Delayed by Bloomington board: Right-of-way closures for Miller-Showers city gateway construction

In a change of plans, over the next few days, Reed & Sons Construction will not be starting onsite preparations for various improvements at the north end of Miller-Showers Park.

The scheduled work is supposed to include a 40-foot tall gateway monument costing about $400,000. The monolith features the word “Bloomington” in all caps inscribed vertically from top to bottom.

What delayed the parks department project was a decision made by Bloomington’s board of public works at its Tuesday night meeting.

In the area of College Avenue and Old 37, Reed & Sons had requested temporary sidewalk and lane closures, with proposed pedestrian detours, in order to make the construction work possible.

But the board voted to put off approval of those right-of-way closures.

After hearing several negative comments from the public mic about the proposed monument, and asking questions of her own, board president Kyla Cox Deckard said she wanted to put off a decision on the request for right-of-way closures.

“Seeing as we don’t have all the answers and we’re not going to have all the answers—I’m fully aware of that—I’d like to table this item,” Cox Deckard said.

Public works director Adam Wason immediately weighed in, to remind the board that its purview for evaluating the request was the use of the public right-of-way—not the art project and not the expenditures associated with it.

About Cox Deckard’s intent to delay, Wason said, “If that is the board’s desire, that is not my suggestion this evening.”

Wason continued, “I am asking for the approval of the use of the right of way, per the board’s purview.”

Cox Deckard replied: “And I very much respect that.” But she added, “And I’d like us to table.”

Her colleague, Elizabeth Karon, had indicated an interest in teasing apart different elements of the project, So it was not a surprise that Karon joined Cox Deckard to make the tally 2–0 on the vote to put off the request.

Responding to a B Square question after the meeting, Cox Deckard said she intends to have the right-of-way closure request back on the agenda for the next board of public works meeting, which falls on Sept. 26.

The board normally has three members, all of whom are appointed under state law by the mayor. But Jennifer Lloyd stepped down from the board after its Aug. 29 meeting, due to a family matter that takes her out of state for a substantial period of time.

Here’s the breakdown of the costs: Reed & Sons Construction for site improvement work ($575,000); Bo-Mar for fabrication of the gateway monolith ($395,105); and Rundell Ernstberger Associates for research and design ($133,925).

For Cox Deckard, a big question concerns the relationship between the planned gateway site work at the north of Miller-Showers and the potential need to reconstruct some of those elements, depending on the outcome of the College-Walnut corridor study. The park is flanked by those two streets.

One possible recommendation from that study is for the one-way pair of streets to be converted from one-way to two-way, with a range of possible new lane width configurations.

At the board’s Monday work session, city engineer Andrew Cibor had given some assurance that coordination—between the parks department, planning and transportation, and his own engineering department—was taking place, in connection with the corridor study.

Cibor said the placement of many of the features of the parks project is being planned in a way that is hoped to minimize the chance of anything needing to be reconstructed.

On Tuesday, planning and transportation director Scott Robinson described the College-Walnut study as “in process.” Robinson said, “We’re still collecting public comment.” It would be six more months before a “preferred alternative” would be revealed, Robinson said.

From the public mic on Tuesday several residents objected to the planned gateway monument on aesthetic or environmental grounds.

Leading off was artist David Ebbinghouse, who talked about the “Red, Blond, Black and Olive” sculpture by Jean Paul Darriau, which is also located on the northern end of Miller-Showers Park.

Ebbinghouse said he is concerned that the gateway monument would “dwarf” the Darriau sculpture, which he described as on a “human scale.” Ebbinghouse said, “This tower that’s being proposed is not on a human scale. And they’re calling it an artwork, but…in my opinion, it has no artistic value.”

Following Ebbinghouse to the mic was Mark Wroblewski, who supported the site improvements that will make the area more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists. (One of the planned improvements is filling in the sidewalk gap on the former Steak and Shake property.)

But Wroblewski agreed with Ebbinghouse about the artistic merit of the planned gateway. He called it “the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.” He said he simply wanted to be on record opposing the gateway element.

Weighing in on the Zoom video conferencing chat window was Jane Goodman, who wrote that the right-of-way considered by the board is “only for humans.” Goodman was concerned about the “avian right-of-way.” She continued, “Miller-Showers was built to be a lovely habitat for birds and waterfowl.” Goodman asked that the board take avian welfare into consideration, and if possible to relocate the gateway sculpture to a different location.

Also commenting from the Zoom public mic was Susan Brackney, who wondered which residents and how many residents offered feedback on the gateway design. “This is the first that most of us have heard of this, or seen this 40-foot-tall illuminated monument,” she said.

Invited later to respond to Brackney about the public process was director of park operations Tim Street. He described how the funding had been approved by the city council through issuance of the bicentennial bonds in 2018. Rundell Ernstberger Associates looked at various locations around the city that would be suitable for a gateway. The COVID-19 pandemic put things on pause, Street said.

Miller-Showers Park was identified as a good gateway location because it’s one of the busiest intersections in town, where a lot of people come in and out of Bloomington, Street said. In December of last year, public input was sought through a public forum in the lobby of city hall.

Different designs were then posted on the parks website for several weeks for people to comment on, Street said. The Bloomington Arts Commission was also consulted for some feedback on the preliminary design, Street said. After some adjustments were made early this year the final result was settled, Street said.

Brackney also raised several environmental questions. Will the illumination of the monument be solar powered? Has the Bo-Mar firm manufactured similar projects that would lend credibility to its claim that the monument will not contribute to light pollution? How many lumens will it emit? Can the LEDs be dimmed, if wildlife conservationists deem them to be too bright or too disruptive? Will area ornithologists be consulted to work out a “go dark” schedule to accommodate heavy bird migration times?

Some other speakers from the Zoom public mic echoed the environmental and artistic concerns, including an interest in tapping local artistic talent for such projects.

Susan Lepselter said that Bloomington should think “outside the box” for use of the bonds that had been issued for the gateway project. An investment in housing and food security could be made in a way that would be framed as a commemoration of the city’s bicentennial, she said.

Also weighing in on the Zoom platform, was resident Betty Rose Nagle who told the board of public works: “You, right now, are the people who can stop this. You can do it right now.” She continued, “It’s a tough lift. It’s a big ask. But that’s what we’re asking. I hope you will do that. Please do that.”

At least for another two weeks, the board has made the tough lift that Nagle requested.

19 thoughts on “Delayed by Bloomington board: Right-of-way closures for Miller-Showers city gateway construction

  1. Perhaps this monolith can be dubbed the Hamilith, in recognition of the mayor and council’s edifice complex.

  2. Once again, no transparency and input.
    We are told:
    “Different designs were then posted on the parks website for several weeks for people to comment on”… Street said.
    I’m sorry, but that’s a load of bull pucky!

    Please, you are kidding me.

    No one in the art community and in the general public that I know knew a thing about it!

    For shame….

    You wonder why public trust over the past 8 years in city government is so low and reached such a state of ennui and apathy?
    … this is PRIME example:
    the cost ,
    the lack of communication,
    the SIZE…
    it will be the most memorable “art” piece in Bloomington and for all the wrong reasons.

    So very sad… again.

  3. Given the artistic talent in the area, this abomination is a shock! It’s just a huge advertising sign. There’s nothing artistic about it!

  4. Cheers to Kyla Cox Deckard for listening to the public and delaying permission for the right of way. The citizens of Bloomington are tired of the Hamilton administration pushing through everything they want without any regard to the residents of this city.

  5. I so enjoy the Darriau sculptures and find that my eyes seek them out whenever I pass this park. This proposed monolith has none of their elegance, beauty, or humanity. It looks like the product of a community lacking artistic sensibilities, which Bloomington is NOT. Bad fit, at least in this location. It might work in a mall parking lot.

  6. It surprises me that a sign with no value can cost as much as $400 K!
    I would rather see Limestone Chess Board tables with a small bench on either side,
    a Basketball court and a small playground, instigating activity during daytime hours with a curfew at Seminary Park which would be giving Bloomington a much better Look than the 24 / 7 Loitering that goes on there.
    P.S Look to Paris, Oslo or even NYC for what the people in the Parks are doing there.
    $400. K should be able to cover a few items and encourage people to use it accordingly.
    Unless you are trying to advertise the location which seems redundant.

  7. They did pass around a survey in January wherein I told them I didn’t like it, but I can’t help wondering how many other people took it and what they thought. I think it’s better that these things remain confidential but that doesn’t stop me wondering!

  8. How ironic (and idiotic) that a City which touts its Arts Community as a major driver of economic development and tourism should commission a non-artist, non-local firm to erect a piece of non-art as the Gateway to the City.

  9. The board of public works is wise to delay this grandiose and appalling use of the public’s right of way. The “gateway” on the north end of town is nothing more than the mayor’s parting vanity project before he leaves Bloomington, and at $1 million a costly one. (Most other towns are content to put their welcome message and maybe a tagline on a sign by the road.) We need to think carefully about how the city uses taxpayer money, what our true priorities are, and who benefits. The city’s financial resources are finite and already strained. What is spent on one project restricts others. The city doesn’t need a 40-foot gateway monolith with its name emblazoned on it “to bookend people’s time in Bloomington,” as the mayor vainly put it. We could use that money in so many better ways. Let’s hope the next mayor understands this.

    1. It really can’t be a parting gesture since it was proposed in 2018 when the funds were approved

  10. i really don’t envy the position of the board of public works in this, because they have no real say over it…but they also represent the first public process after most people heard about this.

    honestly, i don’t envy the position of Parks staff either. i don’t know how the decision was made back in 2018, but once it was funded, they’re more or less obligated to spend it on what the council approved. (except they can take funding from bike and ped projects and move it to anything else without oversight or recourse, i’m so mad about that still) and it’s horribly unfair that the staff member who wound up being the public face of this wasn’t even hired yet when they made this decision.

    i’m kind of vexed by claims about transparency though…i’ve heard about this boondoggle at least half a dozen times, starting in 2018. and at least twice there were public surveys i answered (in both cases, told them to spend the money on things that matter like sidewalks instead of things that don’t like obelisks). i run into this a lot…i don’t really know how city staff is supposed to handle it. these sorts of projects appear over and over again if you sign up for city mailing lists, or if you follow the Mayor’s office, Parks, or Planning & Transportation on facebook. all the press releases also wind up on I know this was covered at least a couple times in the B Square and I think on Indiana Public Media (WFIU/WTIU) and Herald Times as well. i think the reason people don’t ever hear about what they want is that it’s too much…they want to know about the one project they’re gonna be outraged about, but if you follow any of this stuff, there’s dozens of projects in progress at once.

    i know i have certainly done my best to get news about this out. i’ve posted on a bunch of places pointing out that Parks spends a million dollars on nothing, to counter people complaining that the greenways project is a waste of funds. for a million dollars, the greenways project will treat about 2 miles of street. considering how expensive everything is (especially now), it’s a great bargain…there’s sure more value in safe transportation than in a rusted metal tower!

    and i completely agree with the artistic criticism…the Darriau sculpture is big, it’s iconic, it’s interesting, and it’s aesthetically moving. it’s got it all! it doesn’t need to be outshined by some ugly monstrosity designed to represent the working class culture of bloomington using motifs from an undergraduate art+design seminar.

    it has taken me a long time to get to my point, but this is gold: because they need to close a sidewalk stub inside of the project, the city’s engineering department is requiring a detour on the other side of the street. and they can’t do that because of the Steak-n-Shake Memorial Sidewalk Gap. SO THEY ARE FILLING IN THAT GAP. i don’t know how to convey how huge a change this is. in the past, the attitude was that if it was a challenging and unsafe pedestrian environment like this one, then the engineering department (and the board of public works) would conspire together to deprive the pedestrians of even the pittance they have. but today, thanks to leadership within engineering, they are requiring a detour of some sort! and because of that, Parks is — against their will and intent — building an actually useful sidewalk with this money! three cheers for engineering!

    here’s a photo i took 15 minutes ago of the Steak-n-Shake Memorial Sidewalk Gap. they already did the majority of the work…i hope they don’t just drop it here, because it is *so* close to actually filling it in!

    1. Thank you Greg for confirming what some of us already knew, that the public was informed. I agree that for people who are interested, they should sign up for Mayor’s email and city news posts

  11. If these 3 contracts were awarded after competitive bidding, I cant find info on the city’s website about the process such as who else bid and their bids. At what meeting were those opened? This would be during a public meeting I hope. Transparency and all.

    1. looks like the pavement work (Reed & Sons) was authorized by the Board of Parks Commissioners at their July 27, 2023 meeting

      the fabrication of the monument itself (Bo-Mar Industries) was approved at the May 16, 2023 BPC meeting:

      and that one in May says “This installation will be paired with a contract for a general contractor to prepare the site, including foundation, electrical, and landscape work. That contractor will be selected through an upcoming invitation to bid process.”

      so i guess they had a bidding process to select Reed&Sons. it doesn’t say if there were any other bids. i don’t think BPC is as closely involved in bidding Parks projects as the BPW is for public infrastructure

  12. Thanks, I’m aware of the awards. Awards are the tail end of an extensive process.
    Bids are earned and not given. The process includes designing a plan to bid on, public notices of the opportunity to bid, public opening of competitive bids, financial assurance in the form of bid bonds etc. Did the bids come in under the estimates? Who else bid? What were their bid prices?
    If that all happened between May and July, where is the documentation?

    1. this is my first time using this ‘public notices’ search i found so i don’t know how to link to it but i found the invitation, it’s supposed to have been in the june 12 2023 Herald Times. i’m not gonna paste the whole thing because it’s so long but it’s got all the same stuff as BPW contracts…drug testing, SBA form 96, harrassment policy, trench safety. it’s the bid for the construction work, not the monument fabrication…i imagine that was harder since it’s artistic. here’s the start of it:



      Bloomington Gateways
      Phase 1

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