After Tuesday’s meeting of Bloomington’s board of public works, it’s now not clear when work will start on the installation of a new gateway monolith at the north end of Miller-Showers Park.
In connection with the monolith, public infrastructure improvements are planned in the general vicinity of College Avenue and Old 37.
And those public infrastructure improvements require closure of sidewalks and street lanes—for nearly three months, from Sept. 27 to Dec. 22.
But for the second time in as many meetings, on Tuesday night, Bloomington’s board of public works declined to give permission for the closure of public right-of-way in the area, to allow for the infrastructure improvements.
Based on the response from board members to questions from The B Square immediately following the meeting, it’s not clear if the item will return to the agenda for the board’s next meeting, which is currently set for Oct. 10.
The project has received widespread and fairly uniform criticism, based on its cost and its design aesthetics.
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).
As for the design aesthetics, public works director Adam Wason acknowledged on Tuesday night that Bloomington has a vibrant artistic community. Wason indicated that based on internal staff discussion, if they’d had it to do over again, they would have always and only referred to the project as just a gateway sign welcoming people to Bloomington.
Put another way, staff would not have described the gateway as “art.”
Two weeks ago, Elizabeth Karon and Kyla Cox Deckard, who are the two current members of board, agreed to put off a vote on the sidewalk and street-lane closures. The normally three-member board of public works is short-handed due to the recent resignation of Jennifer Lloyd. All three seats are appointed by the mayor.
[Updated Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 at 3:39 p.m. According to the city’s onBoard system, the vacancy has now been filled, through the appointment of Jane Kupersmith. She is former assistant director of Bloomington’s department of economic and sustainable development, and currently executive director of CDFI Friendly Bloomington, a nonprofit financial services organization.]
On Tuesday night, Karon was ready to vote, but Deckard was not.
So they wound up voting neither on a motion to approve the right-of-way closures, nor on a motion to put off a decision. Either vote would have likely wound up in a 1–1 deadlock.
After outlining her still outstanding questions—related to other right-of-way requests that the monolith fabricator might make, and the sheer duration of the requested closure—Deckard made a gambit to postpone. Cox Deckard said, “I would like to ask my fellow board member to consider tabling this item again.”
In response, Karon read aloud a prepared statement that stressed the purview of the board of public works as related just to consideration of the right-of-way, not the merit of the gateway project. “We are not being asked for our approval to complete the gateway work within the Miller-Showers Park, which instead is under the purview of the board of park commissioners,” Karon said.
Under state law, Karon said, the board of public works is supposed to deliberate only on those questions within its own purview. Karon said it’s important that her colleagues on other appointed bodies, like the board of park commissioners, trust her not to overreach.
When Karon had wrapped up her statement, Cox Deckard, as president, invited a motion. Karon responded with a motion to approve the right-of-way closures. Cox Deckard let a few seconds of silence go by, then declared. “There is no second. The motion fails.”
Under Robert’s Rules if there’s no second for a motion, it simply dies and the board moves on to the next item of business without taking a vote.
Cox Deckard had been keen to focus her line of questions on the public right-of-way issues. One of her concerns was the sheer duration of the requested closure, about three months, during what she described as “the busy fall season.”
She also drew out a distinction between the right-of-way closures needed for infrastructure improvements and any closures needed for the erection of the monument itself, which is supposed to be installed inside the park, not in the public-right-of-way.
Responding to a question from Cox Deckard, director of public works Adam Wason and director of parks operations Tim Street indicated that Bo-Mar, the company that’s fabricating the gateway monolith, might need to request a separate lane closure so that a crane could lower the gateway tower into place.
The public infrastructure improvements include the rework of the median between North Walnut Street and North College Avenue, a new curb, a new sidewalk, and new ADA ramps. The project will also remove 18 trees from the site, including several invasive Callery pear trees, and will replant 26 trees.
A preliminary step for establishing the pedestrian detour—in connection with the planned closure of the sidewalk on the east side of College Avenue—is the installation of a new sidewalk on the west side of the street—to fill in the gap in front of the former Steak ‘n Shake restaurant. The filled-in gap would form a part of the pedestrian detour.
In response to a question from Cox Deckard, Wason said the Steak ‘n Shake sidewalk is allowed under a permitting process that is separate from the board of works approval. So it could technically already be underway, despite the fact that the board declined to approve the right-of-way closures two weeks ago.
But Wason said the “optics” of starting that work on the morning after the board of public works had voted to postpone the right-of-way closure request, would not have been well understood by the public.
Given the board’s non-vote on Tuesday night, it’s not immediately clear if the work on the Steak ‘n Shake sidewalk will again be delayed.
Based on Wason’s response to a question from Cox Deckard, it’s also not clear if the Steak ‘n Shake sidewalk gap would ever be filled in, if the other public infrastructure improvements were never made, and the eventual monolith, were never installed.
From the public mic at Tuesday’s board of public works meeting, artist David Ebbinghouse reprised his remarks from two weeks ago 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 also spoke critically of the gateway monolith at the board of park commissioners meeting, which took place just before the board of public works met.
Weighing in again on Tuesday night on the Zoom teleconferencing public mic, as she had two weeks earlier, was Susan Brackney, who asked the board to delay again. Brackney noted the long history of the project, which dates back to bond approvals by the city council in 2018, which was the third year of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s first four-year term.
Hamilton did not seek re-election this year. Kerry Thomson, the Democratic Party’s nominee, is unopposed on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Brackney listed out several questions about the lighting of the monument and asked, “Are these issues serious enough to warrant a little extra scrutiny—maybe by the incoming mayor and their administration?”
Brackney answered her own rhetorical question: “I think so.”