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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Meetings and more

The second City Council meeting of May took place on Monday evening. After some preliminaries, there was a public hearing on a proposal on an additional appropriation of $463,672 for the renovation of the old fire house into a new police station. No members of the public spoke and the motion passed with one dissenter.

The Council amended the salary ordinance to allow payment of $15 per hour for a part-time, seasonal worker who can operate light equipment. (This had been discussed at the previous meeting.) Bids were opened for the labor contract to construct the new Watt substation on Bunkum Road. There was only one bid and it was for $499,700. The bid was taken under advisement by the engineers for the City and IMPA, and near the end of the meeting they returned and suggested the contract be rebid because it was about a third higher than their pre-bid estimate. The Council agreed to have the contract rebid.

The Council approved spending about $4500 to have the two water towers inspected this summer. Also approved was the purchase of a small tractor by the utilities. The present tractor is a 1991 model but it will be kept in service. The Council appoints one member the Rensselaer School Board and had three applicants for that position. They chose Christine Phillips who has previously served on the Board. The Mayor's Holiday this year will be July 3. The Memorial Day ceremony at Weston Cemetery will be at 11:00 am.

The Monnett building has sold. The price was $96,500 and after fees and commissions, the City received about $89K. The money will go into a development fund. There was a discussion of whether the money should be earmarked for park use.
 With the completion of the Grace Street project and the micro surfacing, the 2016 road work has been completed.

There was no discussion of the high rate treatment plant but work on the landscaping is almost finished. Last week the bare ground was seeded and covered in hay. There are still some white pine trees to that have to be planted.
 Also on Monday evening the Jasper County Board of Zoning Appeals met to hear a case from Walker Township. A couple had been doing confined feeding of chickens until last year. The building they were using has 8800 square feet and is still in very good condition. They wanted to rent storage space in it but the regulations do not make that a permitted use, so they wanted either a use variance or a special exception; either would work. Their request was granted.

On Saturday Jasper County  Animal Control had an open house that was well attended. I had never been to their facility and was surprised at how small it was. One room was for cats. It was quiet.
 The area for dogs was noisy.

I never found out why an large African tortoise was at the event.
 The closing of SJC continues. Last week the lights in the highway sign were turned off. For some reason the fountain in the reflection pool is still on.
 The final sports activity had come to an end on Saturday when the baseball team fell to Kentucky Wesleyan.

Below are the bricks of the class of 2017 in the sidewalk east of the Core Building.
 On a positive note, the plaza for the Ember's Station Brewhouse is changing day by day.
 New tanks are being installed at the Marathon by the railroad.
The O'Reilly building seems to be finished but is not yet stocked. On Monday the concrete base for the store's sign was poured.

Over the weekend Rensselaer missed two severe storms, one of which went to our north and the other to our south. Both had reports of small tornados.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Digging

The old tanks at the Marathon by the tracks were removed several days ago.
The tanks are now gone and holes have been dug for new tanks.
On Wednesday I noticed digging by GRG Auto Repairs. I suspect that soil contaminated by a leaking tank was being removed. Later in the day new dirt was being brought in.
The construction trailer for the high rate treatment plant is gone. Below is a picture showing the truck getting ready to haul it away.
The site remains busy with landscaping. A crew was planting maple and tulip trees by the lift station on Wednesday. Prairie plants being placed near Lincoln include prairie dropseed (a grass), narrow leaf blue star, and magnus conflower (a purple coneflower).
The Chicago Tribune had an article about the SJC baseball team and their invitation to the NCAA Division II tournament. The writer could not resist making a couple disparaging remarks about our location.
 I was wondering if "2017" would get added to the west side of the Hansen Recreation Center but I should have known that the baseball people would take care of that.
 As I was on my way to take the picture above, I saw a Pepsi truck loading up all the Pepsi vending machines that were on campus. There are a lot of details that have to be attended to as the campus shuts down.
The headquarters for those that remain is now Drexel Hall. It has City utilities and is completely separated from the water and heating of the main campus.

Several streets are being treated with something called microsurfacing. It smooths the surface, fills small cracks, and protects the pavement. Below is a section of Abigail Street that had the treatment Wednesday afternoon. The untreated strip is pavement over a water main that was installed a few years ago.
On Thursday morning the crew was back coating the untreated strip. They were having some technical difficulties and had to back up and redo part of it.
The dry weather has lots of tractors in the fields. The high winds blow clouds dirt stirred up by the planting.

Track sectionals are taking place this week. The girls results are here. For quite a few years Valparaiso was in this sectional and won it every year. However, if you look at the sectional records, only two are held by Valparaiso athletes. Six are held by Rensselaer girls, five by KV girls, and one each by girls from West Central, Hebron, and Morgan Township. Boys sectionals are tonight.

Several groups of students that could not visit the Jasper County Airport on the recent Career Day are making visits this week. They can get the same information about maintenance that the Career Day visitors received and are getting info on airport markings and how the pilots know where to go.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tuesday's meetings

The Jasper County Historical Society held its monthly meeting at the Rensselaer Library on Tuesday evening. The focus of the meeting was Charles Halleck and his legacy and the topic was chosen because the Library recently received several boxes of documents and tapes from Henry Scheele, who wrote a biography of Halleck. Indiana University, where Halleck was a student, has his papers, but the collection of material from Mr Scheele has information that is available nowhere else. The Library plans to digitize the written material and to transfer the audio tapes (much of it is old reel-to-reel) to a digital format. The plan is to put most of it on the Internet.
The meeting had a big attendance because Paul Norwine's students from KV attended. Mr Norwine was the individual who gave Mr Scheele the suggestion that the Rensselaer Library would be a good home for the material. (A video of the presentation is here.)

The County Council also met on Tuesday evening, though an hour later than the Halleck meeting. It also had a big attendance as the KV students got to see what happens at a Council meeting. First up was Sheriff Risner who requested an additional appropriation for Hepatitis B inoculations for his department. This issue had been discussed at the previous Council meeting. He also reported that "gray death", a mixture of drugs including carfentanil, an opioid used to tranquilize large animals. There are currently about 75 inmates at the jail, seven of whom are serving sentences under the new Indiana law that keeps minor offenders in county jails rather in state prisons.

Community Corrections had asked the Commissioners to approve hiring one full time person rather than four part-time, but since that meeting there has been a part-time applicant and if the applicant is hired, Corrections will not seek to hire full-time.

The Coroner wanted funds transferred to allow purchase of two very expensive radios. A council member asked why the radios were so expensive and was told that they had a great many features that were useful to law enforcement and emergency responders that are not on regular cell phones or radios. Plus, the government buys them so that makes them more expensive.

Next the Council reviewed tax abatements. The only company with a representative present was Wilson. They currently are seeking truck drivers and that is a difficult market. Wilson needs long-haul truckers who carry hazardous cargo and who sometimes must be away from home over the weekend. Because there are many opportunities for truck drivers, the market is very competitive. The Council will decide abatements at their next meeting.

At the close of the meeting a lady from Candlewood Subdivision near DeMotte wanted to know what could be done about the noise of traffic coming off I-65. She was given guidance on how to bring the matter before the Commissioners.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Transitions

Strack and Van Til is in bankruptcy. Jewel has an offer to buy the stores. For more info, see here.

Jacobs Professional Services of Monon is removing the gas tanks at the Marathon by the tracks.
 There is still an ember of the old Saint Joseph's College alive. The baseball team made it to the final four of the GLVC tournament last week, but their season is not quite over. They were invited to the NCAA Division II tournament. They are seeded seventh in the regional field and will play on Thursday. More here.

It is time to landscape at the high rate treatment plant. A bunch of trees were delivered on Monday morning.
 There are also lots of potted plants ready to go into the ground.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Aviation Career Day

I was asked to volunteer at Friday's Aviation Career Day and decided it would be a good way to experience the event. There were two rounds of five school groups scheduled, the first going through the five stations from 8:00 am until 10:30 am and the second going though these stations from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm. I arrived as the first round was finishing their adventure. Some of them watched a plane take off and cheered when it became airborne.
 My job was to shepherd one of two sections of third graders from the DeMotte Elementary School. I was supposed to tell them where they were to go next and to try to keep them on schedule. They were to spend 20 minutes at each station and had five minutes to go from one station to the next. My group's first station was in the hangar building closest to the terminal. They heard presentations from several people who work or worked in aviation: a person from the FAA, a former air traffic controller, an engineer who helps design runways, someone from the airport section of the Indiana Department of Transportation, and an airport manager (who many Rensselaer people know).
 The former air traffic controller explained that there are two types of air traffic controllers, those who work from airport towers and control airplanes near and at the airport, and those who work in dark rooms with computer screens who guide planes between airports. He asked the kids how many liked to play computer games and almost all hands went up. He said that being an air traffic controller was like playing a computer game all day long. I am sure they were impressed.

The next stop was the maintenance hangar where Excel Air Services fixes planes. The students heard what airplane mechanics do and how important their work is in keeping air travel safe. They also heard from a teacher from Vincennes University who teaches students how to do airplane maintenance. (The number of planes that are checked and repaired at Jasper County Airport is very, very large considering the size of the airport.)
 We then proceeded to the north side of the newest of the airport's hangars where a student from Purdue explained and demonstrated some of the physics of flight. (I did not get a picture of his demonstration.) He had not flown to Rensselaer because the plane he planned to fly had hit a bird the day before and had a hole in its wing. Also at this stage was a small plane that is used to give flight lessons. The students lined up to look at the dual controls in the cockpit, one set for the student and the other for the instructor.
 A final exhibit at this stage was a group of paintings by Abbie Parmele, who has painted a series of pictures of scenes as viewed from the air. The class of 2026 did not seem to be particularly interested in art.
 The fourth stop was north of the long hangar building that is close to the taxiway. The exhibit here was a large army helicopter that the students could sit in and even play with the controls.
 An amazing number of kids could get into the helicopter at once.
 Those who had had their turn spent the rest of this rotation playing Duck, Duck, Goose. It was a warm day and the school year is almost over, so the kids really enjoyed being outside.
 Below is the view looking back to the terminal area and the fifth and last stage of our rotation. On the far right of the picture is the newest hangar where the previous stage had taken place. While we were at stage four, students from Wheatfield elementary were at stage three and there were even more in that group than were in the group I was with.
As we walked back towards the terminal building, one of the boys asked if he could run. I told him it was OK with me, but I was not the one who got to decide those things.

The main attractions at the last stage were two medical evacuation helicopters. The one below is based at Knox and is part of the Lutheran Hospital network of Fort Wayne.
 The other one was with the IU hospitals and flies out of the Purdue Airport. The students were allowed to sit in these helicopters as well, but by this time their brains had absorbed about all that third-grade brains are capable of absorbing in such a short time and most of the kids just wanted to play tag on the lawn. (It was a warm spring day and the school year is almost over.)
 As 1:00 o'clock approached the kids began to assemble along the fence so they could board the bus. A total of about 600 students enjoyed this field trip.
 However, there was still one more thing for them to see. The medevac helicopter from Knox departed and they all were eager to watch it fly away.
From what I could tell, the day was a great success. Everything seemed to go very smoothly and if there were any incidents, I do not know about them. The exhibitors I talked to were enthusiastic about their experiences. Most of the students from the KV school corporation were third graders and most of those from Rensselaer and West Central were fifth graders, so next year's event can have a different group of students attend.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Demolishing Shorty's

Saint Joseph's College has announced that Father Barry Fisher C.PP.S will assume the title to Rector and be head of the mission to "coordinate and oversee the initiatives that are underway to re-engineer the college." For more information, go to www.saintjoe.edu/fr-barry-fischer-cpps-oversee-initiatives and www.saintjoe.edu/fr-barry-fischer-cpps.

As promised, the gas station known as Shorty's Marathon was demolished on Thursday. Below is the scene in the morning.
 In the afternoon the building was down and being put into a dumpster.
Today is Aviation Career Day at the airport. Students from North Newton, Rensselaer, DeMotte, KV, West Central, and Wheatfield are scheduled to visit. It is open to everyone.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Job Fair

I could not resist a visit to the job fair at SJC on Wednesday. There were 39 employers represented, an excellent turnout because the original goal was to have at least 24. At the halfway point 75 job applicants had attended but only about 20% were SJC employees or former employees.

I enjoyed talking to the people representing the companies. I learned that the Flying J station at exit 201 plans to close down at the end of summer, level their site, and rebuild it. The construction is expected to take about 100 days.

Urban Forest Products is located near the Newton County Landfill and uses methane from the landfill. I had always heard that they made egg cartons but was told that they made egg flats and the cardboard cup holders that McDonalds uses but no cartons.

Omni Forge south of Remington makes auto parts. Dupont in Remington (formerly Solae)  makes things from soybeans but does not use locally grown soybeans. The soybean oil they use comes from facilities in Illinois or Ohio. Vanguard in Monon pulls in workers from a wide area, with some commuting from Illinois. Fair Life was there and I learned that the only product they make locally is Greek yogurt.
I hope the event was successful enough so that more job fairs will be held in the future.

As I arrived I saw a Pepsi truck loading up the soft drink dispensers that were used in the cafeteria and another company loading up the ATM machine that was in Halleck. As I left I noticed workers removing air conditioners from Merlini Hall.
This morning Town and Country paving was finishing up the paving of Grace Street.
A little later in the day the same company but a different machine was paving the parking lot of the new O'Reilly Auto Parts Store.
The fence around the high water treatment plant was finished today. Below is a picture of it a few hours before it was finished.
After SJC announced that it was suspending operations, a group of concerned citizens was organized by the extension office. They met again on Wednesday afternoon. There was not a lot of new information available from the group, though one person said to expect an announcement soon about a new person overseeing the restructuring operation. About twenty employees will be staying on past June, some to the end of August.

The facilitator for the meeting brought a printout of a lengthy powerpoint presentation prepared by the Purdue Center for Regional Development. It had some interesting statistics, though I wonder about the accuracy of some of the numbers. In 2014 there were 11,479 people employed in Jasper County. 47% of them lived in Jasper County and 53% lived outside the County. There were 15981 people living in Jasper County who were employed. Only 33.8% of them were employed in the County and 66.2% were employed outside the County. A lot of people commute significant distances.

I forgot to mention on my post on the last City Council meeting that Amtrak will continue service to Rensselaer for at least the next two years. The State Legislature allocated $3 million for each of the next two years to subsidize the service of the Hoosier State line that runs from Indianapolis to Chicago four days a week. (The other three days we are served by the Cardinal.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Miscellany May 10, 2017

A press release from Saint Joseph's College on Tuesday afternoon announced that the president of Saint Joseph's College, Robert Pastoor, was resigning as of May 12. I doubt if he had any idea of how serious the financial problems were when he accepted the position.

The Marathon station by the railroad, often called Shorty's Marathon, was out of gas on Tuesday.
I went inside to find out what was going on. Tuesday was the last day that the station will be open. I was told that the building will be demolished on Thursday. The move to the new building will take about a month. New gas tanks and pumps will be installed before the station reopens.
Gas prices keep falling. They are now below $2.10 in local stations.

The rain early this morning postponed paving on Grace Street. Maybe the weather will cooperate tomorrow. I went to the quarry to get a picture of stone hauling and was a bit too late. As I arrived three trucks and the loader were leaving. The piles of stone that had been in the lot were gone.

The pavement markings have been painted on Drexel Drive.

I stopped by Saint Joseph's College and disturbed a heron at the reflecting pond.
I asked a person in the athletic department how job searches were going. Those that have found new positions have mostly moved downward, to Division III schools or to NAIA schools. I have heard only a few success stories of faculty finding new positions. Three schools that will have a former Puma Prof next year are Ohio University, Wabash College, and Buena Vista in Iowa.

On Tuesday evening the Rensselaer Board of Zoning Appeals heard a request for a variance on the old Monnett School building so that it can be used for child day care. The people planning to open the child day care wanted to purchase the building only if they received the variance. Their plan is to serve children two to five years old. The day care will be open five days a week from about 6:00 in the morning until about 5:00 in the afternoon. Only the first floor will be used. There are numerous state regulations that will have to be met before it opens. The variance passed.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

An unusually long City Council meeting

At its first meeting of May, the Rensselaer City Council approved use of Potawatomie Park for the Rock the Arts Festival on July 29. It also heard a brief presentation about endangered historical structures in Jasper County. Of the Jasper County properties listed as endangered in 2005, one (Hanging Grove School) has been demolished and four others saved. The Historical Preservation group intends to make a new list that will include two properties currently owned by the City, the old Monnett school building and Well House Number One on College Avenue. (A bit later in the meeting the Council gave the Mayor the authority to sign the sale papers for the Monnett building if the proposed sale goes through.)

The longest part of the meeting was discussion of the INDOT property in the northeast part of Rensselaer. KIRPSE has a grant of $800,000 to deal with brownfield sites and working with them is a company called SME. A geologist from SME told the Council that the INDOT property had had three underground storage tanks that had been removed. However, they had leaked and in order to clean up the site, 3700 tons of soil had been removed. There was still some localized contamination several feet below the surface near the center of the lot. Although that contamination did not seem to be moving, there will be several covenants on the property. It cannot be used for residential purposes or for daily care or for agriculture. There can be no water wells. If any digging is done below four feet, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management must be informed. He said if the City acquires the land, it should not use it for fuel storage or fuel transfer because if there are issues with the contamination migrating in the future, the State would then argue that the contamination was caused by the more recent fuel storage or transfer.

It was not clear if the State would give the property to the City, but the City is unlikely to be willing to pay for it. The City may not be willing to take the property even if it is available at no cost. Councilman Barton and City Attorney Riley expressed strong reservations about acquiring the property. The most likely use of the property would be for storing materials and parking vehicles. The Council agreed to seek another environmental study because the previous one had expired. There should be no cost to the City for the study.

(Left alone, microbes will eventually degrade the chemicals. So it is not something that will last forever.)

The Council approved a gas tracker decrease of 14 cents per hundred cubic feet for May. On May 3 there was a committee meeting about tax abatement and the committee recommended to the Council to continue abatements to ConAgra, Donaldsons, Genova, American Melt Blown, IMPA, and National Gypsum. All were granted. The Mayor asked the Council for a donation of $500 for the traveling Vietnam Wall Memorial planned for 2018 and it was approved. The project already has had donations of about $7000. There are three candidates seeking the Council's School Board appointment and a time was selected to interview the candidates.

Work is finishing up at the high water treatment plant, which has been operational for two and a half weeks. Late on Monday Lincoln Street reopened for traffic.
The fence around the plant is almost finished. Landscaping will continue for a a few weeks.

Several Councilmen commended the Street Department for their hard work with Cleanup Week. Below is a picture of the convoy of vehicles that took part.
If the weather permits, paving of Grace Street will take place Tuesday. Finally, someone mentioned that the County has purchased the stone that is at the Babcock Quarry and has begun to move it out.

The meeting lasted almost an hour and a half. Many meetings finish in about 30 minutes.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Last frost?

This morning the temperature dipped below freezing and there was a light frost on the grass. May 8 is later than usual for the last frost, but late frosts have been recorded for most of May.
 Lafayette Bank and Trust is getting a new roof.
 I visited SJC this morning to see how the closing is proceeding. There are still baseball players on campus and janitorial/maintenance personnel ere busy. Like most years, the departing students left a lot of trash, but most of it was in dumpsters. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean the campus appeared.
 Students in the apartments had a big bonfire before they left. They even burned some books. There was a partially burned accounting book on the ashes.
 The weirdest thing I saw was a contractor crew painting Halleck Center and doing something with the concrete that was installed earlier this year. I asked why they were painting and was told that they were finishing a contract that had been paid.
 Coming back to town on Sparling I found a truck taking an oversized trailer to the trailer park (at least that is where I think they were headed). They had a lot of trouble making the turn onto Washington. Do you see what is missing the in picture?
The stop sign had to be removed so the truck could maneuver the trailer around the corner.