Rensselaer Adventures

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

Thursday, October 21, 2021


Are you enjoying the amazing fall colors, the red, yellow, and orange leaves? Here are some pictures I took on October 20th showing our brilliant fall colors.

Maybe next week they will be brilliant.

The construction at McDonalds may be finished. The fence is down and there appeared to be people eating inside.

The Jasper County BZA met on Monday evening to consider an item that had been continued from the September meeting. There were only two of the five members present but they were able to connect with a third via phone so they had a quorum. The cause on the agenda involved a property that had been split so the house was separated from the outbuildings. It needed a variance for frontage because it did not meet the 250-foot requirement. However, there was a concern that it also did not meet the setback requirement for neighboring buildings. The property had been resurveyed to meet the setback requirement and the new line was acceptable to the people who had purchased the house. The variance was granted. After the vote, there was a short discussion of whether it might be wise to have some alternate members available to fill in when members miss meetings.

The BZA meeting was very short. The County Council meeting on Tuesday was very long, lasting about two and a half hours. The meeting has a Zoom option and as has been the case with most of the hybrid meetings, it took a while to get the audio to work. There were more than a dozen people using Zoom to attend the meeting.

The first half hour of the meeting was spent in budget reductions, additional appropriations for the Recorder and Coroner, and transfers for Animal Control, Highway, the Prosecutor, and the Assessor. The Sheriff told the Council he will be asking for $50,000 in the next meeting for repairs on the HVAC system. He gave a presentation similar to that given the Commissioners on a system to reduce water usage at the jail. He wants to increase pay for part-time help from $17 to $19; no action was taken by the Council.

The Council then discussed the LIT Levy Freeze and the Jail Special Purpose fund and I do not understand exactly what they did. I think they reduced one tax that had to be put into a fund that they could not tap so that later they will be able to raise another tax that will give the County money it can use. But that is just a guess.
The Council then adopted the inter-local agreement for ambulance service for the center of the County. The Commissioners had passed this at their meeting earlier this month.

The Council then approved the budget of four groups that must have Council approval: The Rensselaer Central School Corporation, the Airport Authority, the Northwest Indiana Solid Waste District, and the Iroquois Conservancy. These presentations were hard to follow when the discussion was directed to the budgets that the Council had on paper in front of them. By far the largest was the Rensselaer Central School Corporation, which needs Council approval because it has an appointed school board. The State gives $7,000 to the Corporation for each student, and the Corporation has been losing students (as have most rural schools) for the past decade. The total budget was $18,687,000. The Airport has a budget of $716,214. Right now they have an independent contractor working as a bookkeeper but will hire someone for that at the beginning of 2022. The Northwest Solid Waste District is completely funded by tipping fees at landfills. Jasper County approves its budget because Jasper County has the highest assessed valuation of the counties it serves.

The Council was asked questions about salary changes in their new budget. One department wanted to know why another department got bigger raises than it did. At the end of the meeting a department head asked why she was paid less than others with similar rank.

Nextera, which has begun construction on Phase I of the Dunn's Bridge Solar Project in Kankakee Township, told the Council that it wants to start construction of Phase II in the Spring of 2022 and will begin to get all the regulatory approvals it needs. It will seek a variance at the BZA meeting on November 15 and a tax abatement at the next Council meeting (November 16). The project is a $335 million project with a capacity of 290 megawatts. There will be an official groundbreaking ceremony for Phase I on November 10. There was mention that Pulaski and Starke Counties have a large solar park in the planning stages.

Councilman Brian Moore, who attended via Zoom, remarked that he was disappointed in the performance of Zoom.

The meeting was continued until October 29 at 4:00 pm when it will pass the 2022 budget.

Jenna Morello, who painted the purple coneflower mural in downtown Rensselaer, is back in the area, doing a mural for Otterbein. Rein Bontreger's mural in Kentland is almost finished and looking great.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Bad news and good news

 I mentioned in the previous post that Marion Township had undergone a shocking loss of population from 2010 to 2020. As a result of that post, I was given a link that gives the numbers. First the total populations by township. Hanging Grove, Jordan, and Milroy have very small populations.  Keener is our largest township, followed by Marion.

The next table shows the change from 2010 to 2020. Keener gained over 500 people, but even with the gain, it still lost population in the under 18 category.  But the numbers for Marion are horrific. We lost 12.2% of our population and our under-18s dropped by almost 15%!!! We have a problem.
The housing data suggest that the drop is not caused by a dramatic drop in the number of housing units occupied. Rather it is that the average size of households has dropped. Almost all the new housing in the County is being built in Keener.
The table below shows how we compare to surrounding counties. Tippecanoe and Porter are growing fast. Lake is growing slowly but its under-18 component is crashing. Only Newton and Pulaski are shrinking more than we are. 

These numbers were used to support the case for licensed child care. The argument is that we are not attractive to young families in which both parents work in part because of the lack of child care, especially licensed child care. 

Enough of the bad news. On Friday the County celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Court House. The ceremony was planned to take place on the north side of the Court House, but the cold and threat of rain moved it into the Circuit Court room on the third floor.  After a welcome by Kendell Culp (to the right of the man in red), the master of ceremonies Russ Martin (behind the man holding the American flag) introduced Chris Hasara (in red) who sang the national anthem. The flag was brought in with military precision by officers of the Sheriff's Department and the Rensselaer Police Department. The invocation was given by Pastor John Hill (to the left of Hasara) from the First Church of DeMotte and Wheatfield.
Russ Martin then read a proclamation from the Jasper County Commissioners.
Judy Kanne (in black above) gave a short history of the Jasper County Court House, begining with several buildings that housed court sessions before 1896. Judge Russell Bailey then introduced two previous County judges who have moved to federal judgeships, Michael Kanne of the United States Court of Appeals and James Ahler of the United States Bankruptcy Court of Northern Indiana. Judge Kanne reflected on how it was important that a court room look special, inspiring a sense of awe. In the 1980s and 1990s he served on a federal design group drawing up standards for federal court rooms, and his experience and impressions of the Jasper County Court Room influenced the findings of that group. So it may be that our court room has influenced the design of many other court rooms throughout the United States.
The last bit of ceremony was a presentation by Linda Bushman (in red above) who played the role of Lura Halleck, wife of Abraham Halleck, a prominent lawyer and County official from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. (She also played this role in 2019 at the second annual Weston Cemetery Walk.)

NITCO has been moving its cable TV customers to a new system and I finally got mine installed last week. I regret waiting so long. The old system fed directly from the cable. The new system gets the signal from the home's wifi system, so it is coming with the Internet feed. I had to purchase a new router because my old router was single-band and the new setup requires a double-band router. But with the new system one can pause live TV and continue it (useful when answering a phone call), and one can go back a day or two or three and watch shows from the past. That is useful when there are two shows on at the same time that one wants to watch. 

It has been a very good year for black walnuts. Perhaps you have driven over a few.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Arts and Education

 The Fendig Gallery has a new show, Master Teacher Master Artist. It features works from 13 regional retired art educators who are still creating.

Below is a brief explanation of the exhibit with a list of the featured artists.
Over the years I have had pictures of several of David Herriott's pieces, but they were probably all works in glass.
I like the symmetry of this piece by Gail Woolever.
I thought this large pot was impressive.
I think this was titled, "Prancer." It is something a bit different in the show.
This is Doris Myers' logo for the Town of Wheatfield.
This lady made of dried plant stalks was backlit by a window so I could not get a good picture from the front. It was created by local artist Bonnie Zimmer. 

The show runs until November 6. The gallery is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon until 4:00. The artists' reception is Friday, October 15 from 6:30 until 8:00 pm.

On Tuesday there was a meeting of the Rensselaer Redevelopment  Commission. I knew about it because I saw the meeting agenda posted on the door of City Hall when I attended Monday's City Council meeting. The meeting began with an election of officers because this was the first meeting of 2021. The Commission voted to keep the officers from 2020. They then approved the minutes of their last meeting, which was in August of 2020.

The first item on the agenda was an appeal for funding from Appleseed Childhood Education. The presentation given by Adam Alson stressed the importance of licensed childcare for economic development. There is no stay-at-home parent in 75% of the households with pre-school children. When businesses and young people consider locating to Jasper County, the availability of licensed child care is one of the things that they consider. The problem in establishing and maintaining licensed childcare in a rural area is that it almost certainly will not be able to cover costs with tuition and fees. The need to raise funds is only one problem licensed childcare has. There is also a regulatory nightmare to get and maintain licensing and to obtain the State funds that are available.

Appleseed's solution to these two problems is to partner with another organization. Right Steps from Lafayette will run the childcare, taking care of hiring and dealing with the State. Right Steps operates three centers in Lafayette as well as the new childcare centers in Remington and Goodland. Their size gives them the economies of scale to hire people to specialize in dealing with the regulations and finding the available vouchers.  Appleseed will focus on finding the funding to fill the gap between revenues and costs.  As part of that role, Appleseed requested that the Rensselaer Redevelopment Commission give them $115,000 from TIF revenues to help fund the first year of the center, which has a planned opening in the Spring of 2022.

Several people spoke in favor of the proposal. The Mayor supported it, saying that the City of Rensselaer could not give it funds because there was no money to do it. Steven Eastridge of the Jasper County Economic Development Organization noted that the Jasper County population dropped from 2010 to 2020 and that decline was due to the drop in the population of Marion Township. (I was given some numbers after the presentation that were shocking. I asked the Mayor if they were right and he said that he has not seen any numbers but Rensselaer's population has declined.) Mr Eastridge also noted that a major concern that businesses have with locating to Jasper County is whether there is a sufficient workforce.

After discussion, the Commission approved a motion to pledge $115,000 for one year. There was one "no" vote.

The other item on the agenda was a proposal to develop Shuster Road, a road that is platted but has not been built. It starts at Drexel Drive and goes south and is located a bit to the west of the water tower south of town. The proposal would create a gravel road 500 feet long and 20 feet wide. Currently it would benefit only NITCO, giving them an alternative access to the 12 acres they own east of Drexel Hall, but the longer range plan is to develop and extend the road to allow the location of new businesses. The cost of the project is $52,250 and it was approved.

On Thursday evening the Airport Authority Board met and I attended via Zoom. The Airport engineer, also on Zoom, suggested that a workshop on the airport masterplan that his company is developing would be useful and it was scheduled for an executive session starting at 4:00 on November 4, which is the date for the next Board meeting. This October Board meeting was the first for the new airport manager, Emily Hackler. She and the attorney for the Board had attended an aviation conference and had done networking. Their attendance was approved and also the Board agreed to pay the conference fees. At the conference the two learned that INDOT was offering grants of $6000 for the installation of a traffic tracking system. This system would produce data that will be essential in future airport planning. There is a system that with a discount is available for $6000 and the Board approved obtaining the system. The Airport will pay for it, then submit a request to the State for reimbursement. 

The rest of the meeting was devoted to routine airport business. There will be a FAA Safety meeting on November 13 open to the public with limited capacity. Its topic will be pilots and mediations.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

More scarecrows

The giant pumpkin landed on ScareCrow Trail in Milroy Park. It is actually a septic tank and was entered by Rensselaer Septic Tanks. 

Leggett & Platt wants you.
The entry from the Riley and Ahler law firm.
When I first saw this one, I thought the scarecrow was golfing. The scarecrows are from Browns' Garden Shoppe and the scarecrow is hoeing.
I believe this is the second display that is based on the movie Hocus Pocus. It is a creation of the Rensselaer Care Center.
The Jasper-Newton Foundation is celebrating its 30th-year anniversary this year.
When I took this picture, this scarecrow did not have a sign. Later when it had a sign, "RCMS is proud of our new NJHS members," it no longer had a head.
I do not know what the RCCTA is.
The Tri-Kappa scarecrow.
The overall quality of the scarecrows was better this year than in some past years.

On Thursday evening the Fire Department hosted an open house for Fire Prevention Week. There were lots of kids and they liked the bouncy house.
The kids had to remove their shoes before entering the inflatable. I hope everyone found the right shoes at the end.
The firemen had some unusual games for the kids.
On Sunday morning there was another accident on I-65 that diverted traffic through Rensselaer. I was on a bike that morning when I got to SR 114 on Angelica Street and decided to see if riding a bike was faster than driving on the roads. I was slightly behine a Kroger truck. When I got to McDonalds I had to wait about two minutes for the truck to pass me. The stop sign where Washington meets College seemed to slow the traffic more than any other stop.

I got to the Board of Public Works meeting late on Monday afternoon, partly because I stopped and took some pictures of the rainbow. A line of heavy rain was leaving Rensselaer and the sun had just appeared in the west, creating a bright rainbow in the east.
Idid not notice at first, but it was a double rainbow, as this picture taken at the entrance to City Hall shows.
I took another picture of the rainbow and the Court House.
I missed the first item on the BPW agenda, the approval of a Commonwealth Engineering invoice for planning they are doing for a future water project. The City is hoping that a substantial grant will make that project feasible.

The Fire Department would like to operate a drone for several possible uses. The Board approved both procedures and guidance for this drone use. The Fire Department will be developing more operating procedures in the upcoming months because in the latest evaluation of the Department, they were heavily criticized for not having codified procedures.

The first item on the City Council meeting was the salary ordinance for 2022. Before they passed it, the Mayor mentioned that there are still two electric plant operators on the payroll and that he wants them kept until the engines in the power plant are sold and removed. At least one is reading meters because there is little to do at the power plant. The Council then spent most of the meeting discussing a contract that employees sign for training and continuing education, an issue of importance for the police and workers in the electric utility where new hires require lengthy and expensive training. The workers must pay for that training but are then reimbursed. They are supposed to sign a contract in which they agree to pay back the City if they quit early. For the police the contract says that if the City needs to hire a lawyer to help collect what the former employee owes, the former employee will be liable for those lawyer fees. This has never been invoked for any employee who quit early. After discussion, in which it was revealed that often these contracts are not signed, the Council agreed to include the language that is in the police contract for employees of the electric department. The Council also passed the salary ordinance, which establishes salaries for 2022.

There was a small but meaningless decline in the gas tracker for October. Later in the meeting the Mayor warned that it was highly likely the City will be seeing higher natural gas prices soon. NIPSCO and other nearby gas utilities have already had significant price hikes. Also, the gas department is having problems getting steel pipe needed to connect new customers. 

The Police Department is in the process of hiring two new officers. The aerial truck that the Fire Department ordered has been built. Work on repaving the roads in the northwest addition to Weston Cemetery was finished on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

October's first post

 The September meeting of the Jasper County Commissioners started a few minutes late as adjustments were made to get the audio on Zoom working correctly. There were four buried cable requests, one that came later in the meeting. The City of Rensselaer is planning to bore 1000 feet of gas line in Newton Township to connect customers. REMC will bore under a County road to give more power to Mobility Ministries (who apparently have a 3-phase welder.) CenturyLink has a simple bore under Bunkum Road, and another bore under a County road was approved for Bos Dairy's Calf Land.

NIPSCO is planning a new substation for the proposed Dunn's Bridge solar project. They need to place two poles for the substation but the owner of the adjacent land will not give them an easement. Instead they want to place the poles in the County's road right-of-way that is also the bank of a private ditch. The Commissioners approved the request.

The Commissioners approved the two rezone requests that were recommended by the Plan Commission. Both were for A1 to A2 to allow a house on less than ten acres. They also approved a revised bid from the contractor for repairs to the animal shelter. Since his original bid in June, steel prices have risen substantially. There was some discussion of a water-leak in the Court House basement that may still be there and has caused a mold problem.

The Coroner wants to sit down with the Commissioners to plan for the future. His case load keeps increasing and he would like a full-time deputy coroner to replace some of the part-time help. Some of the deaths require a lot of paperwork. The Commissioners renewed an IT contract that came with a price increase. They will need to adopt an ordinance for ADA compliance because INDOT now is requiring it for CCMG road grants.

The Sheriff received permission to replace a corrections officer. The Commissioners approved a contract with Canteen Services that will outsource meal preparation for the jail. The jail has issues with its air handlers and may need to replace its chiller soon. The Marion Township Trustee was interested in obtaining a Tahoe that the Department is replacing. It is a 2014 model with 175,000 miles and later in the meeting the Commissioners and Trustee agreed to a price of $2500. The Sheriff discussed a proposal to reduce water usage in the jail, which uses about four million gallons of water each year. (The water usage also determines the sewer fee.) No action was taken. There was also the question of why the solar panels seem not to have reduced the electric bills of the jail. The Sheriff has reached out to the company that built it but so far has not received an answer. The Sheriff will talk to the state about how traffic might be better routed when I-65 is shut down, which has happened frequently lately.

In what might be the most consequential action of the meeting, the Commissioners approved an interlocal agreement for central Jasper County ambulance services. A lot of the agreement was taken from a similar agreement the County has for the Wheatfield ambulance service. They also created a board for the service that consists of the Marion Township trustee, a Commissioner, and a Council member. The agreement may also need Council approval. 

At 10:00 the meeting was suspended and the Commissioners reconvened as the Drainage Board to open bids for Kankakee River maintenance. There were two bids and they accepted the lower of the two. 

The meeting then went into executive session to discuss insurance. I missed a bit of the meeting when they returned to the public meeting. They approved an ordinance that corrected something in the windmill ordinance and appointed Kendall Culp to serve on the newly created board for the central ambulance service. The board will not become official until everything is approved by the State Board of Accounts.

The meeting was continued to October 18 at 8:30 am if needed.

On Friday, October 15 at 10:00 there will be a rededication ceremony at the Court House marking the 125th anniversary of the Court House. The public is invited to attend.

The next exhibit at the Fendig Gallery will be an exhibit honoring the Prairie Art Council's retired art educators who actively create. It will run from October 8 until November 6 with the meet-the-artists reception October 15 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm.

The Historical Society museum is preparing an exhibit of advertising posters for its next exhibit.

Also on Monday evening the Park Board met. Jordan Township made a donation that will be used for a new scoreboard for the Columbia Park ball field. There is a donation for new tennis courts but construction is not ready to start. The reason that the exterior of the south bathrooms at Brookside Park have not been finished is that the windows are on backorder.  The Fall Fest will be October 21 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm and will include the Riley Read. The Frosty Fest will be the first Saturday in December. Seventeen scarecrows are expected for the Scarecrow Trail.

Tri Kappa's scarecrow is behind that of Franciscan Health.
The Library's scarecrow is in front of Chief Industry's headless horseman.

On Tuesday night there was a dedication ceremony for the training center behind the fire station. (A video of the ceremony is here.) The speeches emphasized that many people and organizations had been involved in the creation of this facility. The State organization donated $8500 and Newton County $7500. The volunteer firemen did much of the construction.

The State training people gave Rensselaer a new door (the yellow one). The facility has several doors that are used to practice forced entry. Each door has different challenges.
The next building on the site will simulate a restaurant and these containers contain things that McDonald's donated from their remodel. I recall a supervisor or overseer telling me that all the windows that were removed were donated to the Fire Department.

After the speeches and watching a fireman break through the new door, people were allowed to tour the existing building.

Below is the living room with the kitchen behind. The building has many walls that are moveable, so the layout can be changed. In addition to the Fire Department, the Police Department has been doing training here. It is open not just to local personnel but also to departments from neighboring counties.
Here is the kitchen. 
Upstairs are bedrooms. The whole facility is uncluttered. Where is the dirtly laundry on the floor, the unwashed dishes in the sink, and the broken toys on the floor? 
There is an attic to the building with a pull-down stairs.
For more, check the video linked above.

The Fire Department is hosting a Fire Prevention Open House on Thursday from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. 

Last week the roads in the northwest addition to Weston Cemetery were getting a new top coat of asphalt.

On Monday a crane was lifting an air conditioning unit to the roof of McDonalds.