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

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Odds and Ends, 4/19/2018

Work continues on the water main along Sparling. The south end of the main seems to be installed and on Thursday there was a small gap between the part that had been put in place by digging and the part put in place by directional boring. In the picture below you can see a gas main on the right of the picture and in the lower left, in the shadow, a water main that supplies customers.
 From what I could tell, the pipes still have not been installed at the north end of Sparling.

The fencing is up for what will become a solar park on the north side of Rensselaer. The workers still need to finish putting the barbed wire on the top of the fence.
 I found another flower of early spring, dandelions. They were along Vine Street.
Saint Joe's was in the news this week. They are planning what they are calling "The Purple Tie Dinner" on June 9 at the Farmhouse Restaurant. The featured speaker will be Mike Ditka. The proceeds from the dinner will be used to refurbish Schweiterman Hall; general admission is $175. You can read more at the SJC website.

There were a couple of meetings on Tuesday evening. At the Jasper County Historical Society meeting Stephanie Johnson reviewed the 400 or so letters that the late Ralph Fendig wrote home during World War II. He was stationed in Indiana, England, Belgium, and Germany while in the military and worked as a pharmacist well behind the front lines. Much of his life in the military was apparently quite boring (I suspect that that is the experience of many in the military). He took advantage of his free time to explore the countryside, visit old buildings, and attend as many movies and performances as he could.

 Fendig's drug store was located at the corner of Washington and Van Rensselaer. The building burned more than 20 years ago and the site is now a parking lot. The Fendig name lives on in two cultural organizations, the Fendig Summer Theater and the Fendig Gallery at the Carnegie Center.

The Jasper County Council met on Tuesday in an uneventful meeting. It heard a report from Honeywell about the proposed upgrades to cooling and heating in the Court House. The Council passed the financial management plan that Umbaugh had prepared. (The Commissioners had passed it at their April meeting.) Judge Bailey requested additional appropriations for an upcoming trial that will require interpreters. This trial may be the first of three similar trials. In a discussion of taxes, it was noted that because the assessed value of farmland is falling, the tax rate will be rising. Most Jasper County residents will see higher property taxes this year and next.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Dutchman's Breeches

The cold April weather has a lot of people looking for signs of spring. (There are snow flurries outside my window as I write this.) On Friday I found a stand of an early spring flower, Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) south of Rensselaer.
Below is a closeup of the flower.
For more information about the plant, see herehere, or here.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Odds and Ends, April 2018

The Park Spring Fling scheduled for Saturday was canceled due to the weather.

Walsh and Kelly, the street contractors, have been busy installing curbs and sidewalk ends.
I am surprised how quickly this work is being completed.
Most of the curbs along Grace Street are finished. A sidewalk is planned for the west side of the street.
 LGS Plumbing is pulling pipe along Sparling. They seem to have run into some problems because they have dug a number of pits and trenches along the route. They were using a tractor to lift the drill head in this section and I have no idea of what the problem was.

On Tuesday evening (April 10) the Jasper County Republican Women hosted a candidate forum at the Jasper County Community Services building. Candidates who will be on the Republican May primary ballot were invited. Each candidate who attended was allowed three minutes to speak. Members of the audience were invited to submit written questions but no questions or comments from the audience were otherwise permitted. The format was not a debate format and candidates were told to avoid bad-mouthing other candidates.

What follows are my impressions of the evening. Others who were there may have somewhat different impressions.

First up were candidates for U.S. Congress. Three of the four who are on the ballot attended. There was very little difference in the stances they took and the policies they advocate. All are army veterans.

Jim Baird is from the Greencastle area. He served in Vietnam and has a PhD from the University of Kentucky. He is a farmer and with his wife started a home-health care company. He stressed his advocacy for agriculture. He is missing his left hand. Diego Morales lives in Plainfield. He was a senior advisor for Mike Pence when Pence was governor and worked on economic development for the Pence administration. He has an MBA from Purdue. Jared Thomas is the youngest of the three, only 28 years old. He is a graduate of Harrison High School in Lafayette and of West Point. He served in Iraq. He had spent Tuesday going door-to-door in Rensselaer and I saw him campaigning again on Wednesday.

Judge Potter is unopposed in the primary. He mentioned the seriousness of the opioid problem that has affected everyone connected to law enforcement. Over 1% of children in Jasper County are in foster care, many because of drug abuse by parents.

There are three people running for prosecutor in the Republican primary. The incumbent is Christine Haskell Bogen. She stressed her work on family problems: child abuse, sexual assault, and child support. Jacob Taulman has served as town attorney for several Jasper and Newton County towns and has been a public defender in both Jasper and Newton County. Rick Kallenbach is a former prosecutor. He stressed his work in prosecuting drug offenses while he was in office.

There are two candidates for Sheriff. (Sheriff Risner is term-limited; he cannot run for re-election). First up was Scott Balch. He graduated from Crawsfordville High School in 1985 and was recruited by colleges to play basketball. He stressed the lessons he learned as a student athlete in helping him deal with people when he entered law enforcement. He served as a state trooper based in Lowell until he retired and has lived in Jasper County while he was a state trooper. Since 2011 Pat Williamson has been the chief deputy of the Sheriff's Department. He graduated from Rensselaer High School and initially intended to go into agriculture but was recruited for police work by a former Sheriff. In 2016 he helped start the Vivitrol program in the jail and probation departments. (Vivitrol blocks the high from opioids.)

There were not a lot of questions submitted by the audience, but someone very interested in animal control had questions for all three candidates for prosecutor and both candidates for sheriff.

There are two candidates for surveyor. Jim Mattocks runs an excavating company and he said that he is unhappy with the way some of the work has been done. Vince Urbano, the incumbent, read his remarks and defended the work that his office has done. Much of the work of the surveyor involves drainage issues.

Also speaking, some very briefly, were candidates who are unopposed on the May ballot: Fishburn for Clerk, Hoffman for Assessor, Maxwell for Commissioner, and Norwine, Fritts, Jordan, and Bontreger for Council.

The last speaker was Doug Gutwein, who is unopposed in the primary. He is seeking what he says will be his last term. He used his time to speak on what he considers to be his most important accomplishment in the legislature, pushing a bill for infant testing of a genetic disorder called SMA (spinal muscular atrophy). It affects about one in every 10,000 births and the result until recently was that the baby died before the second birthday. Recently a treatment was discovered that stops the progression of the disorder (but does not reverse damage already done). So if an infant is diagnosed, treatment can be started at birth and the child can have a normal life. Gutwein became interested in the issue when a relative had a child with the disorder. Indiana is the third state in the nation to require testing for the disorder.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Moonshiners

I love the mural on the wall of the just-opened Moonshiners Bar & Grill. It is the perfect image for the name.
 The bar opened on Friday without the grill, but now food is also being served. The place has been redecorated and is undergoing a slow opening as they get positions filled and staff trained. The look of the place is very much bar and grill. Smoking is allowed and those under 21 are not. They promise to be open seven days a week from 11:00 am to 3:00 am, but the kitchen will only be open from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm.
Below is a picture of the dining area in the annex.
 I am not a food or beverage critic so I will not be doing a food/beverage review. I look forward to seeing what other people who know more about these things than I do have to say.

I stopped by Moonshiners after the Monday evening City Council meeting. It had a short agenda but some interesting announcements. To start the meeting one of the local insurance agents wanted a parking space in front of her office to have a two hour limit. Her complaint was one I have heard many times over the years, that employees of downtown businesses park in spaces that should be available for customers. The Chief of Police said that he would see what the current ordinance states because it might allow the spot to be changed to a two-hour limit without any Council action.

The Council approved the April gas tracker of a 5¢ decrease per hundred cubic feet and the transfer of funds of $80,000 to pay for various street repair expenses. It approved two requests for public relations funds, one of $400 for food and beverages for a Friday celebration for those who work cleanup week (May 7-11), the other for what will essentially be a loan of up to $2000 for the Gas Pipeline Awareness/Gas Department Open House on May 4, 11:00 am-2:00 pm. The Department has been awarded a state grant of $2000 for this event, but the money may not arrive until the event is finished.

The second May Council meeting, which normally would be held on the 28th (the fourth Monday) was moved to the 29th because the 28th is Memorial Day. The City received three bids for the removal of 60 trees (mostly dying ash trees) and accepted a bid from Reliable Tree Service for $36,000. This company has done tree removal for the City in the past few years and the City has been happy with its service.

The brick work on the new police station has been finished as has the interior drywall. The three remaining candidates for the police officer position will be interviewed by the Board of Public Works on April 23. Fencing for the new solar park north of town should begin this week. On Saturday Brookside Park will host a Park Spring Fling, which used to be called the Earth Day celebration. Also on Saturday, the Street Department will be accepting used electronics for recycling. (That is on the east end of Walnut Street.) The Airport will host a second Tunes on the Tarmac with two bands on April 21. Money raised will go to purchasing  children's ID trailer that the Sheriff's Department will use at County festivals. The Vietnam Wall project is still in need of volunteers for various tasks, including setting up and taking down. On May 4 the Fire Department will host a fish fry.

As reported in the previous post, Walsh and Kelly have started working on City streets. Grace Street will probably be closed for a month. The new well project is officially 22% finished (as measured by how much the City has been billed on the contract.)  The water main is complete from the treatment plant to the corner of Sparling and Milroy. The Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) has approved or accepted the planning document that was funded by their planning grant and there will be a public hearing or public forum on the plan at the May 14 City Council meeting.

Moonshiners is not the only new business to open last week. Also opening was County Bumpkin in the corner of what used to be Long's at 231 W Kellner Blvd.
The shop sells antiques, gifts, and collectables.
 The owner originally thought she would open in late February but getting everything set up and organized took longer than she expected. The hours are shown below and their Facebook page is here.

Street work continues. I was excited to learn that when Grace Street is finished, there will be a sidewalk on the west side of the street. I stopped by the water main project and asked a worker if the directional driller (located south of the Kannel Street intersection) was going to stop at the pit dug at the Monnett Street intersection or go all the way to the north end of Sparling. He said the latter was the target, but when they pull the pipe through, they will pull a section from the end of Sparling to the pit at Monnett, disconnect, and start a new section of pipe for the last 1000 feet.

A week or so ago after a heavy rain I noticed that the water in the river under the Talbert foot bridge had a muddy side and a clear side. The muddy water was contributed by the Maxwell ditch a few hundred feet upstream. I thought it unusual enough to photograph. (The picture shows the river to the west of the bridge.)

Monday, April 9, 2018

April flowers? No. Snow showers.

Rensselaer woke up to a beautiful, wintery scene Monday morning. By noon most of the snow was gone. The forecast is for much warmer temperatures this week.
 The second annual Family Fun Fair was held on Saturday morning. (Last year it was called Family Resource Day.) The attendance was considerably improved from last year. The kids seemed to have a really good time, as did many of the adults.
 I did not get to see the kids interacting with the vehicles that were part of the Touch-A-Truck feature of the event. It included tractors, a school bus, an ambulance, a firetruck  and a dump truck.
 Franciscan Health was there so I asked the local administrator about a legal notice that had appeared in the Rensselaer Republican on March 21: " Notice of Closure Franciscan Home Care Services Inc....Public notice is hereby given that Franciscan Home Care Services will close the Rensselaer locations effective April 6, 2018. Service to patients will continue in Rensselaer through Franciscan Home Care, Lafayette." He assured me that there will be no changes in services or staff. Jasper County Home Health Care had needed a license to operate, but with the merger of Jasper County Hospital into the Franciscan Alliance, those services can be provided using the Lafayette license. It costs money to keep the license and since there is no benefit for paying that money, the license is not being renewed. However, the decision to not renew the license legally required the notice in the newspaper. So if you saw the notice and were worried about what it meant, relax. The local administrator also told me that Franciscan was trying to recruit doctors for Rensselaer and that one is scheduled to start in late summer.

This week street work has begun. This machine was busy digging out ends of sidewalks.
 Below is an example from Jefferson and Vine.
 Grace Street is closed.
 The milling machine is taking about four inches off the road.
 It moves fast and quickly fills the trucks.
 Also along Grace Street storm sewers are being replaced.
Different crews are busy along Sparling. One group is near the Banet Substation and is excavating a trench for the water main. Another crew is manning the directional drilling machine and boring further to the north.

 I saw on Facebook that there is a new business in what was the Pub. A few days ago the windows were covered and now they are cleared. Apparently the new business is called Moonshiners Bar and Grill. I guess I need to pay more attention to the agenda of the Alcohol Review Board.
Ready to open is a small gift/craft store across from R&M.

I found this on the Pulaski County Government Facebook page: "The PC had initially planned to conduct a specially called public hearing in late April. However, because we have heard from RES that, based on their timeline, they do not expect to apply for permits until early 2019, staff have decided, after conferring with elected officials, not to incur the additional costs associated with a special meeting; instead, the PC will consider proposed amendments to the UDO pertaining to wind turbines (and signage) at its next regularly scheduled meeting, on Tuesday, 29 May, at 7:00p.m."

A year ago the Columbian Players of Saint Joseph College put on its final play, Guys and Dolls.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Construction pictures and meeting notes

I drove north on Thursday and stopped by Fair Oaks Farms to snap a few pictures. Below is what the new hotel scheduled to open in 2019 looked like in the morning. By the afternoon a lot more the the roof trusses were in place.
 The same building from a different angle. It will connect to the Farmhouse Restaurant.
 Also going up on the campus is a water tower. I believe this is being built by Newton County as part of deal it made with Fair Oaks Farms. It will be the most visible FOF structure for traffic on I-65.
 A bit further north there is work on the I-65 bridge over the Kankakee River. I think it is being expanded to handle three lanes of traffic each way. There is work on I-65 between the Lowell exit and the Merrillville exit expanding the road to three lanes in each direction.

I promised more about various meetings in Tuesday's post and here it is below.

At the beginning of each Commissioners meeting, the Commissioners have a veteran lead the room in the Pledge of Allegiance. On Monday the veteran was former Rensselaer Police Chief Jeff Philips. After he was finished, the Commissioners appointed him to lead County in supporting the USS Indiana Commissioning Committee.

The Commissioners approved a rezone from A1 to A2 that had been recommended by the Jasper County Plan Commission. Sheriff Riser sought and received permission to fill a possible vacancy. (Two employees are strong candidates for an opening elsewhere.) He discussed an effort to attack the opioid problem with new program of drug counseling led by Chad Pulver and the Commissioners approved the program. During the discussion it was suggested that about 85% of the inmates have some kind of a connection to drugs.

The Commissioners approved a request by the Little Cousin Jasper Festival to use Court House grounds for the Festival. There was a bid opening for cyclical assessment, a program that the assessors office uses. There was one bid by the current company that is performing the service. The Commissioners conditionally approved the bid subject to review by the assessor and the County's attorney. The State Board of Accounts had recommended that the County approve a whistleblower policy and the Commissioners complied. They also approved polling locations, which are unchanged from the previous election.

The prosecutor's office requested approval of a contract with Dorsett Consulting to handle paperwork involved to get federal funding for child support cases. Apparently the regulation and paperwork burden have been increasing. The Commissioners approved the contract. They then approved renewal of a similar contract with a consulting company for the County Clerk's Office. Mr Culp suggested there was a need to review all the similar consulting contracts to see if consolidating some of the consulting could lead to savings.

The Commissioners approved use of roads for the Chloƫ 5K this summer. It will start from the Fairgrounds, go to Brookside Park, and back. They then signed acceptance of the Comprehensive Financial Plan that Umbaugh has provided. The Council will also need to sign this. A request for GIS data was approved with a fee of $750 with the provision that the requester might have the fee removed if the data are not being used for commercial purposes.

After a short break, the Commissioners filled a vacancy on the Airport Board but did not have a willing candidate for PTABOA (Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals). CASA may have to move from the Youth Center because of some regulation. The excessive comp time by County Highway employees is being addressed. The head of JCEDO said that he is working with Newton County to have a job fair in late May and is also working on a small business workshop for June.  The tourism position in his office is open and he will be posting for it soon.

In the afternoon the Drainage Board met. It opened bids for the Amsler tile rebuild and awarded the contract to Johns and Sons if the financing is available. It seems that some of the money being collected has not been posted to the correct accounts. NIPSCO wanted approval for the drainage plan for phase 7 of their fly-ash landfill. It will be placed adjacent to two existing fly-ash landfills and does not involve any property that was at issue when they received permission to close a county road several years ago. The project has IDEM approval. The Board approved with Mr Culp abstaining.

In the evening the Rensselaer Park Board met. They heard an update on pickle ball. If you are interested, there is a Rensselaer Pickleball page on Facebook. They then turned their attention to the dog park and reviewed possible rules.

(I see on Facebook that the Wheatfield Fire Department has received a grant for $500,000 for a new fire station. This grant was submitted by the County because a township was not eligible to submit the proposal.)

On Friday a milling machine was parked near Save-A-Lot. I suspect it will be in action next week. Also, you might have noticed that curbs have been cut on many sidewalk approaches to the streets. This is the first step in replacing them.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The train comes to Rensselaer

As I was searching old newspapers on the Internet for information about Zimri Dwiggins, I stumbled on the article below from an Ohio newspaper. It reported on the opening of the rail line to Rensselaer. I had not realized that the railroad was originally had narrow gauge track. In 1881 the narrow gauge was replaced with standard gauge. The town of Bradford mentioned in the article was the old name of Monon, a town that grew up because rail lines met at its location. The article mentions many of the Rensselaer elite of 1878.

(Washington C. H. is Washington Court House, the name of the county seat of Fayette County, Ohio. It appears the article originally ran in a Lafayette paper; why it would be printed in a paper in central Ohio is a mystery to me.)

For a timeline of the railroad, see here.



In 2028 we can celebrate the sesquicentennial of this event. Will we?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

April arrives

The first Monday of the month usually has three meetings: Commissioners meeting, Drainage Board, and Rensselaer Park Board. Maybe I have been to too many of them and have become jaded, but there was little of much interest at this months batch of meetings.

When I saw the agenda for the Commissioners meeting, I wondered why the Rezone Request / Hoek / S & S Farms was there because that had been on the March agenda. A day or two later I finally remembered that the Commissioners had asked for a hydrology study before they gave final approval of the rezone. They had received the report before Monday. It said that the water consumption of the facility would be equivalent to the use of 41 residences. The Commissioners sent the report to an engineering firm for review and that firm said that the numbers looked reasonable. Commissioner Kendall Culp then sent it to the DNR. The DNR was already familiar with the case because area residents had contacted them about the matter and a DNR employee had come out to measure their wells to provide a baseline measurement for any future problems. The DNR also said that the estimates were reasonable. The Commissioners then granted approval of the rezone.

I will try to write about the other items from these meetings later this week.

Over the weekend the annual Lions Easter Egg Hunt took place.
There seemed to be fewer participants this year than in past years. Perhaps the cool weather and the wind were a factor, or perhaps competition from other egg hunts being held at the same time contributed.
The weather did not deter the Easter Bunny.
On Monday we woke up to a dusting of snow. If you look carefully, you might see my crocuses in the picture below.
The water main project finished the Milroy stretch. The workers had some problems pulling the pipe but seemed to shut down on Thursday. On Monday they were filling the big hole at the west end of Milroy and had repositioned the directional driller south on Sparling.
While the big Milroy hole was open, a City utility truck made sure a utility pole did not topple.

A school bus driver told me that the Rensselaer Central Schools had received a federal grant for $40,000 for busses. Checking the Internet, I found that the Rensselaer Republican had already reported the grant (March 24, p 12) and that the grant had been mentioned in the School Board meeting in March. It appears that the grant is more to pay for the destruction of two busses (#19 & #20) than to pay for new busses. 

He also mentioned that work had begun on the solar farm north of town. I went by over the weekend and did not see much. I suspect that the first thing that they will do is relocate the tile the runs through the property.

There is a Coffee sign in the window of the tiny shop at 120 West Washington. Maybe it will soon open.
What had been Bub's BBQ was bought by Fenwick Farms Brewing and over the weekend that space was reopened. It currently requires patrons to be over 21 and may only be open sporadically, but at least the paper on the windows is gone.

Late last week I was on Airport Road when a helicopter landed at the airport, took off, landed again and repeated this several times. It appeared to be a training flight. It was fun watching it.
The Rensselaer Police Department posted on Facebook that Grace Street from the bridge to College Avenue will be closed from April 6 to May 18. Remington had a groundbreaking for their trails project. Work is progressing on the second of the Elza Street apartment buildings.

Finally, I found this page via the Pulaski County Community Development Facebook page. Here are its estimates of population change from 2010 to 2017 of area counties ranked from biggest winners to biggest losers:

Tippicanoe 17542 (10.1%)
Porter  +3864 (2.3%)
Jasper -46 (-0.1%)
Newton -109 (-0.8%)
Carroll  -158 (-0.8%)
LaPorte -1429 (-1.3%)
Starke -452 (-1.9%)
White -502 (-2.0%)
Lake -10,238 (-2.1%)
Benton  -250  (-2.8%)
Pulaski -794 (-6.0%)

Except for Lake County, the urban counties of Indiana tended to gain population. Most rural counties lost population. My guess is that the effects of the closure of Saint Joseph's College are not captured in these statistics.

Pulaski has the highest county income tax in the state, so its decline in population must really hurt its tax collections. Perhaps it also contributes to the decline.