A1 A1
County targets blight elimination, building demolitions

The Grant County Area Plan Department is planning to demolish 11 buildings deemed unsafe in the near future as part of its ongoing effort to focus on eliminating blight in the county.

Area Plan Interim Executive Director Brenda Harrison presented Grant County Council with the list of planned demolitions, which have all received court orders to be torn down, at Wednesday’s regular meeting. Harrison said the plan is for all of them to be demolished within this calendar year.

Ten of the 11 properties are in Jonesboro, while one has a Marion address, and seven of them are all owned by the same individual. Harrison said the City of Jonesboro has pledged to pay 10 percent, approximately $1,800, for the demolition of one building that is especially dangerous.

County Highway Superintendent David White said he has reviewed the buildings and his crews can take care of the demolitions for at least two of them, saving the county money as the only costs will be an estimated $6,000 per building for the cost of Dumpsters to haul away materials. White said his department is buying a larger excavator that could allow his crews to take care of more of the demolitions.

For now, Harrison said contracting out the demolitions of the other nine properties is estimated to cost approximately $113,000. In order to cover these expenses, Harrison requested additional funding from council for the Unsafe Building Fund.

Auditor Jim McWhirt explained $50,000 had been budgeted in 2020 for the Unsafe Building Fund, but no money was budgeted in 2021. Council on Wednesday approved an additional appropriation of $70,000 in the general fund that will be transferred to the Unsafe Building Fund.

McWhirt said after going through the properly required advertising, council will be able to appropriate a total of $120,000 in the Unsafe Building Fund at its March meeting. While this will mean Area Plan can spend up to $120,000 in 2021, McWhirt said it can only spend what’s in the account and he was unsure of the exact amount in the fund before the transfer. The current fund balance will be whatever was not spent of the $50,000 last year plus any fees Area Plan has collected from property owners for demolitions, McWhirt said.

Councilman Chuck Poling asked if the county plans to place a tax lien on the properties for the cost of the demolitions in order to recoup the expense the county incurs.

Harrison said the department would like to place the tax liens on properties, and has done so in the past, but it had stopped at a certain point after former Superior Court 3 Judge Warren Haas told them not to. Council urged Harrison to talk with Area Plan and county attorney Kyle Persinger to review the process so that the tax liens can be placed on the properties.

McWhirt said obviously the county doesn’t want to give the services to the property owners for free and benefit people who don’t take care of their properties, but the tax liens could also potentially have a negative impact if the property goes to tax sale and becomes a hindrance to a prospective buyer. Councilman Michael Conner said while it could be argued whether the county demos help or hurt property owners, the bottom line is it needs to be done for safety.

“A derelict building that’s close to killing somebody might help the owner, but it certainly helps the community,” he said.

Council also discussed setting up some sort of interdepartmental billing so that the property owners would pay the full cost of highway department salaries and equipment when working on demolitions even though it is technically no additional cost for the county itself.

Council attorney Phil Stephenson said the county can pursue tax liens, but unfortunately in most cases the county does not recover money from property owners for demolitions.

“By the time you put the cost back on the lots, you can’t sell them. Nobody would pay that much for a lot in Jonesboro,” Stephenson said. “... So the problem is we can do everything you’re saying, but in the end analysis you’re probably not going to generate any money back to the county.”

Conner said he serves as the city attorney for Jonesboro and is aware of the need to demolish the properties, especially a two-story building that is essentially hanging over a local business and could seriously injure people or cause property damage.

“We’re talking about getting rid of blight, and it’s good for Grant County,” Conner said. “... It’s the thing to do for safety, for economics...This is something that’s been seriously underfunded.”

Commissioner Ron Mowery said blight is an issue across the county, not just in Jonesboro, that needs more thorough attention from officials.

“I hate blight. I believe blight costs us money,” Mowery said. “...The bottom line is if we do not address the blight in this county we are just robbing our budget, we’re robbing the taxpayers of this county and we’re working this Area Plan department entirely too hard.”

Mowery and Councilman Mike Roorbach credited White and the highway department’s willingness to work together and utilize the county’s resources as efficiently as possible by helping out on the demolitions.

Conner said addressing blight needs to continue to be a collaborative process as much as possible, including with private landowners. He said he personally bought the house next door to his residence and paid to have it demolished, but not everyone is in a position to do so.

“So private landowners and property owners are trying. We all work together, we can turn this county around,” Conner said. “We’ve got to give these folks support when they’re willing to work together and make it happen.”

Walk-a-Mile begins in new weeklong format

The temperature was a chilly 14 degrees on Saturday morning. The snow was shoveled off the sidewalks and stood nearly knee-deep to many in the grass nearby, but that made it the perfect weather for the occasion.

The Grant County Rescue Mission (GCRM) held its Walk-a-Mile kickoff party outside the Grant County Family YMCA in Marion on Saturday.

The event usually only takes place for one day and would typically see visitors stop in, have a free breakfast, get their special GCRM Walk-a-Mile T-shirts and then go out for a 1 mile walk on a designated path around Marion that would take them from the YMCA down to and past the GCRM and back.

This year, that format had to be changed to accommodate for the COVID-19 precautions that have been in place for much of the last year.

Instead, people could walk or drive through at the YMCA and get their bag lunch and T-shirt given to them through their window. The walk won’t all be done as a group, but will be divided over the course of this week.

Taking a walk outside in the frigid conditions may not seem ideal, but it actually perfectly illustrates the point the GCRM is trying to prove.

“February is a terrible month to have a walk, but that’s the point,” said GCRM Director of Development LeeAnna Smith. “It is not ideal to have 12-15 inches of snow on the ground for anyone...It gives people the opportunity to look around themselves and say, ‘Oh my goodness there are people here that are really struggling, and how does this weather add to that struggle? And how can I help?’”

Officials said it was important to be able to have the event this year not only because it helps the GCRM raise funds to provide services in the community, but also because it raises awareness about the challenges that are faced by the homeless population in the winter.

“It’s the awareness piece that we bring to light,” said GCRM Executive Director Rick Berbereia. “As far as why we walk, it’s just important that we show people that there are individuals that have to walk in this weather every day.”

The GCRM used its social media platform to share the stories of people who have struggled and have been able to get help through the mission. Smith said that these stories may be all that others in the community need to hear to decide to seek help themselves, or to volunteer to help.

The event will be held over the course of this week, where people can walk any of the designated paths the GCRM has laid out across the county to be a part of the event, or walk their own mile wherever they choose. Smith encouraged people to post on social media about the event, and their walk, using the #WhyWeWalk hashtag.

Berbereia said that as of Saturday the event had raised just more than $20,000 for the GCRM so far, adding that the mission did not know what to expect from the event as far as fundraising because of the new format.

Berbereia said that being able to hold the event, raise awareness and maintain the consistency of holding the event every February are the most important parts of proceeding with the event in the new format this year.

Each day of the event has a featured trail, with the remaining trails being in Downtown Marion on Tuesday, at Indiana Wesleyan University on Wednesday, Downtown Fairmount on Thursday and Taylor University on Friday.

Anyone who is interested in walking this year can visit mygcrm.org where they can register for any of the days and make donations.

The goal is to have 85 different people walk a mile each day this week, corresponding with the length of the perimeter of Grant County.

Smith said she is grateful for the participation of those in the community and the willingness to help others.

“There is a lot of need here,” said Smith. “But that need is always matched by generosity and people who want to help, who want to be a blessing to other people, even if they may not have much themselves.”

Men’s basketball
Mangas leads IWU rout in last regular season game

Kyle Mangas finally got his hands on the Bevo Francis Award trophy Saturday morning during a small ceremony on the Indiana Wesleyan University campus.

The presentation of the award, which recognized Mangas as the top small college basketball player in America across all divisions (NAIA DI and DII, NCAA DII and DIII) for the 2019-20 season, was delayed nearly 11 months because of the ongoing pandemic.

A couple hours after the celebration concluded, Mangas gave another on-court performance that showed why he deserves the distinguished recognition and kept him in position to be a repeat Francis honoree at the conclusion of this season.

With the emotions only intensified because of the Senior Day festivities in Luckey Arena, Mangas jump-started the NAIA’s top-ranked Wildcats in his final regular-season contest for IWU by scoring the first eight points against Crossroads League-rival Mt. Vernon Nazarene.

The fast start for both Mangas and IWU continued as he had 15 points in the first nine minutes and IWU efficiently built a 30-10 lead. By halftime, the Warsaw, Indiana-native had 30 points, IWU led 60-38 and the Wildcats were well on the way to their 117-78 triumph.

Mangas finished the day with 40 points on 13-of-22 field goal shooting. He made 7-of-12 from 3-point range and all seven of his free throw attempts. The reigning NAIA Player of the Year also handed out seven assists, pulled down three rebounds and gathered two steals as the Wildcats showed they’re primed to defend their league tournament championship and ready to make a run at another national championship.

“The emotions were running high, especially with the Bevo ceremony this morning,” Mangas said. “I just keep my mindset steady, no matter what the situation is, and try to come out and be consistent and be steady. That’s what I did.

“It was huge,” he added of the fast start. “Mt.Vernon has been on a roll, a really good offensive team, a really good shooting team, so it was important that we came out with the first punch and we definitely did that. We came out and we guarded them well, which led to the offensive side of the ball. That’s what usually happens.”

IWU forced turnovers on MVNU’s first four possessions and converted each one into points in jumping out to a 10-0 lead with barely two minutes off the clock. The Cougars briefly closed the gap to five, but the Wildcats put together a 20-5 spurt to increase the lead to 20 and never led by less than 14 the rest of the afternoon.

Any concerns about the emotions of the day involved with honoring IWU’s five seniors were quickly erased, and the Wildcats handled their business as usual.

“They were locked in. We’ve got great leadership,” said IWU coach Greg Tonagel. “They’re on a mission. We wrapped conference up several games ago, but you haven’t seen us take a step back. There’s a big vision for this team and involves taking small steps and every day they’re working at that.”

Mangas attempted only six shots in the second half, but junior center Seth Maxwell also became more assertive offensively for the Wildcats. Maxwell scored 18 of his 30 points over the final 20 minutes and showed his inside-out versatility. He made 12-of-16 field goals, including 2-of-3 from long range, and a handful of dunks, one with an MVNU player draped all over him. He also had a game-high eight boards.

“He’s gone to another level and you just saw more tools to what he can do,” Tonagel said of Maxwell. “He was making three’s today, dunking on people, he just continues to get better.”

The Wildcats showed balance in addition to the big outings by Mangas and Maxwell. Seniors Michael Thompson III and Dylan Alderson scored 12 points apiece while sophomore Spencer Piercefield and freshman Tayson Parker each scored nine. Piercefield also dished out seven assists.

IWU made 43-of-74 (55 percent) field goal attempts, 14-of-34 from 3-point range and 21-of-34 free throws. The Wildcats held a 29-22 rebounding edge and collected 12 offensive boards.

Most impressively, the Wildcats also dished out 26 assists and had only seven turnovers. Seven different players had at least two assists.

“That’s a testament to what Indiana Wesleyan basketball is all about,” Mangas said. “We’re all about creating for a teammate, we move the ball and find the open guy.”

“When you’ve got a bunch of unselfish dudes that just want to make each other better, it’s fun to be around,” Tonagel added. “It’s refreshing to be around. I love what’s happening within our locker room.”

The win capped a 28-1 regular season for the Wildcats, including a 15-1 record in the Crossroads League. IWU added to its program record by scoring more than 100 points for the 15th time this season.

Indiana Wesleyan will host Taylor Wednesday at 7 p.m. to begin its league-tournament title defense. It will mark the final time Mangas will face off with the Trojans, and is one of potentially five more games remaining in Luckey Arena for the Wildcat great.

“I’m just trying to savor it. This is a once in a generation kid,” Tonagel said of Mangas. “To talk about his character all day and not necessarily his accomplishments made it a pretty special day.

“I think his teammates are understanding that,” he continued. “The legacy of Kyle goes far beyond all the highlights that you’ve seen. It goes into a man of deep character, deep humility. He represents everything you want to represent about Indiana Wesleyan basketball.”

Summitville Elementary receives kindness certification

For the second consecutive year, Madison-Grant’s Summitville Elementary School has received a kindness certification from The Great Kindness Challenge, a bullying prevention initiative that aims to improve school climate and increase student engagement.

As outlined on its website, The Great Kindness Challenge is one week devoted to performing as many acts of kindness as possible on a school campus. In 2020, more than 28,000 schools participated in The Great Kindness Challenge across 110 countries.

“Using the provided checklist of 50 kind acts, students accept the challenge and show the world that kindness matters,” the website states.

While originally scheduled for last week, the severe weather postponed Summitville’s Great Kindness Challenge to this week.

Even when it is not the week of The Great Kindness Challenge, Summitville Principal Jackie Samuels said she makes it a point to conclude each morning’s announcement message with a key phrase: “Work hard and be kind.”

By participating in The Great Kindness Challenge, the school has been able to apply this lesson by teaching its students ways they can implement this mantra.

“We’re just really bringing awareness to what it looks like to be kind,” Samuels said.

This week of kindness has also impacted the school’s curriculum, as teachers have implemented lessons of kindness to teach the students.

“We’re really hitting a lot of conversational pieces to build language skills,” Samuels said. “Our social-emotional lessons and kindness week have given us lots to talk about. That is important to us.”

Tammy Atchison, Summitville Elementary’s social worker, has been one of the primary orchestrators of this week of kindness.

To create a unifying theme throughout the week, Atchison turned toward Disney to provide a template for various lessons, games and dress-up days for the kids to participate in titled “Kindness is Magical.”

Throughout this week, Summitville Elementary will be sponsoring a Toy Story-themed toy drive which will benefit the Summitville Police Department. The drive will collect comfort items, toys that police officers give to children involved in domestic or traumatic incidents.

Atchison said she hopes learning the importance of kindness will provide the students with a foundation that will pay off later in life.

“Developing good character is going to let them be more apt to be successful in and out of school and the workplace,” Atchison said. “... Learning to treat others with respect, caring for others and not just thinking about ourselves, but realizing that we can be kind without it costing us anything – A simple word or a simple act can change or impact someone in a great way.”

IDOH updates COVID-19 count

IDOH updates COVID-19 count

Grant County EMA Director Bob Jackson said three new COVID-19 cases were reported Monday, bringing the total number of county COVID cases to 7,085 since the start of the pandemic. No new deaths were reported, and the county has reported a total of 154 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

A total of 40 COVID-19 cases have been reported over the last seven days, representing an average of approximately six new cases per day, Jackson said. A total of 139 COVID-19 cases have been reported over the last 14 days, representing an average of approximately 10 new cases per day, Jackson said.

The Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) Monday reported 824 new COVID-19 cases statewide. That brings to 656,358 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard.

A total of 11,982 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 35 from the previous day. Another 425 probable deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record. Deaths are reported based on when data are received by the state and occurred over multiple days.

To date, a total of 7,794,765 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to IDOH since Feb. 26.

To find testing sites around the state, visit www.coronavirus.in.gov and click on the COVID-19 testing information link.

According to the IDOH COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, 8,026 Grant County residents have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 4,114 have received both doses and are fully vaccinated. Statewide, 893,246 Hoosiers have received a first dose of vaccine, and 440,028 are fully vaccinated, IDOH reports.

COVID-19 vaccines are currently available for Hoosiers 65 and older, along with health care workers, long-term care residents and first responders. To schedule at a facility within the state system, visit ourshot.in.gov or call 211. Vaccines are free, but insurance may be charged an administrative fee. Appointments for the second dose will be made when the first dose is administered.

The Grant County Health Department and Marion General Hospital are operating vaccine clinics locally within the state system by appointment only, with no walk-ins accepted at this time.

The Marion Walmart is also offering COVID-19 vaccinations at its in-store pharmacy. Eligible customers can schedule a vaccine appointment via the Walmart website. Vaccines will be available to those who meet the current phase of vaccine eligibility in Indiana. Appointments are available seven days a week, but exact timing will vary based on local availability of the vaccine.

Veterans 65 years old and older are eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination appointment at the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System (VANIHCS) campuses, including the Marion campus. Veterans interested in receiving the vaccine should call 1-800-360-8387 ext. 75113 or their primary care team for an appointment.

VANIHCS retired registered nurses may be eligible for temporary rehire with no offset or penalty under CSRS or FERS retirement in order to serve part time or full time in COVID vaccination clinics. Appointments are temporary. Current reappointment authority is available until March 31. For more information, please contact Denise Richardson at 765-674-3321 ext. 73417 or denise.richardson@va.gov.

CSO advisory

Marion Utilities announced a combined sewer overflow (CSO) advisory for Monday, Feb. 22.

When it rains, older sewer systems throughout the city can overflow, sending untreated rainwater mixed with sewage into the Mississinewa River and Boots Creek. In the event of rain, please avoid contact with water downstream of combined sewer overflows for the next three days. Signs are posted along the waterways to identify where contact with the water could be hazardous to your health. For more information, please visit marion utilities.com.

Bidding for FSSI fundraiser now open

Bidding for items in Family Service Society Inc.’s (FSSI) Cast Away Crystal Ball fundraiser’s silent auction is open now. To register and bid on items, visit https://qtego.net/qlink/familyservice from a smartphone, tablet or computer. Click the register button and fill out the form. You are required to enter a credit card, but you will only be charged if you win an auction item, donate or participate in the Crab races. Your card information will not be known or kept on file at FSSI.

The Crystal Ball fundraiser will be live streamed virtually on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. with the goal of raising $100,000. To watch the live stream, visit https://familyservice.home.qtego.net.

Upland businesses persevere through severe weather

For some businesses and individuals, fighting the recent winter weather is every man for himself, but small business owners said the small-town feel cultivated in the Upland community means support for each other during trying times.

Businesses experienced everything from well-groomed pavement to trouble keeping up with the constant snowfall last week as the layers continued to cover Upland and all of Grant County in snow and ice. Daily challenges of clearing roads and parking lots are important for safe travel and maintaining a steady customer base, business owners said.

The severe weather has provided another incentive besides COVID-19 for people to stay home and not engage with small businesses. While the cold and the pandemic may not be a recipe for booming sales, small businesses like The Bridge and Ivanhoes continue to eagerly serve those willing to make the trip for a hot coffee or milkshake.

Ice cream from the beloved Ivanhoes may not be the first thought that comes to mind in the midst of a winter storm, but General Manager Mark Souers said the restaurant is open as long as the weather allows.

“We try to stay open as much as we can through the snow,” Souers said. “Our policy is if the county declares a snow emergency and puts the red out, then we close.”

Upland’s Best-One Tire and Auto Care Owner Mike Pearson said he is able to handle snow-clearing duties for his company’s parking lot, but other businesses have not been as fortunate.

The Bridge Staff Manager and Community Coordinator Bethany Berning said parking at the cafe has been a recent issue, as customers tend to gravitate to the cleared lot next door. Berning said the nearby Sunoco gas station has expressed that their space is to be utilized solely for their services, not as a parking lot for The Bridge.

Berning said she looks forward to the upcoming days when ice and snow are not a factor against seasonal traffic and the employee base getting to work. Occasionally, they have sent employees home early due to treacherous conditions.

During normal circumstances, Taylor University students frequent local businesses like The Bridge, but the pandemic has slowed activity a bit. Berning said the business continues to gladly serve both in-person and carry out options during the pandemic.

Other businesses, like Best-One, have experienced a steady customer base and increase in activity because of the winter storm, since cars and cold weather do not always get along.

Robert Adams, Best-One service manager, said he had a positive outlook on Upland’s response to severe weather.

“I think Upland has done a very good job of [keeping the roads cleared],” Adams said. “I haven’t really seen any major incidents out there due to the snow.”