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

Friday, January 19, 2018

First of four

The first of four area school art exhibits is on display at the Fendig Gallery of the Carnegie Center. In the previous 24 years these exhibits were displayed in the Core Building at Saint Joseph's College, but obviously that venue is not available this year.

This first exhibit is for primary schools and will end January 28th.
 The Gallery is open noon to 4:00 pm Tuesdays and Thursdays.
 I liked this portrait of grandpa, with descriptions such as old, gray hair, and wrinkly.
 Speaking of grandparents, we received a call from a grandson telling us that he had been in a serious car accident and had broken his nose. He also needed $3000 in bail money and could we send it to him? We are still trying to figure out which grandson called. Was it the ten-year old, the six-year old, or one of those precocious three-year olds? We could not tell from his voice because, as he said, he had broken his nose in the accident.

We are getting some warmer weather and the sun is melting the snow on rooftops, with the water sometimes refreezing.
A couple notes that I forgot to mention from Tuesday's meetings. The consultants planning the downtown revitalization liked the idea of what they called "blade signs", that is signs that are perpendicular to the front of the building, hanging out over the sidewalk. Most signage now is flush with the front of the building.

The County Council asked Kendall Culp for his opinion on the township consolidation bill that may pass the state legislature. He said that about half (6 or 7) of Jasper County's 13 townships would be affected and it would cause a variety of problems. Currently school districts are determined by township borders. Students from Gillam Township go to West Central. If Gillam must combine with another township, what does that do to school boundaries?

A couple business have moved or are moving. Superior Sales is now in its new location just south of the John Deere dealership. Endless Treasure will be moving this weekend to the building that was the Max Prouty car dealership north of Smith Hardware on North McKinley.

The tank cars north of the tacks now have holes cut in them. There are people working on them, but it is hard to see exactly what they are doing.



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Downtown revitalization

There was a public open house to view proposed plans for downtown revitalization on Tuesday afternoon. The planning was largely financed with an OCRA grant that the City obtained. It is hoped that this planning grant would lead to a  much larger construction grant, and if it does not, it is unlikely that these plans will be realized.

The presentation did not begin until 5:00 and until then people enjoyed the appetizers and got a chance to examine the drawings that were on display. On the picture below you can see planters along the streets that are proposed in the plan. The alley behind Embers would be part of a bike path/trail that would come over the pedestrian bridge, go through the alley, and then use part of the sidewalk to continue on to Aydas. Most of the downtown sidewalks would be divided into two parts, one for walking and another that merchants could use for sidewalk sales or seating in the case of restaurants. The division would be indicated by different paving.

The alley that once hosted Art in the Alley would be revitalized so it could be used as a public space in the future. (Click on the pictures to see an enlarged view.)
 A lot of the big changes would involve County property. The architect proposed sheltered parking in the County parking lot that could be used by the farmers market. Halleck Park would be redesigned, perhaps with a fountain. The site of the former Johnny Rusk building would become a pocket park with some kind of water feature. (I hope that at least one of the fountains or water features survives if funding is found for this project. Downtown needs one.)
 One of the presenters (there were three) noted that Rensselaer has an unusually large Court House square, measuring 325 feet by 315 feet. The plan suggested landscaping close to the Court House, a permanent stage where the Little Cousin Jasper Festival puts up its stage, some oval planters on the two sides that do not have brick streets, and a cutout on the Washington Street/Van Rensselaer Street corner. This could be used for the Santa House during December and for benches the rest of the year.
 Wayfaring signs are a big deal for some people. Below are four proposed designs. The first two are inspired by the Court House and the last by the pedestrian bridge.
 The presenters emphasized that the project would not just make the downtown prettier, but would lead to economic development for both Rensselaer and the area. Companies want to be located in places that are inviting to live in and a distinctive and attractive downtown makes a community a more appealing.

Below is the timeline for this part of the project.
 A final tidbit from the meeting. The public parking lots, the private parking lots, and the street parking provide almost 1000 parking spaces downtown.

The presentation lasted until about 6:30. Half an hour later the Jasper County Council met for its monthly meeting. It had a couple of interesting items. The first was from NIPSCO, a Resolution for Series 1994C Bonds, Second Amendment to Financing Agreement. NIPSCO would like to change from a corporation to an LLC because the recently passed tax reform makes it advantageous for them to make the switch. In order to do that, they have to cross the Ts and dot the Is, and one of those little details is to have Jasper County approve a change in the Bond agreement for bonds issued in 1994, of which about $4 million are still held. Its all legal stuff, but the interesting bit is that a large corporation wants to change its form. People respond to incentives, one of the fundamental pillars of economics.

The other interesting bit was from Kendall Culp. He said that in the Commissioners'  executive session earlier this month, they decided to chose Honeywell for most of an energy savings project that will cost about $2 million, and Trane for the Community Corrections of the project. The Commissioners would prefer not to finance these projects with a bond issue because the fixed costs of issuing bonds becomes a significant part of the revenue when the issue is small in size. The Council moved some money around to help finance some of the project, but how the entire project will be funded has not yet been determined. The age and state of repair of some of the boilers was an important factor agreeing to this project. Modern boilers are smaller and more efficient than older boilers were, but they also have short lives.

One of the City employees at the downtown revitalization open house told me that he had heard that the tank cars from the derailment would be cut up and scrapped. The derailment is a very costly event for the railroad.

On Saturday I judged cakes for the Cub Scouts. Below are a few of them. The Leaning Tower of Pisa Cake won for tallest.
I had not realized that cake decorating was a Cub Scout activity.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Winter returns

The cold front passed through last night, and with it came some freezing rain and a little snow. Today (Friday) is cold and windy and the weather has caused numerous closings and cancelations. We may not see above freezing temperatures for the next week.

There was enough snow to cover the roads but not completely cover the grass. Below you can see what the College Avenue looked like in the late morning.
The wind was howling last night. I have not ventured out into the country to see what kind of drifting is taking place.

I meant to include a picture in the previous post showing work on the sewer lining that took place on Tuesday. The crew was working in the area of the library and when I passed by at 7:30 in the evening, they were still not finished.
The company doing the work is Insituform. The back of one of their trucks was open and it had a boiler in it, so my guess is that hot water is needed to install the liner. The purpose of the project, which began last summer, is to extend the life of the sewer. It is cheaper to reline than to replace.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What a difference a day makes

Below is a picture of the old Monnett School building taken on Wednesday. (The white is fog, not snowfall.)
Below is a picture taken Thursday morning of the same scene. What a difference a night with temperatures in the 50s makes.
Tomorrow a cold front will pass and winter will return.

Below are two pictures of the river from the cemetery bridge taken a few minutes before each of the pictures above. The effect of the warm weather is less dramatic. The ice must have been pretty thick after the two weeks of very cold weather.

The construction crew at the old fire station took advantage of the warm weather to pour the new floor for the future police station.
 When I got there, most of the floor was already done.
 Mention was made in the last City Council meeting of problems with part of the floor in the office part of the building. I did not wait to see if they would pour this part as well.
 On Thursday the CSX crew was back at work, this time fixing the north rail spur. If you look carefully, you might see that the south spur has a gap to the west of the crossing. I had not noticed the road damage before. Perhaps it was there and covered with snow. They seem to be finished with work on the main line.
The Rensselaer Republican had an article about what is going on at SJC that will be of interest to those who are concerned about this topic. You can read it here even if you do not have a subscription. Their new model allows non-subscribers a limited (I think it is 5 or 6) articles a month. Choose your articles carefully (or subscribe).

The Park Board and the Park Corporation had their first meeting on Tuesday evening. (A brief explanation of the two is here.) The meeting had a confused start because there was no quorum for the Park Board, and the Park Board needed to approve the three members who are only members of the Park Corporation. About ten minutes into the meeting, the quorum was reached with the late arrival of a member and the routine business to start the year was quickly done.

The Board heard from a representative of the soccer program, which was happy with the arrangement from last year, though they had concerns about the need for an intermediate field. The Board approved continuing the contract on the same terms as last year.

Discussion then turned to what projects should be fast-tracked. Because a walking path in Bicentennial Park and the dog park are both fairly inexpensive and much of the work can be done without contractors, there was consensus that they should be started this spring or even before spring. The dog park currently is waiting for a big donation to earn naming rights, and if there is no such donation, it may be named the Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson Dog Park. (As for why, see here.)

There was brief discussion of Pop Warner football, which last year used the north end of Brookside Park for practices. There was also concern about how future construction might impact the various uses of the parks.

The final discussion was about priorities, and the group decided that the first priority should be in the Monnett/Staddon Field area, in part because it is more visible than Brookside Park. There was a meeting on Wednesday of the Parks for People group that ultimately decides where money will be spent and I have not heard what happened there. Maybe I will hear at the next Park Board meeting on Feb 5th at City Hall (6:00 pm).

Finally, the Jasper/Newton Foundation is hosting a "speed dating" event, not for romantic purposes but for not-for-profit organizations and potential volunteers. It will be on Jan 30 at the Carnegie Center from 7 till 8 pm CST.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A brief respite and other stuff

We are getting a break from two weeks of bitterly cold weather, but with the warm-up comes precipitation, both rain and snow. A few warm days will be followed by a return of very cold weather. The poor road conditions and the cold have kept me mostly inside, hunkered down.

However, I have gotten out a few times to see what is happening at the site of the train derailment. On Friday a crew was still working on repairing the main track. On Monday the track crew was not there when I stopped by.

In the picture above the men were welding a rail. Below a truck is unloading a rail.
In addition to the main line, there are two side tracks at this intersection and neither has been repaired. Here is the view as you look to the east of the south tracks.
A company named Sunpro is on site doing something with the tank cars. I have not learned yet what the fate of these cars will be. The two that are nearest the tracks seem to be the most heavily damaged and I doubt if they can ever be returned to service. These cars hold more than 30,000 gallons.
Although the cars did not derail until Scott Street, whatever the problem was with the wheels was already causing damage as the train went past the depot. They gouged out bits of concrete from the edge of the platform.
The skeleton of a new apartment building on Elza Street is in the process of being erected. I suspect the weather is delaying work.
In news from Remington, the rebuilt Pilot station is expected to open on Saturday.

The Rensselaer City Council began 2018 with a short and mostly uneventful meeting on Monday evening. They approved the minutes from the last meeting, which I did not attend or write about. You can read them here.

The Council approved a gas tracker increase of 9.5 cents per hundred cubic feet. It also approved a change in the contract with Grimmer to extend a water line near the Mt. Calvary Road/US 231 intersection so it will not be under the highway when that intersection is redone next summer. INDOT wanted the extension to be longer than originally planned, hence the change. Appointments to various boards were announced.

The electrical utility is planning to send four workers and three trucks to the Virgin Islands to help rebuild their power grid. The mission will last between 36 and 43 days, with all expenses being paid from FEMA monies. There were questions of whether that might hurt Rensselaer in case of an emergency. The utility was given approval to proceed with the plan. This item was probably the most newsworthy item from the meeting.

The conversion of the old fire station into a police station has had some hiccups. There were unexpected floor problems in the office area, termite damage to wood was discovered, and the cold weather has limited some tasks. Nonetheless, the move-in date is expected to be June. The Watt substation is undergoing tests and is expected to be energized in the week of the 22nd. The company that has been lining the sewer from the library to the lift station is expected to be back in town this week to complete the final section.

I found a website that has the sunrise and sunset times for every day of the year for Rensselaer (and anywhere else). Days are 47 minutes longer at the end of the month than at the beginning.

I like to check ice cover on the Great Lakes. The cold snap got the ice cover over 29%, but with warmer weather, the ice cover is now dropping. The next cold wave will cause it to grow again. There is still a lot of relatively warm water in Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Ontario.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A cold start to a new year

Rensselaer is in the midst of a cold snap. On Tuesday morning the City weather station recorded a temperature of negative 16.9 degrees. Many people had problems starting vehicles. The County Highway Department reported that eight trucks would not start.
The Commissioners met in an uneventful meeting Tuesday. First order of business was electing officers, with Kendall Culp again chair and James Walstra vice chair. William Wakeland from Community Corrections sought approval for submitting a grant proposal that would fund two additional full time positions. The current budget allows 6 full time and 4 part time. If the grant is approved, he would like that to go to 8 full time and 3 part time. The Commissioners were somewhat concerned about what would happen if the grant were approved for one year and then not reapproved, but they gave their approval to the submitting of the proposal.

A couple of buried cable requests were approved. The Council questioned whether one of the newspapers designated as place for county legal announcements needs to be daily as the Rensselaer Republican starts the year as a twice-weekly paper. A bit later the County attorney said that the paper did not have to be a daily and the Commissioners designated the three County papers for legal notices.

Veteran's Affairs had a request to approve the purchase of a surplus Sheriff's vehicle by the Veterans Council, a not-for-profit organization. The vehicle would be used to transport veterans to area VA clinics and hospitals. The hangup on this discussion was whether the County was able to dispose of surplus property to a not-for-profit rather than auction it. The County attorney found that there were provisions in State law that allowed such a transfer. The vehicle is a 2007 Trail Blazer with over 100,000 miles.

The Commissioners approved some conferences and appointments to Boards as they waited for 9:00 when a bid opening was scheduled. The bids were for four roads funded by CCMG grants. There were four bidders and later in the meeting, after the highway engineer had examined them, the Commissioners approved the low bids, all from Town and Country. At 9:15 a series of other bids, for tires, stone, sand, hauling, and machine rental were opened. As is their custom, the Commissioners accepted all bids, which I think allows them to choose the best supplier for any particular project during the year.

Because of deadlines for submitting paper work for road funding, the Commissioners spent a lot of time signing a host of documents, all in the required blue ink. For some reason black ink is not acceptable.

The final bit of business before the Commissioners went into executive session to "conduct interviews and negotiations with industrial or commercial prospects relating to a proposed energy savings contract for maintenance and repairs of Jasper County Courthouse" was approving a contract to have County roads re-assessed. This is necessary in order to get Community Crossroads grants approved, and those grants are important in maintaining County roads.

The County Code is now on the County Website. You can find a link to it on the home page at www.jaspercountyin.gov/.

If you have a paper subscription to the Rensselaer Republican, you can now access their electronic edition. Go to their web page at http://www.newsbug.info/eedition/rensselaer_republican/. Click on the picture of the paper or the button that says subscribe, and you should get a form. Fill it out and follow the directions.

A couple of new things to start the year: a new judge and soon a new state senator. Russell Bailey was appointed to the Superior Court replacing James Ahler, who left to become a bankruptcy judge in Hammond, and soon a new state senator will replace Brant Hershman who resigned to join a law firm in Washington D.C. The State legislature starts its short session soon so for at least a while part of Jasper County will be without representation in the State Senate.

2018 should see a new business across the street from the Court House. I have heard it will be coffee related.

A couple weeks ago a new front was put on the new WIC office.


2018 will see a revised federal income tax. One of the changes is a limit on the amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted for those who itemize. The limit is $10,000. There have been reports that some people were prepaying property taxes so they could take the deduction for 2017. Before the Commissioners meeting I stopped by the County Treasurer's office to ask if Jasper County residents were prepaying and was told that a handful had. Some were farmers and others were following advice of their tax accountants. I wonder if the change will encourage those farmers who have not incorporated or formed a LLC to do so. One has to earn a lot more money than I get to be affected by that change.

Let's end on a happy note--the days are getting longer. It is not really noticeable yet, but in a few weeks we might notice that sunset is a little bit later.