Bloomington Transit board makes new general manager choice, will negotiate contract details for vote at August meeting

Bloomington Transit’s five-member board voted unanimously Tuesday night, on its pick for the next general manager of the city’s public bus system: John Connell.

A view of the Bloomington Transit board room at the Grimes Lane facility for the July 20, 2021 meeting. Board members are seated at the table on the left. The two candidates for the general managership of BT and representatives from the two management companies are seated in the audience to the right.

He is now operations manager for the public bus system in Lafayette and West Lafayette, another Indiana college town. The bus system there is called the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation, and operates as CityBus.

BT’s general manager position would have become vacant at the end of September when current general manager Lew May’s contract runs out.

May had originally intended to retire last year after more than two decades of service. He agreed to stay on, to shepherd the bus system through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board members indicated some interest in negotiating some overlap for May and Connell when the details of the contract are worked out, between now and the board’s August meeting. At that meeting, the board will vote on a contract. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit board makes new general manager choice, will negotiate contract details for vote at August meeting”

Elm Street for El Mercado: Food, crafts, and a movement for immigrant protections

India Scott held up each kind of her handmade scented candles for aromatic review by the B Square: “This is Black Love…Blackberry Cheesecake…Orange Mint…Lavender and Vanilla.”

The last one earned a request for a second whiff.

Scott’s Dakota Faith Candles and More was one of about a dozen food and craft vendors at last Sunday’s edition of the monthly farmers and artisans market called El Mercado. The market is held on the third Sunday of the month.

Launched in August 2019,  El Mercado has popped up in a handful of different Bloomington spots.

But since April of this year, the market has landed on the block of Elm Street between 7th and 8th Streets, next to the Banneker Community Center on Bloomington’s near west side. It’s the block where the first of Bloomington’s “Black Lives Matter” street murals was painted.

And through the end of the year, that will be El Mercado’s home, according to a partnership agreement with Banneker, approved earlier this year by Bloomington’s board of park commissioners.

On Sunday, the market was also the place where organizers for Movimiento Cosecha  set up a table as a followup to their Thursday march from Switchyard Park to Indiana University’s Sample Gates.

The national movement describes itself as one that fights for “permanent protection, dignity, and respect for all undocumented immigrants.” Continue reading “Elm Street for El Mercado: Food, crafts, and a movement for immigrant protections”

Possibly closed through mid-2022 or longer: Flood-damaged downtown Bloomington fire station

A temporary location at 4th Street and College Avenue could be serving as Bloomington’s downtown fire station for another year and a half.

That’s based on a “right of access” agreement for the property, which was approved by the Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC), at its regular meeting on Monday. The  fire department’s right of access to the RDC’s property runs through the end of 2022.

Station 1 was damaged in the flooding that hit areas of downtown on the night of June 18.

The heavy rains that night filled the fire station’s basement with eight feet of water, drowning the building’s telecommunications center. Station 1 also served as the department’s administrative headquarters.

The temporary site—in the former Bunger & Robertson building at College Square—is four blocks east west of Station 1.

It has been housing the department’s administrative functions since the flood hit. On Monday, Bloomington fire chief Jason Moore told The B Square that the department also has operational crews stationed there from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

When the firetrucks are not at the temporary site, they are distributed to other stations in a way to optimize fire protection coverage from those four sites.

Providing fire protection around the clock from the temporary downtown location will be made possible by the RDC’s approval at its Monday meeting. The right of access includes permission to establish a temporary fire truck bay in the parking lot, which will allow the trucks to be secured overnight.

In connection with the temporary fire engine bay, Bloomington’s board of public safety will be asked at its Tuesday meeting to approve a $101,850 base contract with Mahaffey USA, to erect the structure. Continue reading “Possibly closed through mid-2022 or longer: Flood-damaged downtown Bloomington fire station”

Bloomington redev commission gives initial OK for $660K to 9 nonprofits in special CDBG funding round

At its regular Monday meeting, Bloomington’s redevelopment commission gave its approval of federal Community Development Block Grant awards totaling $660,602 to nine local nonprofits.

It was a special funding round to address impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The requirement of a COVID-19 connection led to the recommendation of a three-member committee against funding some of the projects of five other applicants, according to John Zody, director of Bloomington’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department.

The total amount awarded worked out to about half of the $1.3 million that was requested.

Of the nine applicants that received recommendations for funding, seven received the full amount requested. Continue reading “Bloomington redev commission gives initial OK for $660K to 9 nonprofits in special CDBG funding round”

American Rescue Plan Act: Bloomington mayor’s initial request to city council: $3.35M for support of housing, the arts, lead pipe removal

When Bloomington mayor John Hamilton announced at a news conference in early June that some of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding would be used for housing supports, no dollar amounts were attached.

Now released as a part of the city council’s July 21 meeting information packet is a plan for spending the estimated $22.3 million in ARPA funding that the city is expected to receive through the federal legislation.

An appropriation ordinance that echoes the numbers in the ARPA plan will get a first reading at the meeting.

The ARPA is a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, to help counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Housing supports, at $1.65 million, are about half of the total in the initial ordinance.

The breakdown for housing is: a $1.2 million grant to the United Way of Monroe County to address homelessness and housing insecurity; a $250,000 grant to the Bloomington Housing Authority to create affordable housing options; and $200,000 to encourage participation by landlords in the federal Section 8 voucher program.

On Friday, the United Way released the report and recommendations of a working group that has been convening since last year to address the question of how to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-repeating.” [Heading Home 2021] Continue reading “American Rescue Plan Act: Bloomington mayor’s initial request to city council: $3.35M for support of housing, the arts, lead pipe removal”

Gathering at People’s Park for Kirkwood Avenue: All over the road

A little more than a year ago, on Juneteenth of 2020, the mural at People’s Park at the east end of Kirkwood Avenue got a new, unsanctioned overlay of lettering that reads “Black Lives Matter.”

That came during a summer of protests, nationwide and locally, prompted by the killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man.

The overlay remains in place, because the Bloomington Arts Commission was not in a rush to “buff” the mural or to replace it with a different one, even if that’s likely in the cards at some point.

On Thursday evening, Eva Allen’s original mural, together with the “Black Lives Matter” lettering, gave an extra pop of background color to park visitors who were weaving together floral crowns from bunches of flowers.

The crowns of flowers were a “make and take” hosted by Downtown Bloomington, Inc.—something the DBI normally includes at its “Taste of Bloomington” event. The annual gathering, for thousands to gather and sample local food offerings, was transformed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It became a take-out only affair called “Taste of Bloomington to Go.”

Thursday’s park gathering covered a lot of civic territory—networking for the hospitality industry, a celebration of new light strands strung over Kirkwood, remarks from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, and the regular People’s Park concert series.

Like the new lights, the event was a bit “all over the road.” Continue reading “Gathering at People’s Park for Kirkwood Avenue: All over the road”

Indiana releases numbers over time for COVID-19 variants, revises dashboard presentation to reflect Delta dominance

At a news conference last week, Indiana’s state health commissioner Kris Box sounded the alarm about the increased number of  COVID-19 cases in the state due to the Delta variant.

“The Delta variant is now the one that we are seeing most frequently,” Box said.

The Delta variant, one of several mutations that have been discovered, is more easily transmitted than the basic COVID-19 virus.

When Box delivered her remarks, the state’s COVID-19 dashboard still showed the cumulative numbers for variants, ever since the genetic sequencing of positive samples started. That meant the relative proportion of the Delta variant was portrayed by the dashboard as still small—just 3 percent of positive samples.

But in recent weeks, since mid-June, the percentage of positive samples with the Delta variant has vacillated between 50 and 80 percent.

That’s based on the health department’s release to The B Square on Thursday of the daily time series for the numbers of variants, broken down by variant type.

The state’s dashboard data presentation has now been revised to show the percentage of variants in the current month, with an indication of the change over the previous month. As of Friday, the Delta variant was found in 67 percent of positive COVID-19 samples for the current month.

According to the dashboard, for the current month, in about 96 percent of positive COVID-19 cases that were sequenced, one of the variants of concern was found. Continue reading “Indiana releases numbers over time for COVID-19 variants, revises dashboard presentation to reflect Delta dominance”

Long-time election worker retires: “We’re here for one thing. And that’s to make a good election.”

Monroe County’s clerk, Nicole Browne, told The B Square on Thursday afternoon: “There is no replacing a Jack. He is one-of-a-kind. He is amazing. And I will miss him every single day. Every single day.”

Browne was talking about Jack Davis, a county employee whose retirement was marked Thursday at a reception held by his colleagues at Election Central, where he has worked for the election division.

Thursday was the six-year anniversary of Davis’s most recent span of service in local government—he started that half-dozen year stretch on the same day as county election supervisor Karen Wheeler.

But the octogenarian’s history of work for local government can be traced back to way earlier. Continue reading “Long-time election worker retires: “We’re here for one thing. And that’s to make a good election.””

No conclusions yet on songbird deaths as Indiana adds to number of species and counties affected

In the two weeks since Indiana’s state ornithologist Allisyn Gillet held a conference on the topic, the Department of Natural Resources has not yet determined what is causing the deaths of several species of birds in this and other states.

Reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs, have come from Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, according to the US Geological survey.

An update was made on Tuesday to the Indiana DNR’s web page that has been set up to provide information about the songbird deaths.

The updates included additional species of birds that have been documented as sick or dying in Indiana. Added to American robin, blue jay, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle, northern cardinal, are European starling, sparrow, house finch, red-headed woodpecker, and wren.

Tuesday’s update increased the number of Indiana counties reporting songbird deaths from 53 to 69. That leaves just 23 counties in Indiana that have not reported some songbird deaths as a part of the pattern. Continue reading “No conclusions yet on songbird deaths as Indiana adds to number of species and counties affected”

$186K in disaster loans OK’d for homes so far to help cover damage from June 18-19 Monroe County floods

Four Monroe County homeowners or renters have received loans so far from the federal Small Business Administration for damages from the June 18-19 floods, according to Julie Garrett with the SBA.

Looking south on Grant Street from Kirkwood in the early morning hours of June 19, 2021.

Garrett briefed the Monroe County board of commissioners on the topic of loans at their regular Wednesday morning meeting.

The total dollar figure of the loans approved so far is $186,900. The dollar amount, along with the number of loans approved, will probably increase.

Garrett told county commissioners that the SBA had spoken with 42 flooding victims at the information sessions that are being held at the county’s convention center on College Avenue.

Six business loans and 33 other home loans are in the works, Garrett said.

The sessions started last week. They will continue through Friday this week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Continue reading “$186K in disaster loans OK’d for homes so far to help cover damage from June 18-19 Monroe County floods”