A ceremony remembering the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and recognizing local first responders and public safety officials was held in Bicentennial Park on Saturday.
Officers and volunteers from Jefferson County fire, police and emergency medical services were recognized for their years of service, and Washington Fire Company No. 2 on the year of its 175th anniversary in the same building.
Madison Mayor Bob Courtney expressed appreciation “for the bravery of these heroes” and what they did to protect the nation on Sept. 11, 2001.
Jefferson County resident Kevin Kellems, who was working in the Pentagon serving as a special advisor to the Secretary of Defense on the morning of the attacks, remembered the remarkable dedication and courage he witnessed after a hijacked plane was crashed into the building.
Kellems told of the unity among the civilians and the first responders, and the bravery he saw that day. And not just the tragedy of the day that came with the attacks, but also the triumph that shone through in the way people came together.
“What I witnessed that was most impressive was the unity among the civilians and the uniform military, the firefighters and the first responders at the crash site,” Kellems said. “It was remarkable. They ran to the fire instead of running from the fire.”
Kellems later became the press secretary and communications director for Vice President Dick Cheney, but has since returned home the Jefferson County “to live among you, to learn from you and to be a member of the community.”
Kellems said he remembers 9/11 by wearing the watch that he had on that morning, along with the security credentials he had from the Office of Secretary of Defense.
Kellems reflected on the events of 9/11 by reading Sanskrit proverb from a small black book that he inherited from his father. He said it was part of broader thoughts about “how many of us remain deeply affected by their experiences of 9/11 often seek a semblance of a ‘return to normalcy’ in a variety of ways.”
The proverb, as read by Kellems, says: “Look to this day, for it is life, the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the realities and verities of existence, the bliss of growth, the splendor of action, the glory of power — for yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision, but today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day.”
Indiana State Fire Marshal Joel Thacker was on hand to present Washington No. 2 Fire Department with the state’s meritorious service medal for 175 years of service. Additionally, Courtney presented the fire department with an official proclamation from the city, along with a Congressional proclamation from Congressman Greg Pence.
Madison Fire Chief Bill DeVries also gave special recognition to all Madison firefighters with 40 years or more of service.
Thacker paid tribute to volunteer firefighters, noting they not only volunteer, but they “pay to do this. They pay financially for doing this. They pay physically for doing this. And they pay mentally for doing this.” He thanked the families of the firefighters for supporting them in their service to the community.
Courtney also expressed his gratitude to all who serve and the work they do for the community. “I am proud of each and every one of you,” he noted.
After Gov. Eric Holcomb’s recent executive order requiring all COVID-19 close contacts to quarantine in schools that do not require masks, Southwestern Jefferson County Consoidated School Corporation announced Friday that a new quarantine policy approved by the school board on Aug. 30 will not be implemented.
Due to the high numbers of students quarantining based on close contacts, the board had approved remaining as a “mask optional” system while allowing those who had close contacted a COVID positive person to avoid quarantine if the close contact was wearing a mask within six feet of the COVID positive individual.
“One-half of one% of our kids who quarantine as a close contact end up positive,” noted Superintendent Jeffrey Bates. “We have students quarantining and they are not catching the virus. For one-half of one%, that’s a lot kids staying home for no reason.”
Bates said the Governor’s executive order makes it more challenging for Southwestern to quarantine fewer students who are COVID close contacts while maintaining the “mask optional” policy. “That’s what we were trying to do,” he said.
However, he said Southwestern’s numbers are “going in the right direction” with quarantine numbers declining. The high school had shifted to virtual learning on Aug. 30 due to the high number of students in quarantine, but Bates said students returned to in-person on Sept. 7, and the situation now is much better. He said in-person has continued for both the middle school and elementary school, although he said “we do have middle schoolers on quarantine.”
Bates said if Southwestern begins to see a significant increase in the number of students that have to quarantine, the school board will have to evaluate its “mask optional” policy.
“We’ll either have to make masks required, and not quarantine, or stay optional and quarantine,” for those instances of COVID positive close contacts, he said.
In a letter that was sent to parents and guardians on Friday, school officials stated that “at this time, Southwestern Schools are still operating with the same masking and quarantine guidelines that we began the school year with” and are following Indiana Department of Health guidelines, which require unvaccinated close contacts to quarantine (asymptomatic vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine).
Jefferson County Commissioners held a special session last week to discuss the county’s gravel road conversion program with Milton Township residents Barbara and Randy Romans, who had earlier raised questions about the scoring of Bishop Hill Road on the conversion chart.
The Romans reviewed the chart with Jefferson County Highway Superintendent Bobby Phillips for accuracy but Phillips noted that even with some improvements in the scoring, Bishop Hill Road still lacked the criteria to move higher on the chart and be next in line for paving. Poplar Ridge Road in the northwestern part of the county in Shelby Township tops the conversion chart with a score of 950 while Bishop Hill Road ranks eighth at 333.45 points.
Phillips said he wants more hard surfaced roads throughout the county but the scoring system and chart was implemented to prioritize roads in terms of need while eliminating favoritism.
“I want to be aggressive about asphalt,” Phillips said. “I think big, and have big dreams” even though there’s just a small amount currently getting done based on available funds.
Phillips said the gravel road conversion program is a start, and that’s why it was created.
“We have to represent everybody and we have to treat everybody fairly,” said Phillips, who noted the program creates a means to eliminate favoritism through ranking the county’s gravel roads by points in order of importance as justification on whether they should be hard surfaced and when.
Randy Romans said he is most concerned about a mile stretch of Bishop Hill Road from Bear Bridge to the top of Joyce Cemetery, and is willing to contribute $50,000 toward what he estimated as a $100,000 cost to pave that portion of the road —even if the county doesn’t immediately do the rest of Bishop Hill Road.
“That’s how bad I want that mile paved,” said Romans, who noted that besides living there, he has a business in which his equipment must travel often through muddy conditions.
“The fact you’re wanting to give $50,000, I know that you want it pretty badly, and I appreciate that very much,” said Phillips. Private contributions would help improve the score, but Commissioner Bobby Little noted that any private contribution would have to go through the State Board of Accounts and handled through the attorneys.
No decision was made concerning the mile stretch cited by Romans. However, Phillips said he’s willing to work toward considering how hard surfacing that mile stretch can be accomplished, perhaps by Aug. 30 of next year.
“I hope we can work it out for us to get done that mile,” Romans said.
Efforts to resolve issues in maintaining comfortable temperatures at Madison Junior High School are moving forward after Madison school board approved a $2,743,633 contract with Johnson-Melloh Solutions at its meeting last week.
The project will be paid entirely from federal dollars that Madison Consolidated Schools received from the third round of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund through the American Rescue Act.
The work, characterized as Phase 1 of a possible four-phase HVAC improvement program at the junior high, should lay the foundation for additional improvements as the process continues.
“Phase 1 is the guts of the system, and moving forward, once that is completed that will inform the rest of the decisions,” said Madison Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Studebaker. “We won’t know what we’re getting into until Phase 1 is completed,” and by doing Phase 1 it doesn’t lock the school corporation into doing any other work after that.
“We don’t know what we don’t know yet,” he said, noting Phase 1 will determine what other work might or might not be needed.
Among the proposed upgrades are a new control system, which includes chillers, boilers, pumps, air handlers, classroom unit ventilators, classroom air distribution, and office air distribution. It also includes replacing air handling units — five units on the roof and seven units located inside mechanical penthouses — as well as proposed upgrades such as replacing the 1999 chiller with a new, more efficient unit, along with the chiller pumps and chiller water air and dirt separator. Other proposals include replacing hot water pumps, the hot water air and dirt separator and the domestic hot water heater.
In other business, the board:
• Conducted a public hearing on the 2022 budget presented by Bonnie Hensler, the school corporation’s director of finance and human resources. The budget shows the education fund, which is the tuition received from the state, and the operations fund, which is from local property tax and state sales tax transferred from operations fund. The budget has estimated $5,215,141 for debt service, $20,022,123 for the education fund and $10,487,500 for the operations fund for a total of $35,724,764. Hensler noted the “levies in the budget estimate are high; we always budget high.”
Studebaker noted the budget will go to the Department of Local Government Finance for review, which will respond back to what the actual budget will be, typically decreasing from what is submitted. The budget is scheduled to be adopted at the Wednesday, Oct. 13, board meeting.
• Approved a resolution to apply for a fund levy appeal for an increase in transportation costs. Studebaker said the request is due to an increase in fuel costs and an increase in pay for bus drivers.
• Approved an agreement with Turf Dogs Lawn and Landscape to complete a repair of the junior high soccer field. The agreement is for $41,284 and includes removal of the existing sod, laser-leveling and reseeding with a bluegrass variety that Studebaker said is a better playing surface and stands up to play/practice situations much better than the current fescue turf variety. The work will begin later this month or early October.
• Approved retention stipends for employees from the ESSR III grant that will be deposited for qualifying employees on Oct. 8. Employees must have been an active employee from May 28 and Sept. 7 of this year. Those hired in spring or summer for the following school year do not qualify. For bargaining unit members, administrators, professional certified, 12-month full-time and professional non-certified who are nine month full-time, they will receive $1,000. For nine-month part-time, they will receive $750.
• Approved an agreement with Red Pepper Deli Inc. for Red Pepper to rent space at the E.O. Muncie kitchen for off-site food preparation.
• Approved the second reading of updated school corporation policies to make them consistent with current laws and regulations.
• Heard remarks from Studebaker during the comments section of the meeting about the challenges the school corporation is having in finding employees. “It is incredibly difficult right now to find folks,” he said. “We still have multiple openings around the district in multiple positions.”
Studebaker said there’s intense competition in the workforce, noting he met with “one of our premier corporate partners, and they’re having the exact same issues.
“I had a meeting with the Mayor earlier this week, they’re having the exact same issues. When you’re competing for a person making $17 an hour to shop for someone else at Walmart, that’s what’s happening now, it’s tough. It’s an incredibly difficult environment right now to hire folks and find folks that are willing to do the work, but the folks that we have are outstanding,” he said.