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City council considers Stellar projects

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

New Castle has banded with Knightstown and larger Henry County in a pursuit to be called truly “Stellar.”

Together, the cities and county make up the “Safe & Welcome” region and are in the running to be named the 2019 Stellar Communities Region, a designation that comes with a $22 million prize.

Elected officials gathered in city hall recently to hear some ideas that could make New Castle a safer and more welcome community as part of the competition.

Two dozen local residents attended the meeting. The crowd included entrepreneurs, BMX bike riders, non-profit directors, property owners, appointed officials, city department heads and residents who were eager to learn more about the Stellar Communities projects.

Council member Rex Peckinpaugh said the meeting was to find out “where we’re at and where we’re going.”

Dr. Cathy Hamilton, who wrote the original letter of intent for the Stellar Communities competition, explained the “Safe & Welcome” region is fighting against three other parts of the state to show who is truly deserving of the title.

The key, Hamilton said, is collaboration between New Castle, Knightstown, the rest of Henry County and collaboration among different groups inside those three communities.

The City of New Castle has already started a list of potential projects it hopes will be a part of the final Stellar presentation in September.

Among those projects, city leaders would like to, among other projects: add sidewalks along Trojan Avenue and crosswalks across portions of S. Memorial Drive; expand the New Castle Skate Park in Baker Park; restore the Murphey Building and brick street in downtown; renovate the Castle Theatre; and install a new water tower west of the city on the other side of Big Blue River.

New Castle Parks Board President Patty Broyles submitted a letter of intent to the city council Thursday with plans to make New Castle’s skate park the largest in Indiana.

Broyles said the new skate park has been a welcome and popular addition to the community. It already brings visitors to town from other states and has been the site of several local events. Broyles said an expansion will only make it more of an attraction.

She pointed out the expansion of the skate park is already built into the five-year plan of the parks board.

“We can do this, guys,” she said. “We can build it and we need to build it.”

Broyles also spoke on behalf of local police, firefighters and EMS during the Stellar meeting Thursday. Part of keeping the community safe needs to include helping those people who are already doing that job, she said.

“We have to have stellar equipment to be the best,” Broyles said.

She asked the city council to consider new equipment for the New Castle Fire Department – including a new ladder truck that can reach the roof of every building in the city – and new handheld radios that would tie into the updated emergency communication system being installed throughout the county.

An upgrade to the emergency dispatch computer mapping system could also be split between the city and Henry County budgets, Broyles said.

New Castle Mayor Greg York said the city has also been working on an idea of building a new water tower on Ind. 38 west of the city. York said the new tower would allow city water and sewage service to the Westwood neighborhood and elementary school, which would eventually help the city grow.

York said there are no plans to annex any current property. He noted, however, that newly constructed homes in that area would have an easier time joining the city if municipal utilities are already part of the infrastructure.

“For New Castle to grow, we’ve got to look ahead in the future and not just be satisfied with what we have right now,” York said. “Because our utilities do not allow New Castle to grow.”

Alan McCraine, from Habitat for Humanity, added that a portion of the Stellar grant money is coming from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. This state agency’s mission is inline with the city’s efforts to improve the Castle Heights neighborhood, McCraine said.

McCraine is currently working on a letter of intent to try getting the Castle Heights renovation added to the “Safe & Welcome” project list.

Hamilton hopes community members and city residents will continue coming up with more projects that highlight ways to make New Castle and the rest of the “Safe & Welcome” region even better.

Residents with project ideas can email them to Dennis Hamilton at hamiltondennis@comcast.net before July 1.

In order for a project to be considered, the letter of intent needs to include: costs; location; who will benefit; who will lead the project; a timeline from start to finish; the steps to accomplish it, including future funding; and possible “delightful consequences” of the project.

Whether New Castle and the “Safe & Welcome” region are named a Stellar Community or not, city leaders don’t plan to stop moving forward.

“Hopefully, we get the Stellar (designation) and we’re able to run with it,” Peckinpaugh said. “Even without that, we’ve done a lot of planning, and it’s going to bring forth a lot of thought and it’s going to give us the impetus to go on.”