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Second, third-year Stellar plans outlined

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

It’s not uncommon to see a company or community unveil a five-year plan.

Henry County, Knightstown and New Castle have gone one further and crafted a plan into 2025 for the entire Safe & Welcome Region.

The region hopes to be name the 2019 Stellar Community, a designation that brings more than just a nice title.

If the Safe & Welcome Region wins the Stellar award, Henry County and its partner cities will split $22 million amongst them for a variety of community projects.

Wednesday’s edition of The Courier-Times listed nine projects that could start as early as 2020 with a boost from Stellar funding.

The Stellar regional development plan (RDP) also details projects to begin in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Owner occupied repairs

The local Stellar committee wants to put $500,000 toward a program of “neighbors helping neighbors” by maintaining affordable, decent and safe housing for residents throughout the county.

According to the RDP, potential housing maintenance can include roofing and gutter repair, sidewalk and patio repair, accessibility, siding and window replacement, insulation and HVAC replacements and repair. The program could also help elderly or disabled citizens save their homes or move from them.

As part of the maintenance and property clean up efforts, each community in the Safe & Welcome Region has agreed to a semi-annual clean-up event sponsored by local non-profits, the RDP stated. The project could start in 2021.

Public library ADA upgrade

Another 2021 project would be renovating the Knightstown Public Library by installing an elevator, restrooms and other ADA improvements. The library also wants to add a community room to the building. The new space could help the library offer free and low-cost programs for both recreational and educational purposes, while also making the facility available to about 500 local residents who currently have difficulty getting into the building.

The overall project is estimated at $1.8 million, with $360,000 pledged from the library, the Henry County Community Foundation and the Henry County government.

Makerspace Inside Knightstown Hall

The Town of Knightstown recently moved their town hall and utility office into a former bank on Main Street. The new building provides an opportunity to create a “makerspace” for fledgling entrepreneurs.

As described in the RDP, the creation of a maker/innovator space will attract and offer the opportunity for small businesses and start-ups to have affordable space to start their companies. This will also be an integral part of the development of the downtown area as the town supports economic growth of the area through the support of start-ups.

The Knightstown makerspace concept has a proposed pricetag of $250,000. The project has a $50,000 match. It could start in 2021 and be complete within 120 days after receiving funds.

Murphey Building Restoration and Artist Studio

New Castle’s oldest building, the Murphey Building, could be restored with Stellar funds. The $305,000 project is planned for a 2021 start, with $80,000 set aside for a financial match.

A portion of the matching funds are from the Art Association of Henry County. The goal is for the newly-renovated Murphey Building to provide space for both musical and fine artists.

Plans for the third floor of the building include a recording studio, doubling as a practice and lesson space for musical groups and solo artists. The first and second floors will be used as a makerspace with an emphasis on the arts. The recording studio will double as a practice and lesson space for musical groups and solo artists. The maker’s space will provide booth rental space for four or more artists and a variety of opportunities to engage with one another.

Masonic Hall: Senior housing

Knightstown could convert the Masonic Hall downtown into 40 affordable apartments for senior citizens if Stellar funds come this way.

The project would meet needs of seniors on fixed income, while also saving a historic and distinctive building along U.S. Hwy 40.

That project could start in 2022 if the $11 million in funding is secured. A private developer is working with Knightstown’s Redevelopment Commission, which has ownership of the Masonic Hall. The private developer will likely seek tax increments for the construction and front the remaining costs, according to the RDP.

EMS Training Center

The City of New Castle plans to emphasize the “Safe” part of the region’s Stellar name. In 2022, the city could start construction of a “safety complex,” create a state-of-the-art Emergency Medical Service Training Center on Broad Street.

The new facility would operate a functioning EMS System while also training new and current workers. While this training will be available to personnel locally, it has the capacity to become a state-wide training center.

According to the RDP, the $2.5 million two-building complex will also house a remodeled New Castle Police Department. Approximately $500,000 in funding has been matched or promised for this project.

Revitalization of Knightstown’s downtown

A plan is in place to revitalize downtown Knightstown by replacing sidewalks, light poles, benches and landscaping. The intent of the $750,000 effort is to entice travelers to stop and stay a while.

Knightstown Town Council, Knightstown Main Street Inc., Knightstown Chamber of Commerce Inc. and private citizens are involved with the revitalization effort. The town would also work with the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) as the state agency replaces the surface of US 40 through the entire length of Knightstown in the next few years.

Commercial blight clearance

Starting in 2023, the Safe & Welcome Region could begin a concerted effort to clear out abandoned and decrepit buildings in different parts of the county. With an estimated cost of $250,000 and $50,000 in matching funds, the effort could start in 2023.

Specific projects for blight clearance within Henry County include: The old gas station and garage (Mechanicsburg Road/US 36), the old motel and print business (US40/County Road 225W) and structures around Blountsville, Middletown, Knightstown, Mooreland and Dunreith.

Kennard Park

One of the Stellar projects could help replace the community spirit in Kennard by creating a new town park in 2023. The regional plan notes parks provide intrinsic environmental, aesthetic, and recreation benefits to cities. They are also a source of positive economic benefits by enhancing property values, increasing municipal revenue, bringing in home buyers and workers, and attracting individuals in all phases of life.

Kennard’s town council has approved the project and has partnered with Henry County in providing the financial match. The cost will be around $250,000.

Summit Lake State Park Cabin and Nature Center development

Local leaders hope investing in Summit Lake State Park will also be an investment in the increase of tourism. 

A $175,000 project at Summit Lake would allow repairs on cabins in the park, increasing park capacity to serve visitors overnight. The nature center will also be enhanced during the 2023 project. If all goes according to plan, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources would provide a $100,000 match to the project.

Infrastructure

The Safe & Welcome regional development plan also includes several sidewalk and trail upgrades that fall under INDOT projects for 2025.

The projects include sidewalk upgrades in Spiceland, New Castle and Middletown, road improvements in Greensboro and Mooreland, a multi-purpose path around Westwood Elementary School in New Castle and improvements to the Henry County trail system.

Read the full Safe & Welcome Regional Development Plan at safeandwelcome.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Safe-And-Welcome-Regional-Dev-Plan.pdf.