Rensselaer Adventures

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

Saturday, December 3, 2022


Meterological winter starts December 1 and lasts through February. Astronomical winter does not start until December 21, the winter solstice. I prefer to start winter now because then spring starts earlier.

I hate the short days of winter. On December 3 the day will be 9 hours, 27 minutes and 53 seconds long. (That number is from The shortest day will be December 21, with 9 hours and 17 minutes. It could be worse. I have a niece in Winnipeg Canada and on December 3 her day will be 8 hours, 25 minutes, and 16 seconds long.

 Odds and ends

The Rensselaer Library celebrated 30 years in its current building on November 30. Visitors on that day could enjoy cake and cookies. 

As part of the celebration, the Library had invited patrons to submit artwork inspired by adventures that the library had inspired them to take.

In the former Library building the Prairie Arts Council now has its Celebrating Photography exhibit. It will run until January 5. The PAC has announced their 2023 schedule. The first four exhibits that last until mid April are the regional school shows. The Annual PAC Member Show fills May. June and part of July will feature local artist Abbie Parmele and August and September will feature Lilian Fendig. In October there will be a Jasper County Art League member show with the theme of "Fendig Inspired." And finally in December the Fendig Gallery will host the annual Celebrating Photography exhibit.

On Facebook Pottsy's announced he had paid off the bowling alley. In the comments, someone asked about reopening and he replied, " I’d love to give you a date but my installer sawed his finger off. Literally. He is one of the few in the country. He only has 2 weeks left to finish. But when will he get back."

Christmas decorations have been painted on some of the windows downtown.

Sage Bridal is no longer in this building but S-blended Nutrition has not finished moving in. The opening at the new location will be Saturday.

More windows were being painted on Friday.

I missed the ribbon cutting at the high school pool last week, but I expected that the Republican would give it excellent coverage. I was not disappointed. See here or on the front page of this week's edition.

The Republican has begun to cover Commissioner and County Council meetings. The reporter is Cheri Shelhart, who does an excellent job—I used to check her stories to see if I had made mistakes in what I posted. She writes for the Kankakee Valley Posts News, Demotte's paper.

There will be several businesses moving and one closing in the next few weeks. Steffens Jewelry will close before Christmas. The optometrist next to Aydas is moving soon to what was Jordans Floral and their current office building is for sale.

Work has begun on a storage building/garage for the Health Department, though it is only site preparation for a concrete slab. The location is to the west of the parking lot at what I call the Sparling Annex.

City Council meeting

The City Council met on Monday evening (November 28) and had four items on the agenda for utility rate changes: for water, sewage, electricity, and gas. A person from Baker Tilly, a consultant firm that prepared the rate-change recommendations, gave a long explanation of the state of the utilities, their debt, new and construction underway, changes in federal and state rules, and anything else that might affect the rates that they should be charging. He said that the recommended changes should cause about a 2% rise in the average utility bill. To pass these changes, a public hearing is required and that must be advertised. I see that a special Council meeting is scheduled for December 19 and I suspect that is when they will be approved. The vote at the meeting was to move forward with the process.

Twice a year the City must file a financial report with the USDA Rural Development department (which has given the City grant money) and the Council approved filing the report. The Council approved the three supply bids that it received at the last meeting (for gasoline, diesel, and tire services). The Council approved $2000 for an employee Christmas party/lunch. Next week the purchaser of the Wärtsilä generator will begin removing some of the components of the system.

Tourism Commission meeting

The Tourism Commission meeting scheduled for Friday morning did not have a quorum so no business could be done. The few attending discussed changing the meeting time. Friday was seen as undesirable and I think they eventually settled on the second Tuesday of the month. That would make January 10th the next meeting. They very briefly discussed the new tourism logo, which you can find on the Discover Jasper County Facebook page. There will be carriage rides in Rensselaer on December 10 and 17 from 5:00 until 8:00. More here. Someone mentioned that a Dunkin Donuts has opened at the DeMotte on SR 10 West of I-65. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Snow and ice

We got a taste of real winter during the past few days. We got a bit of snow that did not melt immediately. 

The temperatures got low enough for ice to form on the river.

Hopefully it will all melt with the warmer temperatures this week.

Special County Council meeting

On Monday evening the County Council met for a short meeting to approve the sale of the former prosecutor/Health Department Annex, otherwise known as the former REMC building. (The Sale had been approved by the Commissioners at their November meeting.)  Two offers have been made for the building and the Commissioners have accepted the higher bid of $125,000. That is considerably less than the original asking price, but a reason that the County decided to move offices from the building was that the heating/cooling system needed to be replaced and the estimated replacement cost was very high. The potential buyer was not known by the Council, which approved the sale.

After the vote, the Council spent another ten minutes discussing whether construction bids could be limited to local contractors and the need for shopping for options for employee health insurance.

Missing from the meeting was Jeff DeYoung, who resigned from the Council after he was appointed by the Republican precinct  committee men and women to replace Kendell Culp as a commissioner. WLQI reported that five ballots were needed for DeYoung to get a a majority of the 24 members present. DeYoung was an at-large representative on the County Council and his replacement will be named by the same Republican committeemen at a meeting on December 8. 

County Plan Commission

The County Plan Commission also met on Monday evening, though later and at a different location. It had four items on its agenda. The first took by far the longest. It was for a rezone from A1 to A2 of a 15 acre parcel in Jordan Township so that a residence could be built on a four-acre section. The other 11 acres are in the floodplain of Carpenter Creek. If the rezone was granted, the only way according to the County Code to split off the four acres would be to create a two lot subdivision, but the Commission did not want to do this because one of the lots would look like it was buildable but it is not. After a lot of discussion, they approved the rezone (which is only advisory; the Commissioners have the final say) with the condition that the 15 acre lot be combined with the 26 acre lot owned by the same person, and then the four acres split off. Apparently if the acreage is large enough, a small lot for a residence can be split off without having it declared a subdivision. 

Two items were for a two-lot subdivision, one splitting 20 acres in Keener Township and the other splitting 25 acres in Walker Township. Both were approved. The final agenda item was for a rezone from A1 to GC (General Commerce?) in Keener Township. Bos Farms is currently using a building on the site as an office and wants to build a new office building, so wants to get the zoning right. It was approved. 

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Winter arrives

Winter hit suddenly again this year. Last week we had very mild temperatures until Thursday, then a transition day on Friday with a cold north wind, and Saturday had highs in the 30s.

Almost all the leaves are off the trees, but there are still a few trees that are a bit late in losing their leaves. Below is a picture of a tree in Hal Gray Park taken over the weekend.

Board of Public Works meeting.

Monday's BPW meeting approved invoices and spending that totaled well over $1 million. The big one was pay request #6 for Theineman Construction for work on the lift station and extending sewer lines. It was for $944,720.52. Work on sewer lines along Clark Street is mostly done. On Tuesday a crane was at the lift station construction site putting in huge concrete manholes.

Here is what the crane was installing.

The Board also approved a change order that added $125,711.58 to the cost of the project and extended it by 16 days, with the finish date now of May 10. A manhole along the River was in much worse shape than anticipated so the decision was made to replace it. Also, the test soil bores did not detect some limestone that was near the surface and the construction company had to remove 378 cubic yards of it. (You may have heard the jackhammering for a couple of weeks.)

The Board approved a Commonwealth invoice of $29,711.12 for work on the lift station project and $19,318.70 for design and permitting on the elevated water storage project. The City has reached an agreement to purchase a lot of .91 acres plus access rights and the Board approved having the Mayor sign the purchase agreement when it is completed.

City Council meeting

The first part of the City Council meeting on Monday evening was devoted to several fire department items. Dain Hayworth, Marion County trustee, had praise for the local firefighters. He had been on some recent fire runs and observed them. The first item on the agenda was a pay increase for the three fire department drone operators. The position requires FAA certification. It passed. A discussion of something called fire territories followed. A fire territory would give the Fire Department a status similar to the Air Port Authority, with its own budget and ability to collect some taxes. Mr. Cover thought that there should be a special meeting to discuss this idea and the Mayor asked Mr. Hayworth to find a time that would work for everyone.

The Council repealed the salary ordinance passed at the last meeting because some of the salaries had changed. They did not seem to pass a new ordinance and I do not understand why they did not. The gas tracker for November will reflect a 30.5¢ decrease per hundred cubic feet. The Council approved $35,000 for the RenArtWlk project for 2023. The funds will be administered by the Jasper Newton Foundation.

City supply bids for gas, diesel, and tire services were opened. There was a single bidder on each item and a committee was formed to examine them and make a recommendation at the next meeting. The Council approved a request for public relations funds to purchase an item for a silent auction at the December Chamber of Commerce meeting.

The Council changed the date of its second December meeting from the 26th to the 27th. (The 26th is a City holiday.) SJC has approached the City asking to be annexed. The advantage for SJC would be lower utility bills. It gets electric, gas, water, and sewage from the City and has to pay a higher non-resident rate. The Council approved a motion to proceed exploring the matter.  The City has a potential buyer for the Wärtsilä electric generator. It was the newest of the engines and the main generator at the power plant before the power plant was shut down. It is huge and would have to leave town by rail. 

(Below is what the demolition in the power plant looked like about a week ago. The Wärtsilä  engine has the yellow ladder and rails. 

The remnants of the Fairbanks Morse engine have finally been removed.

Rensselaer BZA

The Rensselaer Board of Zoning Appeals met on November 10th to consider a variance of use for a property located at 202 N McKinley Avenue. The lot is zoned R-2 and the owners would like to use the building for a business. That business is Sage Bridal Studio, presently located on Washington Street across from the Courthouse. The building was built in about 1895 and Jackson Funeral Home purchased it years ago with the intention of eventually using the lot for parking. The BZA approved the variance, but limited it to Sage Bridal Studio, which does business by appointment.

Joint Commissioners/Council meeting

The County Commissioners and County Council held a joint meeting on Tuesday evening before the regular County Council meeting. A number of items from the previous Commissioners meeting were discussed. There was new information about EMS. The County EMS is being held up by red tape. The service changed its name twice and with those changes it needed new EIN numbers. Attempts to reach IRS in Salt Lake City have been frustrating, with frequent messages to call back another day because the lines are too busy and occasionally hour and a half waits with nothing accomplished. Without the EIN number the State will not issue the certificates needed to operate. 

The Coroner repeated his case for a full-time deputy. It is likely that a committee will be formed in early 2023 to investigate the case for and against.

The remaining two commissioners approved a trial by the Highway Department to contract with a private company for snow plowing in two subdivisions. (The Highway Department is short of manpower and has had difficulty in hiring people with CDLs.)

(The Republican committee that will select Mr Culp's replacement will meet on Thursday and the results should be public by Friday morning.)

County Council meeting

The Council approved a bunch of additional appropriations and transfers. One large one for consultants was needed because the County pays the engineering firm BF&S to monitor work on the Dunns Bridge solar farm, and then waits for reimbursement from NextEra. Sometimes it takes a while before the reimbursement is received.

The Council held a public hearing and then approved the designation of Carpenter Township as an Economic Revitalization Area. Mr. Bontreger read the entire document and it took about ten minutes. This will allow tax abatements to be given to the proposed wind farm.

The Surveyor's Office on behalf of the Drainage Board requested permission to seek a $1.5 million loan to begin work on the Davis Ditch System reconstruction project. (This is in Kankakee Township.) The solar farm people have agreed to help fund this but so far there is nothing in writing. The Council approved going forward but will want to approve a final bank agreement.

The Sheriff and the Superintendent of the Kankakee Valley School Corporation made a case for adding a third SRO to the KV school system. The system has 3300 students and operates five schools: the high school, a middle school, an intermediate school (grades 4 & 5) and elementary schools in Wheatfield and DeMotte. The School Corporation would pay 75% of the expenses and the Sheriff 25% and when school is not in session the officer would serve as a normal sheriff deputy. The Council approved funding for the position if the Commissioners approve the position.

The Sheriff requested an additional appropriation of $10,000 for overtime pay that may or may not be needed but because it had not been advertised, the Council could not act on the request. The Council did approve his spending of $3000 for a grant that would allow the County to hire one or two additional officers, with the federal government picking up 75% of the salary for several years.

The County Health Department wanted to have employees receive Covid compensation for their work during the pandemic. However, they had received hazard pay, so the Council wanted more information before they approved anything. The Council needs to make an additional appropriation for the outbuilding that the Health Department is building but it had not been advertised so no action was taken.

Stephen Eastridge had two projects that he presented to the Council and requested that they pass preliminary resolutions establishing economic revitalization zones, a first step in granting tax abatements. Both were approved. The first project was for a 16,000 foot warehouse on SR 10 that is related to Belstra Milling. It is expected to add ten jobs. The second was an expansion of FBI Builders in Remington for manufacturing trusses. It will cost $3 million and add 17 jobs. Both are the result of companies trying to integrate vertically to shorten supply chains. There is also some federal tax break for investment that will expire at the end of next year so businesses nationwide are pushing up projects.

Some more pictures

There was a Veterans Day program on Nov 11 at 11:00 in Weston Cemetery. There was a cold north wind that probably discouraged some people from attending. The ceremony started with some songs from the sixth grade choir.

On Tuesday the City was installing Christmas decorations downtown.

Over the weekend the Prairie Arts Council had its annual Holiday Art Show and Sale.

Other recent events include the St Augustine Bazaar, which had Party Time's new arcade trailer, Mistletoe Magic at the Fairgrounds, and the downtown merchants' Shop and Stroll.

I noticed that the remodeling for the Appletree child care building has added outside doors to each of the classrooms.

I noticed a new little library, this one in Foundation Park.

There is also one on Cullen that is fairly recent.

Others are in the College Mall by the fitness center, and on the corners of Washington and Front and Washington and Van Rensselaer.
One final picture, the state of the lift station over the weekend.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Change is coming to County meetings

 County election results are here.

Commissioners meeting

The November Commissioners meeting was the last for Kendall Culp. He won election as a state representative on Tuesday and will have to resign his office of commissioner. There will be a Republican meeting in mid-month to choose his replacement, much as it recently did for the Rensselaer clerk-treasurer. I was told after the meeting that there are at least five people who put their names into contention.  Commissioner Maxwell was not running for re-election and will be replaced by Rein Bontreger. However, that transition will not happen until January. 

Mr Culp served for 5 terms and 18 years, taking office in 2005, the same year as James Walstra. Culp never missed a commissioners meeting in all those years. Richard Maxwell has served since 1991. With two of the three commissioners new next year, the commissioners meetings and drainage board meetings will be different and perhaps quite interesting.

The November meeting began with an adjustment to the agenda, putting approval of two rezones recommended by the Plan Commission first. They were both approved. (See here for what they were about.)

There were three buried cable permits that were quickly approved. One was an extension of a gas line in Wheatfield Township. The Commissioners opened a public hearing regarding the sale of the former prosecutor's annex. This public hearing is required by law for disposing of property above a certain value. There were no comments and there was no mention of whether an offer to buy had been received. The sale was approved with Commissioner Maxwell abstaining. The sale also needs Council approval.

A person from the Tri-County School Corporation outlined how the corporation spent funds from the 7-year 2017 referendum. The report was informational and no action was requested. Andrew Boersma reported that the coroner has had 82 cases so far this year. He still does not know how the office will deal with the retirement of the forensic pathologist that the office uses; it may have to transport bodies to other counties. He reiterated the need for a full-time deputy coroner and the matter may be discussed at the upcoming joint commissioner/council meeting on November 15.

The Commissioners heard a report on the double doors at the prosecutor's annex. The doors are 30 inches wide and do not meet ADA requirements. One solution is to have both of them remotely activated and another is to convert them to a single wider door with a side panel covering the rest of the gap. No decision was made and this matter may be resolved on November 15.

Arcem, the company providing computer services for the County, asked to have its 3-year contract renewed. It requested a 5% increase in fees and adjustments to licensing. The Commissioners approved the extension.

Titan has been working on a design for a new EMS building and gave a presentation of the plans. They will be submitting for bids two designs, one a three-bay building able to hold six vehicles and the other a two-bay building able to hold four vehicles. About half of the building will be ambulance bays and the other half will have an office for emergency management (currently in the former PNC building), an office for EMS, bedrooms for personnel, a training room, and storage. The estimated cost is about $1.5 million and it would be funded with ARPA money. The Commissioners approved submitting the project for bidding and the bids will be reviewed in the December meeting.

The addition of a temporary full-time employee that was approved for the Health Department in October needed to be changed and it was. I did not understand the details of this action. Dr Nelson has retired as medical director of the Health Department and Dr Louck has moved up from the deputy position. A new deputy is needed and the Commissioners approved the appointment of a doctor who apparently is at Franciscan Health but I cannot find who on Franciscan's website. The Health Department said it needed a credit card for some purchases. The Auditor recently canceled the County credit card because of misuse. The Commissioners granted the Department permission to obtain a card with the provision that only one person could use it. The Highway Department then chipped in and said that they also could use a credit card and they were allowed one with the same limitation. There was some discussion of what the appropriate security measures were for the Sparling annex, with the recommendation that an alarm system be installed.

Bids were opened for the construction of a 32' by 42' outbuilding for the Health Department to use to store a new vehicle. There were two bids and the low bid of $65,992 from Tried and True Construction was accepted. Construction will start soon.

The County will advertise for County farm leases, with bids opened in December. The Commissioners approved the Sheriff's recommendation to switch providers of dental services at the jail. They also approved a request to replace a part-time employee at the North annex who works about 50% for the Sheriff and 50% for the Coroner. The Sheriff reported that the Willowby system recently installed has cut water consumption in the cell block by 70%. He said that the KV School system wants to add an SRO officer, bringing their total to 3. It will be funded 75% by the School.

The Commissioners then considered road-use and decommissioning agreements for the proposed Meadow Lake wind farm expansion into Jasper County. The project will use an estimated 30 miles of County roads (all in Carpenter Township) and the agreement has the developer paying for repaving 40 miles when the project is completed. The County opted to take parts of the White County agreements that have the roads upgraded for heavier traffic. The decommissioning agreement states that if the facility fails to generate for 18 months, it must be decommissioned. The company will have a surety bond, the amount adjusted every three to five years, that will allow the County to demolish the towers if the Company cannot. The developer has promised that it will be fully in compliance with the County's wind ordinance and will not seek variances. The agreements were approved.

The Commissioners reviewed and approved several handbook changes that dealt with vacation days, sick bank, and policies about smoking, whistleblowers, absenteeism, and harassment. 

The clerk/assistant superintendent of the Highway Department recently retired. Jack H was the engineer and superintendent and he will continue as the engineer but not as the superintendent. Ed Cain was appointed the new superintendent effective on November 7.

The Tourism Commission had a vacancy because a person from Fair Oaks Farms resigned. No one else from Fair Oaks seemed to be available, so a person who has worked with Fair Oaks was recommended and approved. She is M Tomich who runs a design studio called Mixdesign in Hebron.

Jim Martin will be resigning from the Plan Commission. His replacement must be a Democrat and so far no replacement has been selected.

The meeting was continued at 11:00.

Drainage Board

The Drainage Board meeting had a lengthy agenda but only lasted an hour. It approved a number of surveyor reports on cleaning various ditches. It also opened some bids and approved them, including one for the odd bid of $11,000.03. INDOT had two items on the agenda, both bridges that they are resurfacing. The reason that they need Board approval is that they are altering the riprap, the stone used to curtail erosion. One bridge is just south of Rensselaer on US 231 and the comment was that they should bury the stone because kids keep using it to build dams in the ditch.

One item on the agenda was from a proposed apartment building in Remington. The developer wanted to infringe on a drainage easement with his retention pond. He was told that his plans as they were presented were OK and that he would not gain enough with the infringement of the easement to allow him to build more. 

At the end of the meeting there was a discussion of box culverts replacing bridges. They are cheaper to maintain than bridges so are often being used to replace bridges.

Rensselaer Park Board

The most interesting bit from the Park Board meeting was a discussion of girls softball. This program is the only organized ball using Columbia Park and the program would like to get dugouts similar to those in Brookside. The dugouts would protect the players from the summer sun and also foul balls. They found that the cost of materials would be about $4700 and wanted to have Board approval to construct them. They also asked if as a result of constructing these dugouts, which would benefit the Park Department, they could have their $700 rent waived for five years. They use Columbia Park only from April to early July. The Board approved their building the dugouts but did not decide on any adjustment to the rent.

Girls softball fields about five teams each year that play teams from Winamac, North Judson, Knox, and Monon. Their biggest expense is umpires, at about $5k each year.

Park employees were at the meeting and they gave their insights into how things were going. There was a couple of lengthy discussions about parking, especially parking on the grass, and there were lengthy discussions about the Blacker Field tournaments. The concession people for the tournaments are unhappy with the way that the Lions Club leaves the concession area after they finish doing concessions for local games. I left a bit after 9:00 (the meeting was scheduled to begin at 6:00) while talk was continuing.

The meeting was held at the Highland Barn west of I-65. They recently added an outdoor pavilion.

Airport Authority Board meeting

The Airport Authority Board met Tuesday evening. One of the consultants attending via Zoom reported on a few changes to the Airport's 2023 Capital Improvement Plan that must be submitted to the FAA and INDOT by December 1. The plan is a five-year look ahead, telling what the Airport would like to do. 

The Board approved a contract for mowing. In the manager's report, there was a discussion of problems with the website. The Board approved spending $500 to fix it. There was also suggestions that if the fix does not work, perhaps a new website could be constructed using The Airport had received a grant for flight simulators. The Board approved the manager's suggestion to purchase two with the funds available. The transmission in the Airport's courtesy car has failed and will cost $2700 to replace, probably more than the value of the 2009 vehicle. The manager will explore possibilities. Seventeen planes took part in the Halloween Scareport event, with about 200 kids attending. The Board reaffirmed a memorandum of understanding with the Rensselaer School Corporation. The meeting adjourned at 7:20 pm.

Other things

The Tourism Commission meeting scheduled for last Friday was postponed because not enough members could attend. In the minutes from the June meeting was this: "[Innkeeper receipts for] August and September are lower because Baymont is turning into a Holiday Inn. Numbers should go up when that opens back up."

Last week machines were on West Washington working on extending sewer lines.

There are new lights in the Strack and Walmart shopping center.

They replace lights that looked like this.

At the end of September I had some pictures of art in the park. It was not finished and I promised to update. Here is an update. (The work is by Addy Cain.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

All Saints Day 2022


November has arrived and peak color has departed. Below is the view from the Talbert Bridge. Compare it to the other views in posts here, here, and here.

Last week the City fired up its green monster, the leaf vac. Below is a picture of it with the street sweeper cleaning up leaves on Park Avenue.


Saint Augustine Church hosted a trunk-or-treat event on Sunday evening with a lot of kids and adults in costumes.

In addition to the candy in the parking lot, there were games in the gymnasium, such as bowling and ring toss.

The most amusing was the one where kids had to eat a donut hanging from a string without using their hands.
There were plenty of candy opportunities this year. It is fortunate for the kids that the City Council moved the trick-or-treating time because Saturday evening had nice weather but Monday evening had rain.

The Saint Augustine School kids have a second dress-up day, November 1, All Saints Day, when they dressed up as a favorite saint.

Special County Council meeting

On Friday afternoon the Jasper County Council had a special meeting in the Courthouse to change how the revenues from the local income tax (LIT) are allocated. It had a public hearing, at which the only member of the public in attendance (me) had nothing to say, and then voted to reduce the tax going to public safety from .3925% to .3725% and increased the tax going to emergency medical services from 0% to .02%. The income tax rate that people will pay will stay the same at 2.864%.

This is a step in establishing funding for EMS and I suspect that it will be changed in the upcoming years. The change will take effect January 1, 2023 and the Council will be able to spend the money beginning in 2024. 

The details of the ordinance are given in the agenda for the meeting, available here.

Other things

Part of Cullen Street got a new surface last week. It was milled on one day

and resurfaced on a second day.

The parade route for the Christmas parade in December will be flipped this year, starting on the north and ending on the south. Santa will end the parade in Potawatomie Park where various activities are planned.

The last farmers market was held this past Saturday. There were only five or six vendors and fewer customers while I was there. Another sign that winter is coming.

I mentioned a cross country result in the last post. Morgan Township, which finished second in the semi-state meet, only managed a 19th of 24 finish in the state finals. The other teams from the New Prairie Semi-State placed 7th (Valparaiso), 20, 21, 23, & 24. That indicates that the girls New Prairie Semi-State is the weakest of the four. I recall it as being a very strong semi-state a couple decades ago when I was paying a lot of attention to cross country.

Update: S-blended Nutrition announced on Facebook that it would soon be moving down the block to where Sage Bridal Studio is now. More details are expected soon.