few other things happening, illustrated with pictures. The new convenience store at the Marathon by the tracks has windows, doors, and most of a its siding installed.
A week ago when it did not have windows I took this picture of its interior.
A few blocks west the Elza Street apartments are getting a new exterior.
The end of construction is approaching for the high rate treatment plant. Last week the final sections of the water tunnel were delivered and this week they will be installed.

I talked to a supervisor about the progress. He said that when it is finished, there will be a walking path along Lincoln and the structures will be enclosed with a fence.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Tourism and more about the College closing

At the City Council meeting on Thursday I learned that the Jasper County Tourism Board was meeting on Friday. Because I have not been to one of their meetings for a while, I decided to go.

I was reminded at the meeting that the Holiday Inn Express by I-65 is not longer the Holiday Inn Express but is now Baymont Inn and Suites Rensselaer. The ownership is the same but the franchise is different.

The Jasper County Economic Development Organization has been searching for a new tourism director. The applicant pool has several people who appear to be quite capable of handling the position. Hiring should take place this month with the new person starting in April.

There were several requests for funds. Two ladies made a strong case for a grant to the Touch of Dutch Festival. They requested $8500, which was approved. The festival is growing year by year and the organizers are careful with how they spend money. Next year the Festival will have a throw-back theme because DeMotte will be celebrating its 50th birthday. That fact surprised me because DeMotte was settled in the 19th century. However, it was not incorporated until 1965 (by the Commissioners) and 1967 (by the state legislature). The idea of incorporation was quite controversial when it was proposed, as this article reports.

The Board approved a request from the Remington Chautauqua for $2500. There was a request from DeMotte, perhaps by the Fairchild House, for $2500 for a stainless steel sculpture in one of the little pocket parks along the main street. The design is not yet fixed. This request was also granted. The people behind this may, when this project is finished, do a mural on a fence in the same area.

The Board expects that the addition of the new Comfort Suites will increase the revenue from the hotel tax this year. There will also be a loss in revenue because there will be no summer camps at SJC, but not enough to offset the gains from the new motel. Not addressed was what impact the closing of SJC will have on area motels.

The Tourism Board supported three events at SJC last year: Homecoming, the Thanksgiving basketball tournament, and the Christmas lights around the pond. Since those requests will not be repeated this year, there will be additional funds for other projects. I do not know if there is any support for this year's Little 500, which is expected to draw a very large crowd. One of the Board members said that all local hotels were already booked for that weekend.

Also on Friday morning the SJC Board met and later in the day a press release was sent to the SJC community. It announced that St. Elizabeth School of Nursing would be seeking another partner school. Several faculty members had presented a plan to continue instruction in a very limited way but the faculty assembly had tabled the motion because it did not deem it to be financially feasible. The plan was presented to the Board but, based partly on the faculty input, decided not to approve it. The Board will be meeting again on March 13. The full press release is available here.

The State Department of Education has data on total school enrollment by grades K through 12 for the past five years. Almost all the numbers are between 80,000 and 90,000. The pool of students for which colleges are competing is not growing and that is one reason that so many schools have reached out to recruit SJC students. Not only have scores of them visited campus, but two, Anderson and Saint Mary of the Woods, will be providing busses later this month for students who want to visit their campuses. I have been impressed at the efforts SJC has made to help students transition to other colleges. I know it will be difficult for some students, but I do not see how the school could be doing more.

I have heard rumors from several sources that the vote on the suspension of operations taken by the SJC Board was split 18 to 11. I maybe should not repeat this rumor because there are a lot of rumors floating around and I am very skeptical of some of them.

On Friday afternoon I crashed a meeting of community leaders concerned about how the community should respond to the closing of the College. I got the meeting site a bit early and used the time to take a picture of the new airport beacon.
Some of the old beacon was still there on a truck. The Rensselaer Republican had a nice article on the removal of the old beacon in Friday's paper.
(Here is a picture of the old tower taken last summer.)

The purpose of the afternoon meeting was to identify the needs that the closing will create, to identify resources available to meet those needs, and to formulate action statements. There was a lot of brainstorming, but everything is very preliminary and there is a need for more information. Even identifying the effects of the closing cannot be done with any precision.

However, some facts were presented that I found interesting. About 2/3 of the SJC employees (both full-time and part-time) live in Jasper County. The payroll of the College is about $9,000,000, so income in Jasper County will decline by about $6,000,000 from the closing before secondary effects are included. (I do not think the employee count or payroll includes Sodexo employees.) Because the employees of the College spend some of their income in Jasper County and their spending becomes income for other people, the closing of the College will have a ripple effect that reduces incomes of people who are not employed at the College. Hence, the total effect on Jasper County income will be larger than the approximately $6,000,000 estimated above.

These discussions are very preliminary. When they get more organized there may be public meetings.

For your consideration: What local businesses do you think will be especially hard hit by the closing? Besides the economic effect, what other effects do you see coming from the closing? What will you miss, if anything, once the College is closed? Feel free to comment but be constructive and do not rant.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The rescheduled City Council meeting

The first Rensselaer City Council of March was moved from Monday night to Thursday night this week because a quorum could not be found for Monday. On Thursday there were only three of the five council members present, so for a motion to pass, all three had to be in favor.

The first item on the agenda was approving bids for the substation that will be built on the intersection of Bunkum Road and CR 850W. The bids had been opened in January and acceptance had been postponed at the next meeting. The engineering consultant recommended acceptance of a bid for the switching gear of $349,650 from Power Grid Solutions (the low bid), of $418,208 for the transformer (the low bid), and $49,986 for the steel bid (not the low bid but with best lead times on delivery and engineering). The Council approved these recommendations so now has purchased the materials for the substation. They will still need to approve contractor and labor bids.

The City Project Manager was given permission to seek bids for tree removal. These are large trees that are in City right-of-ways. The expectation is that tree removal will continue for years because of the emerald ash borer, which is killing ash trees. (Speaking of tree removal, I learned a few days ago why trees were cut down in Weston Cemetery along the Iroquois River. The electric utility wanted them removed because the branches were a threat to its power line. The Cemetery wanted them removed because it the big ones fell into the river, the roots would tear up the cemetery road.)

The Council also approved hiring a company for $1950 per day not to exceed five days to do a leak survey of the City water system. It has not been done for several years and it can find leaks that the City does not find.

The Police Chief asked for about $2K to replace a file server that is failing. He also said he was applying for a grant to purchase bullet proof vests. He was going to submit the grant to the Jasper Foundation. The last time the department purchased vests, they had submitted a proposal to the federal government and the little bit of money they were awarded was not worth the time needed to write the grant proposal.

In Administrative Comments, Mr Cover said it was time to promote the assistant superintendent of streets to full superintendent. There was a short discussion if this was the Mayor's prerogative or the purview of the Utility Board, and if it was the Utility Board, whether the Board had to meet as the Board or whether it could meet as the City Council since the membership is the same. All three members present voted to elevate the position to full superintendent.

The high rate treatment plant is nearing completion and some of the equipment is been started to test it. Soon the crew will try to simulate full operation, though exactly how they can do that is not clear.

Yesterday more concrete was being poured and more large culvert pieces being delivered.

The Council approved hiring four or five seasonal/summer people for several departments. 

On March 9 there will be a meeting with engineers about a Grace Street reconstruction from Cullen to the bridge. I am not sure when the project will begin, but it will rebuild ramps and drives and will result in the closure of the street.

At the future site of the O'Reilly Auto Parts store, the ground cement has been spread over the site as if it were crushed stone.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Transfer fair

On March 1 Saint Joseph's College held a second transfer fair for its students. About 100 colleges sent representatives. The ballroom in Halleck Center was full of tables, with some schools outside the ballroom. Within the Ballroom the schools were arranged alphabetically to help students find the schools in which they were interested. Below is a very short video giving an overview of the ballroom.

I enjoyed walking around and talking to some of the schools that were there--there were far too many to talk to each of them. Several said that the number of students that they were seeing at this fair was fewer than what they saw at the previous fair. I asked some if they were having success in recruiting students and most replied that some students had made visits to their campuses or had scheduled visits. It appears that many students have been very busy in preparing for next semester.

Marian College has made a major effort to recruit SJC students. I asked them if they might replace SJC as the partner with the Saint Elizabeth School of Nursing and they said that was unlikely. More likely was St. Francis in Fort Wayne. I later talked to the people from St. Francis and they said that there was discussion but many steps would be needed before a partnership could happen. However, the order of nuns that is associated with both St. Elizabeth School of Nursing and St. Francis in Fort Wayne is the same, Franciscan sisters from a motherhouse in Mishawaka.

The way the teach-out will work has changed in the past week and some of the schools there were not current on how it will work. The old understanding was that the teach-out students, those that need one more academic year or less to graduate, would do the course work at the receiving college but get the diploma from SJC. However, the accrediting agency, HLC, will not approve that. The students will now receive their degree from the institution to which they transfer.

Indiana State University had two tables, one for the regular college and one for their on-line college. I chatted with the lady representing their on-line college. It has 2000 or 3000 students. All work is done on-line and the students never have to visit the campus in Terre Haute. I asked how they were different from another state on-line college, Western Governors University. She said that they had a traditional college curriculum while WGU is competency based. I do not really understand what that means. WGU was not at the transfer fair. (For those SJC faculty members that cannot relocate, teaching on-line is a possible way to continue in academia.)

A representative from Ball State said that unlike the private colleges, they would not try to match aid packages because their tuition was quite low, in the $8K range. They also said that students transferring might have problems matching Core courses to their general education requirements, so that it might take longer for a student to finish at Ball State than at a private college that worked to find ways to let the Core program fit general education requirements.

I talked to several schools that were in the GLVC, the athletic conference in which SJC competes. I got the impression that their coaches knew which athletes they wanted to recruit from SJC. The top performers should have no problem finding new homes. Those that do not see much playing time may have a harder time. Lewis College had been recruiting some of track and baseball athletes but not football--they do not have a football team.

One of the more interesting schools I talked to was Lindenwood University-Belleville. A second campus of Lindenwood University in St Charles, MO, it was started in 2003 in a building that had previously been a high school. It currently has over 30 varsity sports teams and about 600 athletes. Sports it has that SJC lacks include bowling, swimming, ice hockey, lacrosse, and rugby. They even have women's wrestling.

The school that seemed to have traveled the furthest was Belmont Abbey from North Carolina.

Next week SJC is on spring break so there will be no campus visits from schools (but probably a lot of campus visits on the part of the students). A day after classes resume, on March 14, there will be another and perhaps the last transfer fair. My guess is that it will have fewer schools and fewer students.

I also asked several SJC employees if employees were finding new jobs and leaving. They mentioned a few but said that the possibility of severance pay was keeping most put. Almost everyone is looking at or for possibilities.


Results of the Science Olympiad have been posted. In the middle school division the five teams that qualified for state were Hebron, Winamac, Lowell, Boston Middle School, and Maconaquah. Rensselaer was the wild card team. In the high school division the state qualifiers were Bishop Dwenger, Marian, Winamac, Indiana Academy, and Peru. Rensselaer was the wild card team in this division as well.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Dust to dust

As of Tuesday afternoon the demolition of the old Donnelly building had ripped up the front part of the concrete pad and made and impressive pile of ground up cement.
 Here is the view from the west end.
 Over the weekend I was surprised to find the house at 408 E Oak had been demolished. I do not recall what it looked like.
 I was hoping to see the demolition of the house at 705 W Clark but it happened very quickly and today not only was the house gone but the debris had been carried away. All that remained was hole in the ground surrounded by mud from the impressive storm that rolled through last night.
The addition of this property, which was purchased with funds from the Rex Blacker Trust, will add almost one half acre to Brookside Park.

On Monday night the Jasper County Planning Commission met with two items on its agenda. The first was a zoning change from A1 to A2 in Walker Township so a house could be built. A neighbor was concerned that the change might affect his property taxes (it would not) and might obstruct a deer path. The change passed.

The second item was the interesting item of the evening because it was the result of a lengthy discussion at the October Commissioner's meeting. (See here, pages 4, 5, and most of 6.) The property in question is a 9.9 acre track about a quarter mile north of the intersection of SR 14 and US 231. Last year a request to rezone from General Commercial (GC) to A1 was denied, but this year the request was to rezone from CG to A2, which the discussion at the Commissioner's meeting suggested was the more appropriate change.  The proposed use of the land is the same, as a farrowing operation for less than 200 hogs. The applicant came with his lawyer and a consultant from Livestock Engineering Solutions. There was a lot of discussion of the technicalities of what the various zoning allowed. For example, there is a difference in the rules between keeping animals and raising animals. The Commission was split, with one group suggesting that people who build residences in the country should not be surprised when adjacent land is used for agricultural purposes. The other side was more sympathetic to the concerns about odor and one suggested that the best use of the property was commercial. After much discussion, the Commission split 3-3 on the proposal. They were uncertain if they needed do take another vote or not, but they did, voting to send the proposal to the Commissioners with no recommendation.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission will be a week earlier than normal, on March 20.

The closing of SJC has spiked my blog traffic. January of 2017 had, according to Blogger stats, 29623 page views, surpassing the 28751 page views of June 2015, a month in which Rensselaer set a number of records for flooding.