Indiana, PA - Indiana County

INDIANA: Outdoor plaza, Vinegar Hill rehab focus of ongoing project

by RANDY WELLS on August 22, 2012 11:00 AM

Bids will be opened Thursday for parts of the next phase of Indiana's downtown revitalization project that will create a small urban park along North Seventh Street.

The proposed "people space" along North Seventh between Philadelphia and Water streets will be a plaza-like area furnished with new sidewalks, benches, tables, decorative lighting and trees and will be suitable for concerts, festivals and similar events. The $3.5 million Segment B2 phase will also include replacement of the leaning retaining wall along Water Street and of the crumbling steps leading to the top of Vinegar Hill.

Groundbreaking is tentatively planned for March.

The left turn lane for southbound traffic on North Seventh Street at Philadelphia Street will be eliminated to create room for the outdoor people-gathering area. At one time it was suggested making the first block of North Seventh Street a traffic-free, pedestrian-only space. That plan was later modified to retain at least one lane for vehicle traffic both north and south.

When the left turn lane is eliminated, left turns onto Philadelphia Street from North Seventh will still be permitted, but all traffic heading south will queue up in one lane.

In addition to agreeing to remove the left turn lane on North Seventh Street, council last year also voted to eliminate diagonal pedestrian crossings at the Philadelphia Street-Seventh Street intersection. Elimination of the diagonal pedestrian crossings -- when vehicles traveling in all four directions stop simultaneously to allow pedestrians to cross the intersection in any direction -- will save about 17 seconds in each cycle of the traffic signals. That extra time will be distributed among the traffic flow times.

Dave Fairman, the borough's public works director, told council Tuesday the new retaining wall will look much like the existing concrete wall, but the new Vinegar Hill steps will be set back farther into the hillside to provide room for a landing at the bottom where pedestrians can wait before stepping out onto Water Street.

Some money left over from the recent enhancements along the 500 block of Philadelphia Street will be rolled over into the Segment B2 improvements.

In other matters, council was informed that Indiana's new satellite recycling site, in the borough-owned parking lot along Church and South Eighth streets, will be open for use after Labor Day.

Originally proposed to accept plastics, cardboard and office paper, the satellite location -- at least during a trial run through the autumn and early winter -- will accept only plastics.

"It's near the business district, IUP and residences" and it will be easy for motorists to drive through the parking lot and drop off plastics whenever it's convenient for them, Councilman John Hartman said. And the trailer that will be used for receiving the plastics has lids, so odors and flies should not be a problem.

Hartman said the goal of having a trailer at a satellite location is not just to get people recycling plastics, but to get them to remember the importance of recycling everything they can.

There has been a steady decline in the volume of material recycled in the borough. The reason for that, in Hartman's opinion, is because there is little emphasis now on education about recycling, and because it is too easy just to throw everything in the trash.

But the more material that is put into garbage bags, the more the borough has to pay for trash removal. And the less the borough recycles, the less the borough receives in recycling performance grants from the state.

Last year Indiana received only $9,000 as its recycling performance grant, down from $18,000 in previous years.

Hartman said if the satellite site is well used by residents, students and business owners, the trailer may be moved to what some consider an even more convenient location -- perhaps along Rice Avenue or the borough-owned parking lot at Water and North Ninth streets -- and more materials may be accepted at the site.

Jonathan Mack, president of the J.S. Mack Foundation, which owns Mack Park along Indiana's southern border, asked council for financial support for a proposed $700,000 renovation of the pool house and concession stand that were built in 1950.

Mack said the plan includes new restrooms and showers, a remodeled concession stand, expanded office and storage areas, new electricity service, new flooring and a roof over the changing areas. He hopes to get the work started this fall.

"This pool serves thousands of families" and the pool house improvements, like the $1.2 million renovation of the pool itself in 2010, "is about making this community a better community" for local residents, Mack said.

Councilman Bill Simmons agreed the Mack Park recreation facilities are valuable amenities for Indiana. The borough, he said, would never be able to afford a swimming pool of its own.

"We do take a substantial burden off the shoulders of both the borough and township" by maintaining and operating the park as a community center, Mack said. But it does take a lot of money and the foundation currently is not earning enough off investments to cover monthly operating costs, he told council.

Still, Mack said, the pool house improvements and renovations are important and needed because they will attract more people to use the pool and use it more often.

So the foundation for the first time is asking the borough for financial assistance by making contributions of $10,000 a year in each of the next five years. The same request has been made to the White Township supervisors.

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