Bloomington Transit board OKs shift to slightly bigger gear related to COVID-19 reopening

At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday night, the five-member Bloomington Transit board approved a two-phase reopening plan for public bus service in the city.

The plan sets June 1 as the date when something closer to a normal summer break schedule will resume.

Public buses in Bloomington have still been running during the state’s COVID-19 emergency orders, but using a modified Saturday schedule every day. That reduces the number of service hours by about half compared to normal levels this time of year.

Schedules are posted on BT’s website. Realtime bus locations, when they are running, are available through the mobile app DoubleMap.

During the first phase of BT’s reopening plan, passengers can continue to ride the bus fare-free and board through the rear door. Through the first phase, drivers will continue to receive time-and-a-half hazard pay. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit board OKs shift to slightly bigger gear related to COVID-19 reopening”

Monroe County’s new COVID-19 health order on reopening: Will local officials eat their own cooking?

A new COVID-19 health order issued on Thursday by Monroe County’s health officer Thomas Sharp goes into effect starting Saturday, May 16.

In broad strokes, it puts the county in Stage 2 of Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s “Back on Track” plan announced on May 1, with a key difference: Monroe County will stay in Stage 2 an extra week compared to the governor’s plan—that is, through May 31.

One effect of the county’s order is that restaurants can open for dine-in services, at 50 percent capacity. Another effect is that barbers and hairstylists can also open for business. Any business that opens has to follow guidelines in the governor’s order. Continue reading “Monroe County’s new COVID-19 health order on reopening: Will local officials eat their own cooking?”

Census 2020: University, city working against COVID-19 to get Bloomington college students counted, local census numbers currently lagging behind rest of state

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Annotated screen shot from Our World in Data

[Note: The census can be completed online by visiting this link to the US Census.]

About six weeks ago, on Feb. 20, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, gave his annual “state of the city” address. The mayor’s basic theme was “everyone counts”—a riff on the decennial census that’s taking place this year.

Before the speech, in the lobby of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, where Hamilton delivered his remarks, Beverly Calender-Anderson was passing out literature about the census.  She was encouraging people to make sure they get themselves counted. Calender-Anderson is director of Bloomington’s community and family resources department.

As the proceedings were called to order at the Buskirk-Chumley, city council president Steve Volan took some time at the podium to add a piece of “flair” to his lapel—a button promoting participation in the census.

In his brief remarks on the census, Volan focused on the importance of getting students counted correctly: “Students are to be counted, as the census says, where they ‘usually reside’. So it’s important that everyone who is in Bloomington be counted here.”

At the time, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States was 15. Now six weeks later, the confirmed case count across the country is more than 200,000. Indiana’s confirmed cases are doubling about every four days, and this week passed 3,000. Continue reading “Census 2020: University, city working against COVID-19 to get Bloomington college students counted, local census numbers currently lagging behind rest of state”

First Monroe County, now Bloomington, to consider food and beverage tax money as economic relief funds in COVID-19 response

On Monday, Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s gave a noon address announcing a stay-at-home order as a way to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

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Monroe County councilor Cheryl Munson and Bloomington city councilmember Steve Volan are vice president and president, respectively, of the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC).

A couple of hours later, elected and appointed officials from Bloomington, Monroe County, Indiana University, and IU Health, held a virtual press conference.

During his turn, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, referred to the necessary response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a “marathon, not a sprint.” He quickly revised that description: “We’re in a marathon that starts with a sprint.”

Part of the sprint is a resolution approved last Wednesday by Monroe County commissioners, to make a request of the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC). If the FABTAC gives its approval, the county would be able to use $200,000 of already-collected food and beverage tax revenues for economic relief of local businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Bloomington now looks like it could make a similar request of the FABTAC. It will likely be for a larger amount, because Bloomington receives 90 percent of the food and beverage tax revenues. The county receives the other 10 percent.

Bloomington’s request could be made at the city council’s upcoming Wednesday meeting. A revised meeting agenda now includes a resolution that would make a request of FABTAC for the use of food and beverage tax revenues. Continue reading “First Monroe County, now Bloomington, to consider food and beverage tax money as economic relief funds in COVID-19 response”

Bloomington OKs $410K deal with Chicago firm for master planning of old hospital site

Starting sometime in early May, Bloomington residents will probably start seeing social media efforts related to the master planning of the old hospital site on 2nd Street. The 24-acre site will be handed over to the city in late 2021 by Indiana University Health in a $6.5 million real estate deal.

Those social media efforts will be a part of the work that the Chicago firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) will be doing, after Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) approved a $410,000 master planning agreement at its regular meeting on Monday night.

The roughly $7 million for the real estate and the master planning is part of a $10-million RDC project.

By year’s end, SOM is supposed to provide a “final master plan” for the site which will include 3D illustrations, concept level gross floor area ratios, development blocks, internal circulation concepts, transit connections, pedestrian and bicycle corridors, recommendations on parking, and infrastructure analyses for roadway, utility and stormwater infrastructure, among other elements. Continue reading “Bloomington OKs $410K deal with Chicago firm for master planning of old hospital site”

$500K placeholder OK’d for master planner of hospital site redevelopment

At its regular meeting on Monday, Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) agreed to an amendment of the project description for the redevelopment of the hospital property at 2nd and Rogers streets, owned by Indiana University Health.

A $500,000 placeholder for a master planner was one addition to the project review form approved by the board. The other was an increase of the total project cost, from around $6.8 million to $10 million, to cover the cost of possible infrastructure improvements. Continue reading “$500K placeholder OK’d for master planner of hospital site redevelopment”

Indiana Court of Appeals rules 2–1: Bloomington’s definition of fraternity delegated undue authority to Indiana University

In a ruling issued Thursday, a three-judge panel from the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled 2–1 to uphold a lower court ruling: The definition of a fraternity or sorority in Bloomington’s zoning code violates the US Constitution because it delegates to Indiana University the city’s authority to determine zoning compliance. Continue reading “Indiana Court of Appeals rules 2–1: Bloomington’s definition of fraternity delegated undue authority to Indiana University”

Bloomington city council candidate forum: Indiana University connections

Last Monday (Oct. 29) all five candidates in Bloomington’s city council elections—held only in District 2 and District 3 this year—appeared on Indiana University’s campus. They participated in a forum hosted by The Civil Society at Indiana University. Moderators were students Meredith Karbowsky and Tyler Combs.

The event was held in Woodburn Hall, Room 004, in the lower level of the building, which features slate chalkboards and auditorium-style seats, bolted to the floor, with built-in swing-up tablet arms.

The venue itself got a mention in their introductory remarks from two of the candidates. District 3 independent candidate Marty Spechler told the group he is an emeritus professor of economics at the university—and he’d taught classes in the room. District 2 Republican candidate Andrew Guenther, a recent graduate of the school, said he was glad to be back in the room, where he’d just recently taken political science classes.

Guenther’s opponent in District 2, Democrat Sue Sgambelluri, also holds a degree from IU and works as development director for the college of arts and sciences. In District 3, the other two candidates, Democrat Ron Smith and independent Nick Kappas, also have connections to IU through degrees they earned there.

Most questions asked by moderators were either directly or indirectly connected to the university.

Candidates were asked how they would strike the balance between representing student interests and representing the interest of Bloomington locals. They were also asked how they would ensure student access to quality housing. Based on some recent shootings that did not prompt IU Notify alerts, candidates got a question about how they’d maintain and improve public safety in Bloomington.

Climate change was topic that candidates were asked about, which was not prompted by a university-specific connection.

Earlier reporting on the forum by The Beacon covered the topic of white supremacism as it relates to Bloomington’s farmers market.

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From left: District 2 candidates Andrew Guenther and Sue Sgambelluri; moderators Meredith Karbowsky and Tyler Combs; District 3 candidates Marty Spechler, Ron Smith, and Nick Kappas. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Continue reading “Bloomington city council candidate forum: Indiana University connections”

Second Monday in October is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington

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Agnes Woodward, a Cree from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, who now lives in Bloomington, returns to her seat after speaking to the city council during public commentary in support of declaring Indigenous People’s Day. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The second Monday in October is now recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington, Indiana. This year that’s Oct. 14.

The city council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution putting the day permanently on the calendar, after Mayor John Hamilton proclaimed last year’s Oct. 8 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

It doesn’t mean that city employees get another holiday. Rather, the resolution says it’s “an opportunity to celebrate the cultures and values that Indigenous Peoples of our region add to the communities in Bloomington, throughout Indiana, and globally.” Continue reading “Second Monday in October is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington”

September 2019 was Indy’s warmest September on record

September this year at the Indianapolis International Airport was the warmest September on record, based on data from the NOAA Regional Climate Center. Records for the Indy airport go back to 1943.

Thermometer 13925024415866The mean average temperature for September this year was 73.7 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s 2 degrees warmer than the  next-warmest September on record, which came in 2007. It’s about 7 degrees warmer than the mean  of all September averages since 1943, which is 66.9 degrees.

Last year’s September (2018)  ranked 4th warmest since 1943.

Records for Monroe County’s airport go back just a couple of decades. This year’s September numbers are the warmest since 1998 by about a degree—72.1 compared to 71 degrees last year.

Data in the climate center’s database for Indiana University station’s in Bloomington go back to 1896, but temperature data stopped getting reported in late August this year. The Beacon has made some inquiries into that. [Updated Oct. 4, 2019: The word from National Weather Service is: “The IUBloomington station is undergoing some construction so the site is temporarily down. The time table for it being back up and running is unknown due to the construction. But, it will be back.”]

Not counting this year, the warmest September on record for Bloomington came in 1933 with a monthly mean average temperature of 74.5 degrees. If the airport temperature were taken as a proxy for the IU station, this year’s 72.1 degrees would rank as the 10th warmest September since 1896.

Swapping in Monroe County airport numbers would be a tricky business—the monthly averages can differ by as much as 3 degrees compared to the IU station.

Continue reading “September 2019 was Indy’s warmest September on record”