HOPE — From parking renovations and an antique-style town clock to an expanded Yellow Trail Museum and barn quilts displays, Bartholomew County’s second-largest incorporated city seems to be shining brighter than ever these days.

But while one of the most noticeable improvements in Hope are newly paved streets, it is what’s buried below much of that fresh asphalt that may benefit this community of 2,100 residents the most.

A $3 million project that called for replacing 14,000 feet of the town’s antiquated water mains is on target to be completed this fall, town officials said.

The only part of the project that remains is finishing a butterfly hookup of the main control valve at County Road 600 North, which will be completed this fall, said David Clouse, Hope’s utilities director.

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The town has been working on the problem since a 2014 study by Strand Associates Inc., a Wisconsin-based firm with an Indiana office in Columbus, confirmed that about 45 percent of the town’s water was leaking into the ground.

When studies showed that half of the water mains in Hope were more than 80 years old, the town sought and received a $600,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and began taking steps to keep more of the water it purchases from Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp.

Hope also received a $2.2 million loan from the Indiana State Revolving Fund, of which $925,000 was considered a forgiveable loan.

About a year ago, Hope residents who use an average of 4,000 gallons per month saw their water bills jump by 60 percent — from $28.13 to $45 a month, the town’s first rate hike in 11 years.

While a second rate hike could have gone up an additional 21.5 percent, the $925,000 grant obtained through the state revolving fund was expected to limit the impact of a phase-two increase to about 8.5 percent, according to figures supplied by Strand engineers.

However, the town has not yet decided whether it needs to implement a second increase, which will be determined after after the town analyzes the savings it is realizing by repairing the water mains, Clouse said.

In all, nearly 50 percent of project costs were financed through the grant and forgivable loan, significantly reducing the amount the town needed to increase its water rates, Strand spokeswoman Kelly Rasmussen said.

After a major storm in 2008 kept Hope without water for three days, engineers included a secondary emergency connection with Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp. to minimize the chance of a similar incident occurring again. That was added at County Road 550 North, near Miller’s Merry Manor, Clouse said.

With the various funding sources, the town now has the financial means to replace a remaining 15,000 feet of aging water mains before major breaks occur, and finance ongoing water main maintenance projects, Rasmussen said.

“I cannot express how much that helped keep our water rates at a more reasonable cost,” said Diane Burton, Hope’s clerk-treasurer.

During September, when all of the new lines were connected, the town purchased 38,200 gallons per day less than it did in September 2015, Clouse said. That reflected a 19 percent decrease from the 202,000 gallons per day the town bought a year earlier, he said.

In addition, the goal of improving water pressure, as well as increasing reliability in service, has been achieved, said J.T. Doane, Hope town manager.

“We’re already seeing a dividend, day to day,” he said. “The amount of water we’re saving is phenomenal.”

Timeline

2014

Town council notified of penalties by state environmental officials due to cracks in 80-year-old water mains. Council hires Strand Associates Inc. to survey water system, and later agrees to follow engineer recommendations.

2015

March: Telephone survey conducted to verify household incomes for federal grant consideration.

May: Hope accepted into Indiana Main Street program, making it eligible for new loan and grant opportunities.

July: Hope notified it will receive a $500,000 federal grant.

September: Hope notified it will receive a $925,000 grant through a state revolving fund to reduce a second rate hike.

December: A 60 percent water rate increase, a first for Hope in 11 years, goes into effect.

2016

January: Work begins on replacing water main

June: Crews begin repaving torn-up streets

Late September: Street paving concludes before Hope Heritage Days.

Late fall: Largest water project in Hope history targeted for completion.

Separate project

Many of the streets paved in Hope since Memorial Day weekend were part of the town’s $3 million water project, with those costs covered through the project.

Through a separate matching grant program, unrelated to the water project, the town used $57,332 to repave seven additional streets: Jackson, Harrison, Washington, Harrison, Butner, Midway and Hitchcock.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.