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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Some lasts and a first for me

There are two more "lasts" coming this week at SJC. On Thursday afternoon/evening the college radio station, WPUM, will have its last on-the-air shift. The station was started in 1978 and the first song broadcast was "Year of The Cat." The DJ from that broadcast will be back on the air for the final broadcast and the last song will be "Year of The Cat." This last show will be from 5:00 until 7:00 on April 27 and can be heard at 93.3 if you are close enough (it is a very low=powered station) or on the the Internet, (but I cannot find it to give you directions).

At 10:00 am on Friday April 28 the last Core lecture will be delivered in the Shen Auditorium. The second part of the lecture will be a special tribute to Core from Michael Nichols.

On Sunday I visited the flea market at the Fairgrounds. I was amazed at how many vendors were there and the variety of things they were selling. Some were quite ordinary, such as these food products.
 There was a large display of boots.
 These are bird houses decorated in many ways.
 Pots and pans.
 And then there were things that were a bit unusual, such these scrabble tiles.
 Or jewelry with a southern flavor.
 I thought these sewing machine tractors were interesting.
The next one is scheduled for May 21.

Apparently Strack and Van Til will soon be under new ownership. (At least we do not have to worry about the impending collapse of Sears.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

City Council 4-24-2017

The City Council meeting on Monday was long, lasting a bit more than an hour. First on the agenda was a credit card ordinance that will make it easier for City employees to use City cards for purchases. At present they must make the purchases on their own credit cards or with their own funds and seek reimbursement. There were several concerns about the wording. Job titles in the ordinance did not always match salary job descriptions, but this was deemed not a problem. There was quite a bit of discussion of who should approve the credit card claims, and as a result the Board of Public Works was replaced with the City Council as the body that approved the charges. It was also decided that the Council needed to amend an old ordinance from 2001 that specified payments that could be made without prior approval.

The Council passed an economic development rider that allows the City to participate in an incentive program that IMPA has to encourage expansion of large electric users. In an unrelated item, a representative from IMPA was present and she showed a short video explaining IMPA and the services it provides. IMPA was established by the State legislature in 1980 and began operating in 1983. Rensselaer was one of the founding members and it now serves 60 Indiana communities and one Ohio city. It has yearly revenue of about $460 million and purchases on the open market about 14% of the power it sells to communities. (It produces the remainder.) It provides a number of services to city electric utilities and it has monthly board meetings on the last Friday of the month. Mayor Wood is on that board.

The Council approved a request to hire a part time person, primarily in the summer, to operate light equipment such as dump trucks and a backhoe. In Administrative Comments, George Cover asked what use the City could have for the old State highway property. He was told it could be used for storage and that the status of the property may be on the agenda for the May 8 meeting.  There will be a City BZA meeting on May 9 at 7:00 to discuss a use variance for the old Monnett School property that is for sale. The City has an offer for the property (probably contingent on getting the variance). A possible use is as a day care center.

Arbor Day is Friday and there will be a tree planting at the Primary School at 4:00. The planning for Earth Day for next Saturday is somewhat confused, but apparently something will happen at Brookside Park. On the matter of a small parking lot for Weston Cemetery, Soil and Water Conservation would like the lot to be done with porous cement and may be able to fund much of the construction. More information will be collected. The electronics recycling day on Saturday collected seven and a half tons of stuff.

Paving of Drexel Drive has begun. Below is the start of paving on Monday morning. The road was limited to one lane and there were delays.

From the view of law enforcement,  everything went smoothly at SJC's little 500.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The final Little 500

The crowd for the final Little 500 race at SJC was expected to be large and it was. I have never seen as many cars parked at SJC as for this event. The entire field east of the Field House was full of cars and RVs.
 Below is the view from Arby's parking lot. The Bowling Alley was charging $10 for parking and they had almost filled their lot even though people could park free in the Walmart lot (and many had).
 There was a large police presence. A command post was set up west of Bennett Hall.
 A variety of police, sheriff, and medical vehicles were in the parking lot. One of the EMT units at the event was from Kosciusko County.
 There were several food tents set up. Two local trucks are shown below, Pink Walrus, the truck with the awning, and Doggers, in the background. The truck nearest I did not recognize.
 A couple more trucks or trailers were near the Power Plant. If you look very carefully you might see a bit of the food trailer of the Lion's Club Rotary. The two people on bikes are Rensselaer policemen.
 The SJC Alumni Association was also selling food but from a tent near the beer tent.

The mall had several inflatables and a climbing wall.
 Included was a bull riding challenge.
This girl made it to the top of the climbing tower and was ringing the bell.
 I arrived as the alumni race was ending. Below you can see the winner of that race doing a victory lap, holding the checkered flag.
A bit later carts were prepared for the student race. It began with the alumni carts leading them for the first lap.
 On the third lap the green flag came out and the final pace car diverted into the infield and the race was on. I did not stay very long, but rather quickly the last car in the field was being lapped.
There are many more pictures at St. Joe's Little 500!!!  One Last Time!! and other pages on Facebook. I have not heard of any ugly incidents from the weekend.

On Friday evening there was a very lightly attended event that was part of the weekend. An alumnus produced a movie that got limited national distribution earlier this year and is now available via the Internet. The movie is Bokeh, and you can read reviews here. It is a low budget movie and was the first feature length movie for many of the people on the project. Set in Iceland, it is beautifully shot. The premise of the movie is that a young couple are on vacation in Iceland when suddenly they find that they are alone the world.

After the showing, the audience was able to ask questions of the producer, Doug Daulton, class of 1989. I asked about filming in Iceland. A big incentive is that Iceland will refund 60% of the filming expenses. There are many movies that film parts in Iceland, though most of them do not connect their scenes with the country. Bokeh required many shots of empty streets and it turned out that most of them were shot at 1:00 in the morning. Because in June there are only about two hours of night in Reykjavik, it appeared that those shots were taken in the middle of the day.

The actual filming was done in a few weeks. The preparation for the filming took months (and Mr Daulton says that he wishes that they would have had more time) and the editing took over a year.

We were not told what the total cost of the movie was, but it has made enough to pay back its it investors, which will help if the group decides to make another film. "Bokeh", by the way, is a word from Japanese that refers to the blurry background when the focus is on an object near the lens.

"He is in the truck!" The weekend concluded on a happy note with a surprise farewell performance and celebration honoring John Rahe, who has directed plays since 1985. The problem was how to get John to the Theater without telling him about the event. The solution was to have SJC security call him and tell him that he had to come to campus because someone had broken into the stage props or costumes. He arrived on schedule to the delight of about a hundred former students.
There was a schedule of performances in which students present and past re-enacted roles or songs from plays. Some of them told stories of their time in the Columbian Players and favorite memories from the stage. Many thanked Mr Rahe for what they had learned from him and from acting.

There were a series of improv performances that were very entertaining. The students did a very good job. The skit below shows two astronauts landing on the moon.
 Another highlight was the presentation of a one-act play that John Rahe wrote. It was performed by Mark Brouer, a RCHS and SJC graduate, and Sarah Reasoner Solis, who both attended SJC and worked as a SJC admissions counselor.
This probably will be the final performance of the Columbian Players.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Getting ready

This weekend will be a busy one at SJC with a huge crowd expected for Little 500. But before we see the preparations there, here are a few updates on other things.

On Thursday the curved sections of the curbs on Grace Street were being poured.
On Friday the concrete trucks were back pouring sidewalks.

Concrete trucks were also busy at the O'Reilly site where more curbs were being poured. They outline the parking lot. In the back of the building the Rensselaer gas department was hooking up the gas line.
 The new convenience store for the Marathon by the railroad tracks will be a lot bigger than the tiny old building.
 On Thursday a couple of tents and a stage had been set up for the Little 500. The tents were staked down securely because they had not blown away by Friday.
 Alums with RVs and tents were starting to fill Alumni Village early on Friday afternoon. It will be interesting to see how full it gets.
 The track is ready to go. There seem to be more fencing this year. The Rensselaer street cleaner was going over the track to clean it.
On Thursday I asked one of the janitors how staffing was holding up. She said that a few people had found other positions and left, but a more serious problem was that people were taking their sick days and vacation days that they would lose if they were not taken. Some of the people who had worked there for many years had accrued many vacation and sick days, far more than those that can be cashed in at the end. Maintenance will have one big job after the Little 500--graduation. There are only two weeks of school left, and the last week is for final exams.

Some gallows humor on a faculty door tells why this will be a huge weekend for the campus.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A long, meandering post

The trees are getting leaves and I have been busy trying to plant a garden. We have had some days with temperatures in the 70s, though we will get some cooler weather at the end of the week. Spring is here.
  Construction on Grace Street is going rapidly. On Monday trucks were still delivering stone.
When I stopped by on Tuesday, the curbs had been installed.
 The O'Reilly building now has its fronts windows. I do not know if the workers took Easter off--they seem to be working seven days a week.
 I had not seen the progress on the new convenience store/gas station at Vine and McKinley for a while. Late last week it had a brick front.
On Monday I stopped by the Carnegie Center to ask a question. I thought that the art gallery might be installing a Christo exhibit but it was only painters giving the ceiling and walls a new coat to cover up water damage from leaks in the skylight or roof.
I have heard that the local Meals on Wheels will be shutting down. It cannot find enough  volunteers. And speaking of volunteers, the Jasper and Newton Foundations will be sponsoring an event on June 6th for non-profit organizations on volunteers.

The coming weekend is especially crowded with events. The high school has its spring musical, Emma, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:00 pm and on Sunday at 2:00 pm. Embers is hosting the musical group Remember Jones at 6:30 pm on Friday. The first flea market/swap meet will be at the fairgrounds on Sunday from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm and the JCFA Pork Chop/Chicken dinner will be served from 11:00 am until 2:00 pm. Saturday morning is Electronics Recycling Day at the Rensselaer Recycling Center.  Big Dog has its annual spring open house on Saturday from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm. Carpenter Creek Cellars has its first Music on the Lawn event at 2:00 on Saturday. Finally, this weekend is Little 500 weekend at Saint Joseph’s College. In addition to the go-cart races, there will be a number of bands. There seems to be no information about them on the Saint Joseph's College website, but there is a schedule on a Facebook page called Puma Palooza.

On Tuesday evening the Jasper County Historical Society met for their monthly meeting. They are concerned about two of their buildings at the Fairgrounds. The old Parr post office is in very bad shape and they are hoping that a grant proposal will be funded to restore it. The log cabin also has problems with rot and it may require extensive work. Some of it is scheduled during fair week. The program for the evening was about the history of Aix, but I left before that started to go to the County Council meeting. Their next meeting will be at the Rensselaer Library on May 16 at 6:00 and will feature Dr. Sheely, who wrote a biography of Charles Halleck.

The Council had a short agenda that was not very interesting, but also had some interesting non-agenda items. The agenda items were two additional appropriations, $5688 for the special school bond referendum for Tri-County Schools and $530,000 for the Highway Department to build a new road to replace a road being closed and transferred to NIPSCO. Both of these fundings will be reimbursed, the first by Tri-County Schools and the second by NIPSCO, so there will be no real cost to the County.

The Sheriff could not make the meetings so was represented by the Chief Deputy. He said that the attorney that the Department had on retainer had died unexpectedly so the Department would be represented by a new attorney. Many other Sheriff Departments use the services of the same attorney, who specializes in the sorts of issues that concern Sheriffs. This announcement was a courtesy notification and did not require County approval. He also reported that as a result of a recent safety meeting, the Department was providing personnel who come into contact with prisoners the opportunity to get three shots that protect against Hepatitis B, which some prisoners have and can spread to jail personnel. Twenty six wanted the shots and the total cost will be about $9000. The Sheriff may request an additional appropriation at a future meeting for this expense.

In response to questions, he said that there has been a lot of planning for this weekend's Little 500. They hope for the best but prepare for the worst. (A lot of organizations could benefit by this type of planning--SJC is a case in point.) Regarding the opioid problem in the County, he said that there is a search for an appropriate house for the Teen Challenge outreach and that there will be another meeting with Teen Outreach on April 25 at 6:00 pm at the Jasper Foundation. He said the department was also pursuing possibilities of involving use of Vivitrol, which blocks effects of opioids (but not the craving according to Wikipedia).

There was a short discussion of the local income tax and the plan is that any decision that the the Council will make will be at the July meeting.

A lawsuit by several faculty members against Saint Joseph's College is in the news. They are arguing that the Faculty Handbook requires that any tenured professor who is terminated due to financial exigency must be given a year's notice. I found that interesting because many years ago (15? 20?) I served on a small committee that reworked the handbook. For some reason that I no longer remember, the old handbook was deemed to be defective and not worth amending, so a consultant was hired to do a new handbook. The committee's job was to go through the document he prepared and make changes so it would fit our particular circumstances. I do not remember many details, but one thing that I came to realize is that those who do the draft have tremendous power. They set the agenda and it is very difficult to change that. The committee was able to make many changes, but it was almost impossible to change more than small bits and pieces.

I do not remember the provision stating that if a tenured position was eliminated, the professor had to be given a year's notice. My guess is that was to discourage cutting older faculty and encourage any cuts to be made to the young, untenured faculty. Of course no one ever envisioned that the school would close, so no thought was given to how that provision would play with a closing. I do remember a related decision. The committee put in a limit on what percentage of course hours could be taught by adjunct faculty and that limit was quite low. I did oppose that provision because it limited flexibility in staffing into the future when conditions might be quite different from what they were at the time, but my opinion was a minority opinion.

At the last City Council meeting one of the Council members was concerned about the possibility of the College property being overgrown with weeds and tall grass. He was told not to worry. Apparently the College has contracted with a company to do the lawn maintenance for the next year. I have also heard that the College administration is still interested in striking a deal with the Renewable Nations Institute even though there is much concern about the credibility of that entity and its head. Finally, the Puma Palooza Facebook page reveals how the entertainment at the Little 500 is being funded. The Student Association thought they could fund it from their budget of student fees, but when they sought the funds, the College told them that the money was no longer available. So the Student Association told all other student organizations to withdraw whatever they could from their budgets, and the $17,000 that the organizations were able to collect is what is paying for the bands and activities this weekend.

Update: I noticed this morning that a couple people tried to reach me with Facebook messenger, which is a horrible way to try to contact me because I rarely check these messages. One wanted publicity for a golf outing supporting the Boy Scouts. It is on May 26 at Curtis Creek. The other was interested in getting volunteers for the the Aviation Day on May 13.

(If you want to contact me, please use the e-mail address given in the sidebar.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Construction notes

The section of Grace Street from Front to Cullen is no more. Below is the view from Van Rensselaer looking to the south west.
 At the intersection of Van Rensselaer and Grace crushed stone was being dumped on Thursday morning. The road had no foundation and given the amount of traffic, it needed more depth.
 Once the dump truck left, a bulldozer pushed the stone into the excavation.
 A smaller paving project is underway along Lincoln Street where a walkway is being constructed. It too is in the stage of putting down crushed stone.
On Thursday morning there was a public meeting of the Technical Review Committee for the Proposed Police Department Relocation Project. Two consultants and the Police Chief made up the committee and they reviewed a lengthy document that will be made public on April 18. The project is for a design-build renovation of the old fire station into a new police station. Those who are interesting in bidding will have until May 23 to submit a proposal and bid. Another meeting of the Technical Review Committee will be held on June 1 to assess the bids and a contract will be let at the Board of Public Works on June 10.

The submission process involves a lot of paperwork. The submitters must complete two forms, one that evaluates their qualifications and another that evaluates their proposal. Each is scored. They also submit a sealed bid and this is not opened until after their proposals are scored. The low cost bid is determined by dividing the score by the bid; the winner is determined by dollars per point, though I do not think that that bid must necessarily be accepted.

The total budget will be less than one million dollars. There will be a list of items that will be required to be done in any proposal and a list of enhancements in priority order that the bidder can include. Obviously, a bid that does more will look better than a bid that does less if the prices are the same. The form that evaluates qualifications helps weed out bidders that have sketchy records on past projects. However, evaluation of qualifications is complicated because bidders can be teams and teams change from project to project. An architect can work with one contractor on one project and another contractor on another project. The scoring has a way to evaluate the fluidity of teams.

The redesigned building will have a mezzanine that will be used for storage. The mezzanine will require added foundation, so the floor of the building will have to be opened to pour that. There will also be a drive-thru bay for patrol cars and this will be separated from the office section by a fire-resistant wall. The large bay doors of the current building will be removed and replaced with walls.

Many, many details were discussed at the meeting, which I left at the two hour mark. The City has not done a design-build project so this will be a new experience for them.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Two meetings

There were two short City meetings on Monday night. On the way to them, I stopped to take a picture of two little machines ripping up the concrete by eMbers. The concrete will be replaced with bricks.
On Monday The Station Brewhouse at Embers posted a picture of the interior on Facebook.

 In the first meeting the Board of Public Works approved payments to Bowen Construction and Commonwealth Engineering for work on the wet weather treatment plant. The plant is essentially complete but cannot go on-line until the automatic water sampler is running properly. Work remaining includes landscaping, fencing, a walkway, and some blacktopping. The Board approved a change order for First Group for the Grace Street reconstruction; it added some sidewalks that will be replaced. Finally, the Board approved a display of fireworks by Fireworks American on May 6 at dusk; it will demonstrate various items for buyers. This apparently is a yearly demonstration but I had never known it existed.

At the City Council meeting the superintendent of Weston Cemetery used the public comment period to mention that a gentleman from Los Angeles was in town researching his family history. His grandfather ran Warner Hardware in the building that is currently eMbers. He was interested in learning whatever he could. The Mayor said that he bought his first bike there and that the owner, Harris Warner, was a nice guy. If you know more, contact Kevin Cochran at Weston Cemetery.

There were only a few items on the agenda. The Council approved a gas tracker decrease of 12 cents per hundred cubic feet for April and approved purchase of a 69KV breaker for the Watt substation (to be built east on Bunkum Road). The City Clerk Treasurer wanted a committee to update policies and procedures, something that has not been done for about five years. The discussion sidetracked into a discussion of an ordinance being prepared on credit card use. At present many City employees must charge items to their personal cards and then be reimbursed. This is not the way most businesses handle such expenditures. Eventually a committee composed of Councilmen Odle and Hollerman and attorney Riley plus the City superintendents or their designates was approved to revise policies and procedures.

The City's insurance agent will get quotes on comprehensive property and liability insurance from the five companies that offer these policies. Mainstreet Rensselaer's project for the year is a path through Milroy Park. After these and a couple other announcements, the meeting adjourned.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Some recent pictures

Grace Street between the bridge and SR 114 is closed for reconstruction and will remain closed to traffic for about a month. On Monday morning trees were being removed. The road is in poor shape and does not have a good foundation.
 The rains of last week refilled Weston Lake.
 The construction of the wet water treatment plant seems to be complete and the work there now seems to be mostly cleaning up. Last week the pipes used to test the plant by running river water through it were being hauled away. The large excavator that has been on the site for months is now gone so the heavy lifting must be over.
 The twice-a-year rummage sales at St. Augustines are under new management and the sale over the weekend went well, though the amount of stuff was quite low. There was not a lot left over--I recall sales when this truck would have been filled with what was left unsold.
 Construction continues at a rapid pace on the O'Reilly building. The walls were going up last week.
 I stopped by n Sunday to take a picture and found that workers were on the site. The picture below shows the building on Monday morning.
 Over the weekend there was a dinner for a local girl who has kidney cancer. The kids there got to smash a piƱata. I found it amusing that they were whacking the pictures of the two main characters of the movie Frozen. I thought kids liked Elza.
 On Saturday the Lions and the Rensselaer Republican sponsored the annual egg scramble in the park. I got there a few minutes late because I was helping clean up the rummage sale so I did not get any pictures of the kids racing to grab candy.

SJC had its final choir concert on Sunday afternoon. Before the choir the small symphonic orchestra played its final performance. I think the orchestra was founded because the administration thought it would draw a substantial number of students. But the group never got very big.
 After the concert I talked to a faculty member who will be teaching at Wabash next year on a one-year appointment. I asked if it was to replace a professor on sabbatical but he said that it was a permanent one-year position, that is, each year a new person was hired for the position. That allowed the college to downsize without disrupting the permanent faculty if enrollments or finances suggested a reduction in staff. I thought it was a brilliant idea but I doubt if it would ever have been acceptable to the faculty at SJC.

I noticed that pavement is breaking up on the intersection of US 231 and SR 114 and that underneath are bricks. I suspect that there are quite a few bricks under the streets downtown.
Have a nice Holy Week.