JASPER — Jasper Redevelopment Commission President and Councilman John Bell has been making the rounds through town to educate people on the Couthouse Square project.
The project, which is part of the city’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan, began in 2015 when a committee of city officials selected engineering and architecture firm Rundell Ernstberger Associates of Indianapolis to design the project, which will upgrade infrastructure on the Courthouse Square and improve the aethetics.
Initial designs were released in 2016, and the redevelopment commission passed a recommendation to the council for phase two of the Rundell Ernstberger Associates’ contract at its April meeting. In phase two, the firm will develop a final design and construction documents. The Common Council will vote on the contract at its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 17 at Jasper City Hall.
So far, citizens seem to have three concerns about the project: the cost, whether it’s even necessary, and the architectural pavers, which are durable and decorative slabs used to pave roads and paths.
Why does this project need to be done now?
When visitors come in and look at city and think about moving here, they look at schools, the downtown and extracurriculars and safety. And the infrastructure. Our water lines and storm lines were put in 1920s and ‘40s. We really need to replace or repair those. If you ask any of the merchants, they’ll tell you they’ve had stormwater issues, especially the last couple of weeks. That’s something that’s vital that we do. And If we tear everything up, you have the opportunity of what do you want to put on the top?
A few weeks ago, a reader submitted a letter to the editor suggesting the city could complete the infrastructure work without tearing out all the roads. Is that feasible?
No, I don’t really think that’s feasible.
Are people going to see the Courthouse Square look completely different after this?
We’d originally looked at doing it all in one phase — ripping it up, putting it all back and being done by Strassenfest. But as we worked with (our architect) Rundell Ernstberger, that’s not feasible. We’re going to have to do it in two phases. Well, doing it in two phases means two separate years, but it also means that we’re adding cost to the project. We’re having to bid it out twice, we’re having to do some repairs on the infrastructure, temporarily close it up and finish it in phase II. Because of that and because there’s been some apprehension of the pavers, we took the pavers out of the streets, out of the driveways. The final proposal is just to do pavers on the sidewalks and the parking areas. The parking areas are important because those are going to be the permeable pavers where water seeps down. That’s going to be the new stormwater collection system around the square. The sidewalks are going to be sloped toward the parking areas; the streets are going to be sloped toward the parking areas, and everything will infiltrate through the permeable pavers in the parking areas. That will allow for us to have flush curves all around. It will be totally seamless. It will be totally ADA compliant all around the square.
And right now it’s not ADA compliant?
Right now it’s not. Right now it has curbs and everything hits the gutter and goes through the gutters. If you get out of your car, and you have a wheelchair, you have to go around to the crosswalk where there’s a ramp. Now (once the project is complete) you can get out anywhere and go right up.
Let’s go back to the pavers. What are they?
I can tell you what they’re not. They’re not what we have at West Baden. I’ve been asked several times, ‘Have you been to West Baden? Have you seen those pavers?’ Yes, I have. Those were put down in the early 1900s directly on the dirt. That’s not the application that goes in today. Pavers have advanced over the years, and now the clay pavers are the most durable, so that’s what we’re putting in. But the important piece of putting down the pavers is the application, and the application that Rundell Ernstberger is recommending is compacted subgrade, compacted stone, then if it’s on the sidewalks you’ll have a layer of concrete, you’ll have a layer of asphalt, and then you put down the pavers. It’s a very strong, stable surface where they are put together very tightly. There’s no concrete in the middle. They’re all just tight joints. In the parking areas, it will be similar application, but because they’re permeable it will just be a deeper level of different sizes of aggregate stone that will be compacted so that water can infiltrate down below there.
So these are brick pavers? Or they’re going to look like brick?
Yeah, they’re going to look like brick, but what they’re actually called is clay. In my mind, clay is not as durable as brick, but I guess there’s concrete, there’s brick, there’s clay, and clay are the most durable. So we’re going with Rundell Ernstberger’s recommendation to do that. For people to understand Rundell Ernstberger’s experience, they’re the firm that did the Indianapolis Cultural Trail that extends miles and miles. It’s been around for several years and gets tons of foot traffic with bikes, strollers, walkers and everybody loves it. They’re currently doing the Indianapolis Monument Circle in pavers. They’ve done those types of high-profile applications with pavers over and over again. Even though we’re not familiar and comfortable with it (in Jasper), sometimes we have to take that blind leap of faith that these guys know what they’re doing. The downside to the pavers is if we would ever have to make a cut, like we typically have to do when there’s a utility issue or when somebody wants to add a line, that would be a six to eight day process to do that because of all the different substrates, and you have to put down the concrete, and you have to put down the asphalt. If we do a repair in concrete or pavement, it’s basically a two day process. That’s the downside. The upside is when you do that, you’re putting down the same pavers and it’ll look seemless as if you never did it. (Right now) if you look at what we’re driving on and walking on, you can see all the different materials. We have various concretes in various colors because they were done at different times. We have sometimes on the corners that pebble concrete. We have the pavement that obviously has all kinds of patches on it. It doesn’t look very pleasing to the eye if you really look at this. This will be a different kind of substrate surface that will be really aesthetically pleasing. There’s an upfront cost for that, but the upside is it’s going to last longer than our concrete or asphalt.
You mentioned the ones in parking will be permeable. How does that system work?
There’s part of that system where the water will just dissipate into the ground when it’s dry. This past week or two when we had the heavy rains, it obviously would not absorb into the ground any more, so there are water tanks that it goes into and as the ground dries out, the water dissipates from there. It’s something that’s practiced throughout that Rundell Ernstberger has a lot of experience in doing. We have to realize that although we’re doing something new here, it’s not the cutting edge of new technology where we’re trying something new. We’re doing something that’s proven.
So there will be less pooling at the corners?
Everything should naturally drain toward those parking areas. There should not be any standing water. We had some merchants with water issues this past week, and the goal is to fix that. Everything’s not failing below, but we know we have some issues. It’s kind of like a bridge. You don’t wait for it to fall down into the river before you fix it. You know when it was installed, you know the practicality of when it’s going to break, it’s starting to break. We’re kind of at that point. It was the 1920s and 1940s when it was installed. We know it’s time.
Let’s talk cost. Everyone wants to know about that.
The first thing we need to make very clear is that it’s not going to raise taxes. It has nothing to do with taxes. Jasper is in a unique situation where we are very financially strong. Our bottom line has been increasing for the last 10 years anticipating that we are going to have some major projects. Last year, the state realized that the cities statewide have infrastructure problems, and said we’ll match your funds if you work on your infrastructure. The maximum grant we could apply for was $1 million, and we went ahead and applied for $1 million dollars, and we were awarded $1 million. So now we have $2 million in the bank — the $1 million that the city put up and the $1 million that the state put up. Now the caveat with that is the state said you have to show progress and construction in 2017. We told them that we’re trying to make progress, but we aren’t projected to start until 2018. They understand our situation and said that’s OK, but literally if we delay this project any longer we’ll lose $1 million. We’ll have to give it up, and that would be a sad waste of money. That’s $2 million. We will be doing a bond for the other part of it. We’ll do a $1.5 to $2 million bond, and then we’ll also have our regular utility budgets that will take care of that. The street department has about $625,000 in economic development funds that we give every year (for paving) and there’s other funds for annual repair. They go out every year and grade the roads — how bad are they? Well, the Square and the block around it was graded a three, and it has been for a long time, which is red level, needs repair, got to happen. They’ve just been waiting for this project. So it won’t be anything above and beyond that budget. Same thing goes for the stormwater and same way with the waterlines. It will be some money that they get every year.
So the bond is not like the library one that is raising taxes?
That’s easily confused. The library obviously did their public referendum where they took a vote to say, yes we’re OK with raising taxes to pay for this project. This project is not doing that. It has nothing to do with raising taxes because we’re doing it within the funds we get from the state every year. Every year we get $1.9 million in economic development funds that we budget 90 percent of that every year, and then because being the good, German, financially conservative people that we are, we don’t spend even everything that we budget. That’s why our economic development funds have been able to grow for the last 10 years. We could cash flow this, but it would take (the funds) down to almost a zero balance. We don’t want to do that. It’s like building a home. You don’t want to deplete your savings, so you take out a loan you can afford with monthly payments. But we can pay (the monthly payments) out of those economic development funds.Those won’t even start until the construction is over, so we won’t have to start making those for another couple of years.
Jasper LEADs is also funding part of this project as well, isn’t it?
It is. Jasper LEADs is primarily doing their funding for the Jasper Cultural Center. But they also have some going to The Astra Theatre and some going to the downtown. We’re doing the base project, which is the infrastructure and the top surface and some utilities upgrades. But, like the Parklands, we’re developing the plan to be able to have a phase three and maybe a phase four because we’d like to be able to develop some of the corner areas where we could have some easy gather social events. We want to create some versatile utility hookups and put up some benches and awnings. I’ve also seen some plans for nice monumental signs pointing to the Cultural Center and other sites. Those are an area where we have potential for some private donations. We know what the overall grand plan is going to be, but we are only going to do it when we have the funds to do it.
When do you expect construction to start, assuming the council approves the project to move forward?
We would hope to start early 2018 as soon as possible. The clear hardstop is Strassenfest. Everything has to be buttoned up, and everybody has to be out there by mid- to late July. It’s going to take that long for the architectural engineers to design the construction documents to get it put out to bid by the end of 2017 to be able to have the contractor start.