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North Vernon to tackle 24 building facades in continuing project

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The restoration and repair of 24 building facades in downtown North Vernon will begin next week and should take nine to 10 months to complete, Jennings County economic officials said.

The project to repair the exteriors is part of the Stellar Communities grant that was awarded to North Vernon when the town was selected for the program in 2011. It assists rural communities with upgrades and repairs using federal and state funds.

The cost of the facade repairs, which will include masonry, painting and window repairs, is estimated to be $1 million.

“There shouldn’t be any interruptions to traffic or major problems. They will work on a couple of buildings at a time then move to the next one,” said Kathy Ertel, president of the Jennings County Economic Development Commission.

“Sure, sometimes a pedestrian will have to walk around the front of a building, but that is about as bad as it will get while the work is being done,” she added.

Repairs to the facades were originally slated for completion in 2013 but were delayed.

As a Stellar Community, North Vernon received more than $14 million in funding for several approved improvements. The city also contributed more than $2 million dollars to the projects.

As applicants, each community had to submit a list of projects designed to improve their community.

Since 2011, three Stellar projects have been completed: Carnegie Library, Irish Hill neighborhood repairs and the Irish Hill street and sidewalk repairs.

Projects yet to be completed include: Phase II of the downtown streetscape, the Short Street Plaza project and the Muscatatuck Trail Project.

“We are on track with our Stellar projects. The Stellar reps seem happy with our progress and so are we,” said Ertel.

The public is invited to attend an outdoor ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m. Friday at 528 O&M Ave. for the kickoff of the facades project. The ceremony will include city officials and Stellar representatives.

Staying put

One Stellar project that ran into controversy was the parking plaza.

North Vernon Mayor Harold “Soup” Campbell said the proposed parking area was designed to provide North Vernon with a “park-like parking area designed to enhance the whole downtown area.”

However, the project ran into problems when it was discovered that the area of the parking space currently used by the North Vernon Police Department would not be eligible for Stellar funding.

In order to comply with funding requirements, the mayor and North Vernon City Council considered moving the police department operations, located at Main and Madison streets, to a temporary site so that the parking project could be completed and a new police station could be established outside the parking area.

“There was such an ugly backlash to moving the police station that the council decided to drop the plan. Somewhere, people got the idea the first move of the police department to the edge of town would be permanent, which was not the case,” North Vernon Clerk-Treasurer Shawn Gerkin said.

“I just wish people would have heard all the facts before they flew off the handle. Now, the city has to come up with between $100,000 and $150,000 to complete the part of the project where the police station now stands. The entire park-like parking idea would have really enhanced the whole downtown area and improved the parking situation for everyone,” Gerkin added.

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