Rensselaer Adventures

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

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Time March-es on

 At the last City Council meeting, Kenny Haun mentioned that a business expansion was being planned. Perhaps the expansion he was referring to was by Genova. A press release from the Jasper County Economic Development Organization said that Genova will spend $2.3 million to build a 22,000 square foot expansion to its current facility. When completed, the company will hire about 12 new employees.

The annual Easter Egg Hunt will not be a hunt this year but a drive-thru event. The children 2-10 must remain in the car to receive candy. The date is April 3 from 11:00 until the candy is gone or 1:00, whichever comes first.

A new month brings a new round of monthly meetings. The Commissioners met Monday in a hybrid meeting. There was an in-person meeting at the Sparling Annex with a Zoom option that used the new equipment that the conference room has. Only one of the Commissioners was in the room; two attended remotely, one from Florida. There were at one time 20 people on the Zoom link, more than were in the meeting room. I opted to attend the in-person meeting but sat in front of one of the monitors (there are two) so I could see what the meeting looked like on Zoom.

This was not the first meeting to use the new equipment. BZA and Plan Commission meetings had used it for meetings that I did not know about so I missed. I try to find the announcements in the Rensselaer Republican, but the paper has recently changed its format, publishing all the legals from the various papers that Kankakee Publishing owns, so there are now several pages of fine print to scan. 

There were three buried cable requests. The major one was for the methane pipeline that will connect two dairies to the natural gas trunk line. It will be over 7 miles long and will have two pipes in the same trench for most of that distance. The Commissioners requested that the pipeline not use the County right-of-way when it can be located on the properties of the dairies. With that provision, the request to use the County right-of-way for the project was approved. 

The Commissioners approved a rezone from A1 to A2 that had been recommended by the Plan Commission and also a new fee of $200 for filing an appeal. They also approved the NIPSCO agreement that had previously been approved by PTABOA. The agreement settles the tax issues from 2016 to 2019 and sets out how valuation will be computed as NIPSCO shuts down its coal generation.

The Commissioners approved Sheriff Williamson's request to replace two more positions in the jail that are vacant because people left for other jobs. They also approved filling a third position that will result after a retirement and some shifting of people among jobs. He asked the Commissioners to consider replacing three part-time positions in Court House security with one full-time position. He said that currently there were 59 inmates at the jail but the census has been as high as 70 recently.

The County Health Department had given 3670 COVID vaccines as of Thursday. It will give another 740 this week. It has been told by the State to give vaccines only to Indiana residents so people now have to show proof of residency. The Department is preparing to start giving home-based vaccines and has requested the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine for this use because it is a one-dose shot. The County should soon be given blue status because the number of cases has dropped. The truck that the Department ordered has arrived but does not have plates so has not been released to the Health Department.

REMC is planning to provide high-speed internet connections throughout the County. In the northern third of the County where population density is greater, they will provide it with fiber optic cable. In the southern two thirds they are planning to provide it wirelessly. To do that, they will erect 120-foot-tall poles that will provide coverage for a five-mile radius. They asked the Commissioners for permission to place them in County right-of-ways. They will place 8 towers in the first round of construction and 16 more next year. The presenter noted that some neighboring counties are ahead of Jasper in providing high-speed internet and that this service is important for economic development. The Commissioners decided that their previous approval for this project covered the poles. 

The Commissioners moved on the smaller matters. DeMotte and Norwej want to use the County tax statements to collect a hydrant fee. The County Treasurer does not want to add the fee and she has final say, not the Commissioners. The Commissioners opened bids for lawn-care service for the jail, the Sparling Annex, and the Surveyor's office and accepted the low bids. They approved a motion to sign a listing agreement with Jenkins for the now-vacant annex that recently housed the prosecutor. The State legislature is considering a bill that would allow the State to override county restrictions on solar and wind farms. At least 50 counties have passed resolutions opposing the legislation and the Commissioners added Jasper County to that list.

The farmers market will be open from May until October and it was given permission to set use a bit of the Court-House lot. A County auction was tentatively scheduled for the second Saturday in April. Departments that have items to sell need to provide a listing. The bonds for the jail will be paid off in 2022 and there was a brief discussion of the possibility of using the money saved for EMS. The County Coroner said that human remains had been found by two coyote hunters. The meeting was continued until March 15, if necessary.

The frost law is in effect, limiting use of County roads by heavy vehicles. 

The Drainage Board met in a Zoom-only meeting in the afternoon. It received three bids to clean five miles of the Stover Ditch and accepted the low bid. However, Newton County will also have to agree to accept this bid.

There were two items continued from the last meeting, the REMC Fiber Optic Build and the methane pipeline. Both were quickly handled. REMC had agreed to the changes requested at the last meeting so their plans were approved and the methane pipeline had been discussed at the Commissioners meeting and it was approved with the recommendations made there.

In the evening there was a scheduled Park Board meeting that was in-person with no Zoom option. Only three members showed up, which was not enough for a quorum so no votes could be taken. However, the new concession stand for the Blacker Fields needs to be equipped, and the Park Board needs to approve the spending. It will be done with an e-mail poll. There will be 14 tournaments this summer and groups are scheduled to work the concession stand for all 14. The majority are school groups. Someone in the County plans to dig out a small pond and has offered the dirt to the Parks. It may be used to build a hill in Brookside that could be used as a sledding hill in the winter. 

Recently I visited Monticello and noticed a statue in the plaza of the White County Court House.

It was erected as part of the 2016 Indiana Bicentennial. Below is a picture from a different angle.

A closer look at the head.
And the plaque that tells who he was.
I prefer our Milroy statue and I wish we could add another. We do have some local figures with enough prominence to merit a statue: Charles Halleck, Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson and her Greyfriars Bobby, and my favorites, Earle Reynolds and Nellie Donegan Reynolds.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Annual Regional Art Show 2021

It is amazing how quickly our snow has melted with the warmer weather. The big piles that the snowplows made remain, but almost all the snow that was on lawns or fields is gone.

I heard several groups of sandhill cranes flying overhead on Saturday but could not see them. I also heard a killdeer. Birds are coming north.

There is a new not-for-profit organization forming, the Jasper House. It does not yet have a website but it does have a Facebook page and a logo. The mission statement from the Facebook page is, "We are an application-pending 501c3 nonprofit. Working with local organizations and law enforcement, we are quantifying local homelessness in order to connect homeless with available resources including affordable transitional housing."

The Fendig Gallery at the Carnegie Center is hosting the annual Regional High School Art Show that will end this week. To visit, one needs to make an appointment, which is why I did not bother to visit the Primary School Art Show earlier this month. 

There are some colorful walls of pictures from surrounding schools.
Two of the self-portraits on this wall identify the year as 2021.
More pictures from a different school, but with another masked self portrait.
I saw only one work made with typefaces. As someone who has spent a lot of time with typefaces, I pay more attention to these than most other people.
I bought an op-art print 50 years ago, so this picture also caught my attention.
On Saturday when I visited, the awards had been made and this picture of bones had an award-of-excellence ribbon.
The runner-up for best of show was this ceramic fish. 
And the best-of-show ribbon was on this watercolor painting titled "Frenzy."

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Snow is melting

 We survived a couple weeks of the temperature never getting above freezing and now the snow is slowly melting. I checked the river gauge to see how much the river was rising as a result, and it is very minor. The high-water records for late February were set in 2018. Do you remember the flooding that year?

I mentioned recently that the Main Street Bakery of Medaryville was planning to open a store in Morocco. It apparently will not do baking there but only sell what is baked in Medaryville. However, downtown Morocco has more good news. Bieser's Gourmet Kettle Corn has purchased a building in the downtown and will use it as their factory. The company is fairly new and its product is not sold yet in Rensselaer. 

The Weston Cemetery Walk committee has met a couple times to begin planning for the 2021 walk, which will be on third Saturday of September. This year will again feature the eastern part of the cemetery. There are lots of interesting stories there, in part because the world that these people inhabited was so different from our world.

The beginning of the snow melt resulted in some large icicles in the alley behind Fenwick Farms Brewing.

The Rensselaer City Council met on Monday for their second February meeting. It was another Zoomed meeting, hopefully the last. The next meeting on March 8 will, if all goes well, be an in-person meeting at City Hall.

The first item on the agenda was a proposal from the electric department to begin charging for meter bases and transformers when they are needed by a new industrial customer. The proposal was tabled until more information about how other communities are handling the expense of installing these items.

Next were two items that were mostly procedural. An additional motion needed to be passed to finish the contract extension with IMPA that the Council approved at the last meeting, and an ordinance to return outstanding warrants is bookkeeping that is passed every year.

The Council amended the salary ordinance to allow a full-time fire chief. Also in the ordinance was a change for the Park Department. All the youth league games will be at the Blacker Fields so there is a need for a field director for Blacker Field and no need for field directors for Columbia and Staddon Fields.

Bids for the Fire Department's aerial truck were opened. There was only one bid, from the Brook-Iroquois Volunteer Fire Department for $175,000. The City will transfer ownership 90 days after a signed purchase agreement, which will leave the City without an aerial truck for several months. (Delivery of a new truck is expected in October or November.)

Bids were also opened for 2021 street maintenance. There were two bids received, one from Walsh & Kelly for $815,525,74 and the other from Town & County for $868,484.30. These are for the Community Crossings Grant in which the State pays 75% and the City 25% and the bids were below budget. The bids were taken under advisement and a recommendation and an award letter will be presented at the next meeting.

There were a couple of public relations requests, one for a retirement party for an employee with 41 years of service.

The Mayor suggested that the meeting time be kept at 4:00 when they resume as in-person meetings. The Council had recently passed a resolution setting 6:00 as the meeting time and decided not to change the time because they felt 6:00 allowed for more public comment.

Gas usage was high during the cold snap and may affect our gas prices in the future. Mr Haun said that some business expansions are coming. He also said that the Fire Department will celebrate its 125th anniversary in May with an open house.

On Wednesday morning the sun was shining the temperature was about 40 degrees.  On my way to the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA) meeting at the Sparling Annex, I noticed that the Iroquois River still had ice on it. 

Below is a photo of the same part of the River taken on Friday.

The meeting of PTABOA began with the swearing in of the Board members and the election of officers.

The purpose of the meeting was to accept an agreement with NIPSCO. NIPSCO will drop previous appeals and agree to a change in their 2020 value. NIPSCO plans to shut down two generators this year and the last two by the end of 2023.

Housing values have risen in the past year as has the cost of new construction and building materials. These increases may be reflected in the new valuations that will be mailed to County residents on April 30. 

Walmart has begun setting out lawn and garden supplies, a sign that spring is coming.

Brown's Garden Shop is reminding people that it is time to start garden plants indoors for transplanting later. I notice from where the sunlight hits in my south-facing porch that the sun is getting higher in the sky. Today (Wednesday) we have 11 hours and 6 minutes of daylight. In a week we will have 11 hours and 25 minutes. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Ribbon Cutting for the House of Grace

 There have been very few ribbon-cutting ceremonies lately—the last I can find was in June to mark the end of Phase One of the Parks for People campaign—so when I saw in the Rensselaer Republican that there was a ribbon cutting planned for the new House of Grace, I wanted to go. The Republican did not include a time, but I learned that with a quick e-mail.

The House of Grace is a recovery program for women with alcohol or drug addiction. In January it opened a branch on the Saint Joseph's College Campus. The organization is only four years old and began in Thornton, Indiana. Given that I had not seen any public announcements about the ribbon cutting other than the article in the Republican, I was surprised to find about forty people gathered near the northeast entrance to the Core Building. I recognized only three of them.

Most ribbon cuttings are quite short. This one may have been the longest that I have attended.  The event began with short talks by Sheriff Williamson, Mayor Wood, and Beth Graf from Saint Joseph's College. Sheriff Williamson has been an advocate for drug recovery programs because so many of his inmates at the jail have addiction problems and those problems fuel recidivism. He was a strong supporter of the Recovery House west of Rensselaer that serves males and was trying to find something similar for females. So when he heard that Tammy from the House of Grace was interested in expanding to Rensselaer, he did all he could to help her. Mrs Graf noted that Saint Joseph's College and its founding order of the C.PP.S. has as part of its mission to serve the underserved.

After the short talks several groups posed for pictures.

After prayers and a blessing, the ribbon was cut.

Then everyone was invited into the building for some snacks and a presentation in the small lecture hall.

As we milled around before the presentation, I got a chance to ask Tammy a couple questions. I asked how she found women for the program and she said most of the women were referred from jails. The organization has its literature in county jails, and being in jail apparently convinces people that they really do need to change their lives. I also asked how she decided on Rensselaer. She said that they were near capacity at Thornton (currently that location has four women and a capacity for six) and was considering expanding. She briefly considered Lafayette but she had had a number of referrals from our part of the state and had connections to some of the churches here, so she decided to try Rensselaer.

Eventually everyone was in the auditorium and Tammy told her life story, of how she went from a shy, introverted kid to a prison chaplain to founding the House for Grace. She was a very entertaining speaker. Her religion played a key role in her development and religion plays a key role in the House of Grace. The women in the program have to have a change of heart if they are to be successful in staying drug or alcohol free once they leave the program. They also need a mentor to help them on the path to change. Most of the people attended were there because of their churches and one could tell that by the many "amens".  

After Tammy, four women, two currently in the program and two who had been through the program, spoke and told of their life stories. Common to them were chaotic childhoods and chaotic lives as addicts. Two were fairly young and two were middle aged.

Women who enter the program do not work for the first two months and then get daytime jobs. There is a cost of $100 for an intake fee and a fee of $125 a week for rent, but if a woman cannot pay that, she is not turned away. The program lasts nine months. The Rensselaer branch has one woman enrolled and another ready to join. The capacity of the apartment is four, and if they expand beyond four, they will need to add another apartment and house manager. Naturally the program needs outside financial support. They encourage donations of money and also gas and food cards. There are a number of other items that they have on their wish list, from paper goods to hygiene items. See their website or Facebook page for more information. (More pictures here.)

The House of Grace joins a number of other local non-profits that have the goal of helping people in need including the Good Samaritan Food Pantry, The Crisis Center, Fuller Center for Housing, CDC Resources, the Jasper County Recovery House, and Birthright of Rensselaer.

One final picture. This is the view looking out the door of the Core Building to Halleck Center. There has been no one walking on what was once a heavily used path.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Snow, snow, and more snow (updated)

I have not been able to get out enough to find really good winter pictures. Below is what my sidewalk to the street looks like. Many in the city have much higher snow canyons.

The river alongside Weston Cemetery had nearly frozen over a couple days ago. There is a swift current in this stretch that has kept parts of the river open.

It is not a good time to check out old gravestones.

At least we are ready for cold and snow. The people of Texas were not. 

Are you curious about the generating from the two Rensselaer solar parks? You can see what they are doing here.

The County Council met Tuesday in a rather routine meeting. The meeting was supposed to be in-person at the Sparling Annex with a Zoom option, but it appeared that everyone chose the Zoom option because of the weather and the uncertain status of the roads. First up was a report from Valley Oaks. They receive over $300,000 in property tax dollars and that amount of support seems to be mandated by State law. Valley Oaks provides services in nine counties, the largest of which is Tippecanoe. It started in 1938 and until a couple years ago it had a different name, Wabash Valley. It provides services for mental health and addiction. It employs 28 people from the Rensselaer office, with two more ready to start and three open positions. The bulk of their payments come from Medicare or Medicaid. Last year they served about 400 Jasper County adults and about 250 youths. They closely cooperate with area schools.

Next up was Judge Potter, who mentioned that relations between Jasper County government and Valley Oaks had improved over the past couple years. He also mentioned that Tippecanoe County has been hiring away our public defenders because they pay considerably more, but that was not his concern at the moment. Rather it was the pay discrepancy between what the local CASA director is paid and what CASA directors in comparable counties are paid. (Judge Potter oversees the CASA program.) His suggestion was to use grant funding to supplement the pay in the same way outside funding supplements the salary of the director of Community Corrections. The Council accepted his suggestion and he will draw up an agreement for the next Council meeting.

Sheriff Williamson returned this month with two options to allow the northern School Resource Officers to use overtime to patrol roads before and after school hours. The Council approved the five-day option.

The Council approved some additional appropriations that had been tabled from the last meeting. Most had been in the budget book when the Council set the County budget but for some reason had not been approved in August during the budget meetings. 

Members of the Council expressed appreciation for the State, County, and local plow crews for clearing the roads.

Covid vaccinations took a break on Monday and Tuesday because of the weather but are otherwise proceeding smoothly. The Coroner reported he has had 35 cases so far this year and has spent a third of his budget. He expects to be before the Council to request an additional appropriation in the future.

My other Zoom meeting this week was with the White County United Way where I serve on a review panel for grant requests. The White County United Way received a substantial grant from Lilly to help not-for-profit organizations in Jasper, White, and Pulaski counties that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. The grants are supposed to be awarded and spent by the end of July. If you are part of a not-for-profit organization that can make a case that your organization has been harmed by the pandemic, contact the White County United Way to see if you might qualify. They are prioritizing funding for programs and agencies that:

  •  Ensure sustainability of our regional social service network
  •  Reduce gaps in services, particularly for healthcare and mental health access
  •  Increase services offered via alternative or virtual delivery
  •  Increase the # of individuals who access services for basic needs
  •  Increase the # of individuals participating in healthy food access/nutrition programs
  •  Increase the # of children enrolled in childcare or education/engagement programs
  •  Increase the # of volunteers engaged in addressing community needs
  •  Increase the # of social sector jobs retained through organizational financial supports 
A couple of quick additions.

Main Street Bakery of Francesville Medaryville is planning to expand to Morocco. It will remodel a building in the downtown and hopes to be open by August. Main Street Bakery bought the equipment and recipes of the bakery that formerly was in downtown Rensselaer.

A recovery house for women called the House of Grace will open their second location on the campus of Saint Josephs’s College. Apparently this has been in the works since October. Here is an announcement by SJC.