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

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Wall arrives

The Wall arrived in Rensselaer Wednesday afternoon. If you missed the escort, the clip below shows what it looked like.

On Thursday morning a large group of volunteers was at Brookside Park to set it up. By 9:00 most of it was up.
 The Wall came in a much smaller vehicle than I expected.
 The panels fit into a metal track. There were lots of people unloading the panels.
 The view from the back.
It should be ready for the public by noon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Odds and Ends, May 23, 2018

Construction of the IMPA solar farm on the north side or Rensselaer has been underway for a couple of weeks. I stopped by last Thursday to take some pictures and found that it was difficult to find a place from which to take a picture. The picture below was taken from the west side. The jackhammering that was going on could be heard in most of the City.

I had expected the rerouting of the County tile would be the first thing that the project would do, but I was wrong. The new tile has not yet been installed.

 I stopped by again on Tuesday and found that the entire field had short posts. The picture below is from the north entrance and on Thursday the only posts that had been visible had been in the distance.
 The local branch of PNC Bank closed last week and this week all the signage has been removed. There is a note on the door saying the office has moved to Merrillville.
 Fenwick Farms Brewery is adding an outdoor patio to their facility. The lot next to their buildings has been paved and a new door opens onto the space.
 I noticed that Sparling Avenue had been cut near Justin Hall at SJC. I had heard that SJC was abandoning its water system and would be getting water from the City. This is part of that switch, which is not yet completed.
The four lots between Fountain Stone and Royal Oak are now owned by Jasper County Senior Living LLC, the company that plans to build an assisted living facility on the site.

On Monday evening the Jasper County Plan Commission met for about two hours to discuss a revision to the planning code regarding setbacks for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). There had been a workshop on the issue a week ago (it overlaped the City Council meeting so I did not attend) and two of the items that impressed at least some of the members of the Plan Commission were that if too many variances are being sought and granted, it may be that the unified development ordinance (UDO) is out of line and the Jasper County's buffer zones are greater than they need to be.

After some discussion by the members of the Commission, several members of the audience said that their discussion of some of the issues was beyond what they can regulate. The State of Indiana has assumed responsibility for regulating ground water and lagoons and the counties have no jurisdiction in these areas. Also, the meeting was advertised as addressing setbacks and therefore that is what they should be discussing, not other matters. Eventually a motion was made to change the setbacks of a CAFO to 100 feet from the perimeter, 200 feet from a road, and 1000 feet from the foundation of any primary structure on other property. The vote on that motion was six in favor and three against. The Commissioners will have final say, but it may not reach them for a while because the Plan Commission wants to present it as it will appear in the UDO.

There will be a special meeting of the Plan Commission on June at 7:00 to discuss a rezone for a proposed pig farm. The matter could not be discussed at the Monday meeting because the newspaper did not publish the legal notice in time.

Finally, I noticed another mural near downtown. Do you know where this one is?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Vietnam Wall


On Wednesday the Vietnam Traveling Wall, an 80% scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, will arrive in Rensselaer. At 4:00 it will be escorted from the Fairgrounds to the Court House Square and then to Brookside Park. It should be a noisy affair, with many motorcycles. On Thursday morning it will be assembled and then will be open to the public from noon on the 24th until 3:00 on the 28th.

Names on the wall of soldiers and sailors from Indiana can be found here. There are four names listed from Rensselaer. Two of them, Allen Stath and Leonard Lane are buried in Weston Cemetery in Section P, which is the section closest to the pedestrian bridge. (If you click on the links, you will get details of their service and deaths.)  I suspect the Wall is seldom so close to graves of fallen soldiers listed on it.

Columbus Gross is buried in Fair Oaks Cemetery and Paul Hattabaugh is buried in Osborne Cemetery.

I have not found others buried in Jasper County but there may be some.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

I missed some

The start of the week had an unusual number of meetings. On Monday morning the County Commissioners met in a continued session from last weeks meeting, where they had expected Honeywell to make a presentation. Honeywell has been working on a energy saving/capital improvement project and made a presentation both at the Commissioners on Monday morning and the County Council on Tuesday evening. The project will have a cost of about $2.2 million and will focus on the Court House. Most of the lights will be changed to LEDs and this will provide the bulk of the energy savings. It will also replace air conditioner and heating units, some of which are nearing end of life. There will be work on windows, replacing and repairing some and installing interior storm windows. The exact cost on some items will not be known for several days, so the plan forward is to have the contract approved at the June 4 Commissioners meeting contingent on the Council approving funding. The Council did not adjourn on Tuesday evening but continued its meeting until Tuesday June 5 at 6:00, when it will consider the issue of funding.

The annex building is also in need of some upgrades/replacements, but those changes will wait until the next phase of the project. The issue of funding the Court House improvements was discussed at the Council meeting, and the consensus was that it should be financed from the Rainy Day fund, which has more than $7 million in it. However, any final decision will wait until a future meeting or perhaps at the next session of the Council on June 5.

On Monday the Commissioners next heard from representatives of Trane, which is planning changes to Community Corrections and the jail. They reported that since the last meeting, approval had been given to vacate Community Corrections for 24 hours so that the attic could be sealed and insulated. It will have an R-50 insulation value. They said that the air-handling and heating units at the jail should be big enough to handle the size of building, so there is a problem that they suspect is poor or no insulation in the walls. The Commissioners approved the scope of the project for Community Corrections and approved further investigation of the problems at the jail.

On Monday evening both the Rensselaer Board of Public Works and the Rensselaer City Council met. the BPW approved some pay requests for work being done to the fire station and the water main from Well #8. The well work is 40% complete. The crew was doing pressure testing of the main this week and apparently found some kind of problem because on Monday they were digging again. The BPW also approved hiring a new police officer and accepting three new volunteer firemen. Work on the new police station is about six weeks away from completion.

The City Council meeting had a presentation of the Downtown Revitalization Project. The overall plan has many parts, any of which can be done separately, and that may be one of its major strengths. The Council adopted the plan and then approved it; I do not understand what the difference was.

The gas tracker for May is a four-cent decrease per hundred cubic feet. The Council approved the purchase of batteries at the power plant that have gone bad, a new dump truck with snow plow and salt spreader for $168K, and a copy machine for the police department for $4500 because they will not easily be able to share a copy machine with the utility office once they move to their new station.

The Council approved continuing tax abatements for ConAgra, Genova, IMPA, American Melt Blown, and National Gypsum. They had been approved at a May 1 meeting of the Tax Abatement Committee.

Work on the Mt Calvary Road/US 231 intersection is scheduled to begin in June.

The crews on clean-up week worked long hours because the amount of stuff was greater this year than last. About 233 tons of junk were removed and that does not include grass clippings, brush, and recycling items. The police department identified 34 vehicles as abandoned; 32 were removed by owners and two were towed.

After hearing from Honeywell on Tuesday evening, the Jasper County Council was addressed by a representative of Renewable Energy Systems (RES), the company that is planning a wind farm project for Jasper and Pulaski Counties. He was asked why they had chosen eastern Jasper County for a possible location and he said that there were two main criteria for siting, wind speed and grid capacity. Eastern Jasper has excellent wind speed. Jasper County is near the boundary between two electric markets so that increases the potential sales. He said that the project could be anywhere between 200 and 400 megawatts. To do 200 megawatts, the company needs to have agreements for about 25,000 acres. Currently they have commitments for about 11,000 with another 3,000 pending. As I understood what he was saying, signing an agreement with RES does not guarantee that a windmill will be erected on one's property. Some property may be used as a buffer between turbines and property that does not have an agreement. Even if no turbine is built on such property, the owners will get a payment. Those with turbines will get more payment.

He mentioned that the next phase of wind farms in Benton County will be using larger turbines that are 575 feet tall when the blade is at its apex. The reason for the larger windmills is that they are more efficient—they produce more electricity per dollar invested. Also, they will be spaced further apart so they do not interfere with each other. Hence, the look of the wind farm will be different from what we see today in Benton and White Counties.

The lease agreements are for 30 years with options for two five-year extensions. There are three agreements that would be needed from the County and these are standard. An economic development agreement as I understood it allows the County to bypass the state in getting revenue from the wind farms. A decommissioning agreement outlines what the Company will do when the wind farm is abandoned. (Basically remove structures and foundations to four feet below grade.) A road-use agreement lists what the Company must do to repair roads.

In response to a question, he noted that he faces the same opposition from the same national anti-wind-farm group that we see locally. There was some disagreement about the negative effects of the project but most of the Council thought that both sides needed to back up their claims with credible sources.

Citizen Tom Matthis spoke during the public comment section and argued again that there were businesses that were not being taxed appropriately because they were operating from improperly zoned areas.

I missed other meetings. On Monday at the Fairgrouds there was a workshop on Confined Feeding Operations. It overlapped the City Council meeting. On Tuesday I skipped the first part of the Jasper County Historical Society meeting because I was tired. I also missed the Rensselaer School Board meeting that always meets at the same time as the Jasper County Council.

This weekend is the SJC Little 500 weekend. It will be held at the Fairground but without the go-kart race. The Alumni Board ran into insurance problems.

I do not have any really interesting pictures this week. However, I did note that some of the street millings were being placed on a lot north of the tracks and smoothed to make what appears to be a parking lot. The old cement block building that was on the lot has been demolished. This past winter this lot and its neighbors were where the derailed tank cars were set until they were demolished.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Aviation Career Day and assisted living

The second annual Aviation Career Day took place at the Jasper County Airport on Friday. There were about 1000 students from area schools plus a few others who stopped in to see what was happening. Below students from West Central are lined up to hear a presentation about various careers and were entertained by a medical helicopter landing.
 The station about aircraft maintenance (there is a maintenance shop at Jasper County Airport that services local planes and planes coming in from nearby states) had a plane built in 1946. To the students that must seem like an eternity ago, but for us older folks it does not seem quite so old.
 Students from Rensselaer mostly sat still as they heard a presentation about aircraft safety. Many did not seem dressed appropriately for the chilly morning.
 Purdue brought a plane and had presenters talk a bit about the science of flight.
There was a blackhawk helicopter that I did not get a picture of because I had to give directions to a class that was lost. The final station was called "general aviation" and had a crop duster, the basket of a hot air balloon, and other displays.
 One of those other displays had drones used by the sheriff's department. The large one took the pictures of the Kankakee River flooding that was widely shared earlier this year.
When asked how many days of school were left, the kids all knew the answer.

A lot of progress was made on street paving this past week. On Friday afternoon the crew was rolling the stretch of Angelica next to the Carnegie Center. I will probably learn at Monday's City Council meeting how much work is left. There is also work being done along Sparling, where sidewalks will be replaced of installed.

On Thursday the Rensselaer BZA approved the conditional use application submitted by Jasper County Senior Living, LLC to construct a 44-unit assisted-living facility north of Royal Oak Restaurant. The Board asked lots of questions. The company has a purchase agreement with SJC for the lots that they need. When fully occupied it will employ 20-25 people, some of them CNAs. The cost of construction will be about $5 million and it will be stick-built.  It will have the same design as others that the company has or is building. The company hired a consultant that specializes in estimating the demand for this type of housing and they said that there was a demand for about 80 units in Rensselaer. There will be three styles of units, studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom. The monthly cost of each when fully utilizing all services will be about $2500 for the studio, $3500 for the one-bedroom, and $4500 for the two-bedroom. Full service includes all meals, housekeeping, and laundry, among other things. About one half of the units will be capable of having two residents, so the total capacity of the facility will be about 60, at which point the dining room will be full. Very few of the residents at similar facilities in Attica or Linton have autos, which surprised some Board members. (See the previous post for more info.)

I have heard that NITCO is moving their office to the former Blockbuster building on South College. Martin's Restaurant has a new coat of paint and I have heard rumors that changes will be happening there.
There are still some large tree trunks that have not been cleared away. Maybe it was too big for the crew on clean-up week.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The hearing that did not happen

I saw a notice of a Rensselaer BZA meeting posted on City Hall doors early this week. The agenda item, a conditional use application submitted by Jasper County Senior Living, LLC, sounded intriguing. I had heard that someone wanted to construct some assisted living units behind Walmart and wondered if this was connected.

However, the hearing did not take place. The legal notice published in the newspaper had given the date as May 10, not May 8 as was listed on the notice at City Hall. The Board decided to abide by the letter of the law and will have a meeting on Thursday at 7:00 pm to hear the case.

Before I left, I asked the gentleman who had intended to explain the case what his company was doing. The company is Autumn Trace and they presently have two locations, Attica and Linton, with two more under construction, at North Vernon and Plymouth. He said that the plan was for 44 units, all under one roof. They would be independent and assisted living units, and the facility would be staffed around the clock.

I will try to get back on Thursday and see what else is involved.

As I was leaving, I noticed that there were dozens of cars parked around the Court House and wondered why. Someone mentioned that it was primary election night and people were there to watch the returns come in. So I wandered over to see what return-watching involved. The people were gathered on the second floor and many were in the Commissioners room watching the returns projected on the screen. It did not seem to change much, so I did not take a seat.
In the hallway two radio stations were doing live updates and there was a line of people outside the Clerk's office. I was told that these were election officials from the various precincts turning in their results. I had no reason to want the results early, so I left.

Election results are here.

On Wednesday I heard the paving crew on Emmet Street so I rode over to see how they were doing. The woman who was flagging traffic asked if I needed to pass through and I told her that I was just seeing how work was proceeding. She said that she commutes over an hour each way for this job but she did not mind it. She found the people of Rensselaer polite and courteous, unlike the people she with whom she interacts at other locations.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Meetings on the first Monday of May


The weather has turned warmer. During the past week everything has greened up. My attention has turned away from blogging as I have been trying to catch up with tasks related to the change of seasons.

Today is primary election day. Paul Norwine's class at KV has prepared a video on the race for the sheriff. (Two of them will still be candidates after the vote today.)

The County Commissioners met on Monday. I got there early, only to find that the Drainage Board, which normally meets in the afternoon, had scheduled its meeting before the Commissioners meeting. Their agenda was short and was concerned with county tiles.

After approving a contract for bridge inspection for the next four years (the County's bridges are rated among the best in Indiana) and approving an increase in program fees for Community Corrections (I do not understand what that fee is for), the Commissioners heard from Brian Overstreet. He introduced the new Community Wellness Coordinator, who has been serving White County and now will also serve Jasper and eventually Newton Counties. She noted that Indiana rates #7 in national obesity. He also noted that Extension has a drone that is available if the County needs it. Extension is sponsoring a CAFO workshop at the Fairgrounds on Monday, May 14 at 6:30 pm (which overlaps the City Council meeting, so I probably will not attend). Finally, Extension will co-host the North American Manure Expo next year in August at Fair Oaks Farms.

Several people from Trane gave a lengthy presentation about proposed changes to make Community Corrections and the County Jail more energy efficient. The changes that they would like to make to insulate the attic of Community Corrections would require that the building be vacant for 12 hours, which may not be possible. Among the changes  recommended for the jail would be a small solar park similar to what KV schools are planning. (The Rensselaer City Council just passed an ordinance that would govern how such an installation would connect to the power grid.)

The Commissioners approved several things related to a $500,000 OCRA grant for building a new Wheatfield Township fire station. The County is the contracting party for the grant because Townships could not submit proposals, but no County funds will be involved.  The Commissioners also approved replacing retiring or resigning personnel for the Sheriff and Prosecutor.

The Commissioners had expected a presentation from Honeywell about its recommendations for energy savings for the Court House and annex, but Honeywell was a no show. The meeting was not adjourned but rather continues so they can get that presentation next Monday, May 14, at 9:00 am. At the remainder of the Monday session they took care of a lot of routine items. They had bid openings for asphalt and heard an update on road resurfacing. They also approved a contract with the wind farm company that is constructing the next phase of the Benton County wind farms. These turbines will be just south of the Jasper County line. The contract that was approved allows the wind farm people to haul a large transformer from the railroad in Remington to Benton County over County roads. Included was a bonding for the roads for $250,000. 

I have been wondering about the tax implications of wind farms so before I left the Court House, I stopped by the Assessor's office. I found that the County Assessor does not get to assess utilities, including wind farms. That is done at the state level but the monies come back to the counties. Benton County, which currently has 560 turbines, gets about $3 million a year in tax revenue. Apparently some of the new turbines that they will be constructing will be larger than the existing turbines, which are over 300 feet tall. The new ones will be over 500 feet, about the same as those that are being contemplated for Jasper and Pulaski Counties. A rough estimate is that the turbines proposed for eastern Jasper County would generate more than one million in tax revenue but less than two. There are costs and benefits of having turbines and both need to be considered in deciding whether they would be good or bad for the county.

The Rensselaer Park Board met on Monday evening. They heard a financial report for the Park Corporation, discussed what part of the parks should bear the Rex Blacker name (his estate is by far the largest donor to the Parks for People Campaign), and discussed dog park rules.

White County has announced that it has sold the building that it constructed just to the east of Remington. The occupant will be EggLife and it will hire about 30 people to produce a sandwich/tortilla wraps line of products. EggLife seems to be associated with Rose Acre Farms. Over in Newton County, Fireworks America has purchased the Republic Services building in Morocco and will use part of it as a warehouse. It plans to employ 10-15 people. Also in Newton County, the proposed dairy farm north of Kankakee Sands is on hold.

Friday's fish/chicken dinner sponsored by the fire men drew a huge crowd and I heard about several people who did not attend because the length of the line intimidated them. I wanted to take a picture of the SJC trays that were being used but my camera battery died. There were lots of yard sales on Friday and there are huge piles on the curbs this week for bulk pick up. In contrast to last year, the weather was ideal for garage sales this year. The Saint Augustine School rummage sale, scheduled for this coming weekend, has been canceled. 

I have not been taking many pictures lately, but here is one for this post. It shows that Unwind Massage Therapy has relocated to the back of the building next to  the bowstring bridge. The last occupant of that space was the Rensselaer Chamber of Commerce. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Construction Pictures

The rain last night has slowed or stopped road work but for the past week or two the crews have been very busy. Below is Grace Street (looking toward the bridge) after its initial coat of asphalt.
On Wednesday the final coat was being laid down. I expected the street to be open today but when I checked this morning, it was not.
The east end of Milroy has been repaved. Below is what it looked like with just the first strip of paving competed.
I have watched with fascination the work at the meeting of Sparling and Milroy. In the picture below you can see some of the obstacles that the crew was avoiding by putting the pipe below all of them. Nearest is a telephone cable and an old storm sewer line that may no longer be in operation. A bit further in the trench is a gas line and a water main under it. Not showing in this picture is a huge storm sewer that drains the Sparling area, and at the far end are two sewer lines, one a gravity line heading toward the lift station next to Weston Cemetery and the other a pressurized line taking sewage from the lift station to the sewage treatment plant south of town.
In this picture the top of the large storm sewer is visible.

The trench is mostly filled in this next shot.
One of the last bits of work was putting in a new storm sewer at the end of Milroy. City workers did this job.
And finally the hole is filled, though the road is hardly in good shape.
There is still a lot of pipe sitting along the Monnett Street.