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The Strike Mic – November 19, 2013

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On today’s Strike Mic, Morgan tells us about the Trad Youth student organization and what it is doing to the community.

Body found on Hillside Drive

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The Bloomington Police Department reports that a dead female’s body was  found on Hillside Drive, at High Street. Captain Joe Qualters says they found the body after 1:45 p.m. and that preliminary reports show no foul play. The identity of the body has not been determined.

Captain Qualters says the department has not received reports of anyone with this description missing, and commented on whether or not she is believed to be a local resident.

The Police Department expects to release more information on the body in the coming hours with an autopsy scheduled tomorrow.

Historic conservation districts adjust to new ordinance

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The Bloomington City Council debated last week on a new ordinance that will affect the city’s historic conservation districts.

These districts are established to regulate construction and demolition, in order to prevent radical change in the affected neighborhoods. They are often supported by homeowners who oppose large new student housing complexes, or other developments that locals believe would negatively affect the neighborhood.

But the new city ordinance would force conservation districts to become even more restrictive after three years, by elevating them to full-fledged historic districts.

City Attorney Patty Mulvehill said the new rule would bring the city into compliance with the state law.

The potential change means that the city’s two conservation districts, in the McDoel Gardens and Prospect Hill neighborhoods, will automatically become full historic districts.

In those districts, all changes to the exterior of structures would have to be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Council member Chris Sturbaum, who represents the district that includes Prospect Hill, said the change is unfortunate but necessary.

“This isn’t something that people who selected the conservation district wanted. They wanted the district in a way of protecting their neighborhood with the lightest kind of restriction on what they can do to their property,” Sturbaum said, “This is changing, and this is not something anyone wanted to happen, it just happened when we understood that we were outside the strict regulation.”

The Matlock Heights neighborhood on the north side of the city is currently working to become a conservation district.

Council member Susan Sandberg, who lives in the neighborhood, said her neighbors are prepared to deal with the new law.

“Matlock Heights knows what they have to do to maintain their conservation statues, and they’re fairly confident that they will have the votes and the community interest to maintain the level they were comfortable with.”

A majority of property owners would have to vote in favor of keeping the conservation district to prevent its elevation to a full historic district. Sturbaum said he supports the idea of conservation districts, and worries that new restrictions could make neighborhoods hesitant to seek the designation.

“Our regret was the harm that would be done to the tool that would preserve these neighborhoods that would allow change,” Sturbaum said, “We’re going to talk to the state and see if we can’t, over time, do some work on the legislation for the future.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the new city ordinance. Sturbaum asked the city to be patient with the neighborhoods that have been elevated to historic districts against their wishes.

Bloomington first in Indiana to win walk-friendly award

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The City of Bloomington is now a Bronze Walk Friendly Community, an award given by The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center for its walkability initiatives and programs.

A walk-friendly community, according to the program, represents a town or city improving pedestrian safety and walkability through programming, planning, and policies.

Vince Caristo, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, says Bloomington was awarded for its great urban trail system and walk-friendly zoning ordinance.

“While not all of our intersections are accessible, our percentage is quite high compared to around the country,”Cariso says.

Bloomington is one of eight communities recognized in the latest round of the program, and the first community to receive the designation in Indiana.

“I think we’ve found that communities in Indiana and across the country have a healthy competition with each other when it comes to these types of awards,” Cariso says, “Bloomington was also the first to have a Complete Streets policy, and that paved the way for other communities to do the same. We can be a resource for other communities who want to do this and also raise awareness that things like this exist.”

The Walk Friendly Community program aims to encourage towns and cities around the country to prioritize a safer walking environment.

 

The Strike Mic – November 12, 2013

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This week on The Strike Mic, a discussion about Indiana University’s luxury dorms, and how they influence higher tuition rates and city-wide gentrification.

Tune in every Tuesday for a new edition of  The Strike Mic, a weekly update from your friends and neighbors working to strengthen the voice of IU students and staff.

Free driving tour of Lake Monroe offered for geology buffs

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Anyone interested in geology will have the opportunity for a free driving tour of Monroe Lake on December 1st. Beginning at the Paynetown State Recreation Area on South State Road 446, there will be stops highlighting the Mt. Carmel Fault, Leesville Anticline, Edwardsville Formation, Harrodsburg Limestone, and Salem Limestone. Jill Vance, Interpretive Naturalist at Monroe Lake, is the tour guide. She will explain geological features, the area’s history, and the many influences on its present landscape. You can register by calling the Paynetown Activity Center at 812-837-9967 by November 25th.

 

Bloomington Utilities Service Board deals with complications working with private contractors

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The Bloomington Utilities Service Board dealt with some complications of working with private contractors at its meeting on Monday.

The City Utilities Department frequently hires companies to perform engineering or construction work.

Capital Projects Manager Mike Hicks explained a recent issue with two of those companies. The contractors are working on projects to improve water mains and to expand the Monroe Water Treatment Plant.

“In the execution of the work, damage was caused to Monroe County Highway roads,” Hicks said, “It’s caused by two factors, one being hauling and the other excavation from work on a water main. Our position is that there are two contractors responsible for the repairs, F.A. Wilhelm and Howl contractors. “

Hicks said the contractors have refused to deal with the issue, despite the city’s attempts to contact them. So, he said the city needs to find a different contractor to repair the roads.

“Monroe County Highway Department wants this work done this season before the asphalt plants close so it’s come to the City of Bloomington Utilities taking action to find a paving contractor to make the repairs,” Hicks said.

The board approved spending $64,000 to pay Milestone Contractors to do the repairs. Hicks said the city would attempt to recoup that amount from the contractors that caused the damage. Later in the meeting, the board discussed how the Utilities Department chooses its contractors. The issue came up when Utilities Engineer Jane Fleig told the board that a large engineering contract would be awarded to the company Donohue and Associates.

Board member Jason Banach asked Flieg about the agreement and Fleig said they have asked for a proposal from an engineer at Donohue, but no bids.

The contract is for the design of a culvert project that extends from 2nd St. to Kirkwood Ave. in downtown Bloomington.

Banach asked why the Department didn’t solicit bids from other companies to do the work, and Department Director Pat Murphy responded.

“We have a long standing relationship with Donahue and we’ve worked with them extensively. They did the initial project, they did the Jordan River culvert and 2nd and Walnut,” Murphy said, “We feel it’s more of a continuation of the project because they know the history of the project and we wouldn’t be starting anew and we think they price they are proposing is fair and reasonable.”

The contract would be for about $400,000. Banach said he has problems awarding such large contracts without getting competitive bids.

“Cheaper isn’t better,” Murphy said.

Board member Pedro Roman said approving an agreement without seeking bids would not be unusual for the board, especially when for engineering contracts.

“We’re talking about engineering, the design, not the actual construction,” Roman said, “We never bid these things.”

Flieg said that, unlike construction contracts, the city is not legally required to solicit multiple bids for professional services such as engineering.

The board will consider whether to approve the contract with Donohue and Associates at its next meeting, which is scheduled for November 18.

State grant money approved to improve twelve railroad crossings

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On October 24th, the Monroe County Commission approved spending state grant money to improve 12 railroad crossings. County Highway Department Director Bill Williams said the work will be performed using a grant from the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The improvements will affect railroad crossing warnings at twelve of the county’s fifteen crossings, including three on Curry Pike and others on Vernal Pike and Liberty Drive.

Volunteers will help anyone with questions about the Affordable Care Act tomorrow

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Local volunteers will again help people understand and navigate the enrollment process for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act Volunteers of Monroe County will be providing information and guidance this Wednesday at the Monroe County library, for anyone interested in the Indiana Health Insurance Marketplace. Wednesday’s fair will be the third the group has presented in the last month.

David Meyer, president of the volunteers, says the upcoming session will have a bigger space, additional process guides that help answer specific questions about the ACA and help people get more detailed resources and information covered.

Volunteers have seen a gradual increase in the numbers of people seeking information at their fairs.

This increase is expected to further escalate, as the December 15 deadline approaches to sign up for insurance coverage as the January 1 of next year.

The Indiana Insurance Marketplace is part of the national marketplace website, so it has suffered many of the same problems as the 25 other states that decided not to establish their own version of the program. However, Meyer says he hears the national website is becoming more navigable.

“What we do at these fairs is work to educate and answer questions for anyone that comes out,” Meyer says, “We also want them to know how health insurance works in general. Our focus is on educating people so they can make decisions for themselves and self-enroll.”

There are 19 insurance companies offering health insurance to Monroe County residents on the Indiana ACA exchange. Meyer and these volunteers will also provide advice to fair visitors who may not be eligible for insurance enrollment under the ACA.

The fair will run tomorrow, November 6, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m, in rooms 1B and 1C on the lower floor of the Monroe County Public Library. Attendance is free of charge, and no documentation is required.

New YMCA in northwest Bloomington opens its doors Sunday for a community tour

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After 18 months of construction, the northwest Bloomington YMCA will have an open tour Sunday afternoon. This is the second YMCA facility in the city. In addition to the usual sports facilities for individuals and families, the new building will also include a licensed child care center.

It will also provide medical services, in collaboration with IU Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. Sara Herold, marketing director for Monroe County YMCA, says the new facilities will not be ready for use during the tour.

“We’re banding together to provide facilities and programs that allow people to become healthier,” Herold says, “I just think this is an extraordinary opportunity for the community to come together and see what the new YMCA has to offer.

YMCA has been in Bloomington since the late 1800’s, when it was a student organization. In the 1970’s it began offering swim lessons and fitness classes throughout the town. It wasn’t until 1981 that the first facility was built, on the southeast side of town. Herold says they appreciate the support the community offers them, especially as a nonprofit organization.

“We’re committed to providing safe places and a positive alternatives for children and families to become healthy,” Herold says, “We want to teach sound nutrition and our goal is to make a stronger community by making a healthier community.”

It is estimated that more than 6,700 individuals will benefit from the northwest YMCA. Approximately 80 part-time and full-time jobs will be created because of the new facility.

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