The Central Park fountain looks great since City of Decatur workers finished “sprucing” it up before turning it on for the season. The outer rim, which receives a lot of wear and tear with people coming in contact with it, was looking pretty dingy, so it was nice to see it looking like new last week when I walked through the park. Most people don’t realize the amount of maintenance the fountain requires but it is the centerpiece of all the work done in recent years to make the park and downtown Decatur more inviting.
• THE WORK on the North Franklin Street part of downtown streetscape improvements is moving ahead. Workers pictured above are digging out concrete from the west side of the street in the 100 block of North Franklin. The sections along North Franklin that have been completed look great and the project on this street will give a fresh look to an area that has needed improvements for a long time. About the only grumbles I’ve heard regarding the Franklin St. portion of the streetscape work center around fewer parking spaces directly in front of the post office. A lot of drivers like to park in front of the post office, run inside and pick up their mail at their p.o. box, or transact some postal business that usually doesn’t take over a few minutes. I was looking at the post office parking situation the other day when I walked down to get our mail (I don’t have to drive since I’m only two blocks away) and it appears there are several new spaces that have been added -- some directly across the street from the post office. There are probably enough to replace the spaces that were lost, but drivers who park in them will have to walk across Franklin Street to the post office. The problem today is that many people want to park directly in front of the place they’re going -- so I can see how some people would not be happy if they can’t park directly in front.
• I DRIVE to the Tribune office from the south side of the city so I come downtown on Franklin Street. The only part of the streetscape project that, so far, causes me to be a little uneasy is where the lanes move slightly to the right when Franklin reaches Wood Street. If I’m driving in the left lane, I can’t go straight because, if I did I would run into curbing that is part of the streetscape improvement that juts out into the street. The lane lines are fairly faded at this point and I always wonder when I start moving in my lane to the right, if the guy in the lane next to me is going to keep going straight and run into me. I assume they are going to put new asphalt on the street when all of the streetscape work is finished and then more defined white lines can be seen. Old driving habits are hard to shake and pulling a half-lane over to the right at Wood and Franklin, still makes me question if the person in the next lane is not going to also pull over and we’re going to hit. Maybe I’m the only one who experiences this hesitation -- but it does cause me to wonder a little every time I drive through that intersection. • ANGLE PARKING on Main Street continues to draw some criticism by a few people I know who claim it is unsafe to back out into traffic without being able to see who or what is coming down Main Street -- until their car is mostly back into the lane of traffic. That’s expecially true if an SUV, van or panel truck is parked next to your car and your line of vision is blocked even more. Apparently, most people are adjusting to it because I’m not aware of a lot of crashes or fender benders on that stretch of street. As I’ve mentioned before, I have the advantage of being able to walk about everywhere I want to go downtown since our office is here. I do try to avoid angle parking anywhere I go because of the reasons I mentioned -- plus it’s a good way to get the doors on your car nicked up when some careless driver parks next to you and throws his or her car door open against your car. Overall, I really like what I see in the streetscape project -- especially in Central Park and along Franklin Street which are the two areas I see every day. It gives a real fresh look to the downtown area and builds a foundation for future growth.
What Happened To The Decatur High School Columns That Stood Behind Commodore Stephen Decatur's Statue?
As I mentioned in last week’s City Beat, former Decatur mayor Terry Howley is wondering what happened to the Decatur High School columns that once stood behind the Commodore Stephen Decatur statue on the northeast corner of Franklin & William streets. I shot the above (before and after) photos of the columns in 2010. They were removed after cracks made them dangerous to visitors. Since last week’s column, Howley has been keeping me informed of what he has been finding out about the columns and the salvaging of the original columns doesn’t look promising. In an article written by Kenneth Lowe in the Aug. 8, 2010, edition of the Herald & Review, City of Decatur’s Public Works Director Rick Marley said that “structural faults” caused one of the four concrete columns to crumble, exposing the skeletal steel interior. Marley told the H&R that "The part of the structure that looked like a column was actually a mortar mix that is no longer manufactured. It's supposed to look like sandstone but doesn't behave that way. Water got in and fractured it to the point where it no longer could stay together." Apparently, the other three columns were found to have the same structural problem. Marley indicated that the “capital stones” that were on top of them were still sound and, although they could be used again, the columns had reach “the end of their days”. The City of Decatur removed them and the area later became the site for the Decatur Public Schools Foundation’s memorial bricks project. Howley indicated to me that, if he can get the specs on the columns, he could get bids on new columns and see if the community would support raising funds to purchase them. He would then use the original capitals and get the city to install them at the monument site. “There is still a lot of work to do if they are to be restored - maybe no one cares about doing this,” he said. In 2011, about 300 inscribed bricks were purchased by individual citizens to encircle the Stephen Decatur statue at Franklin and William streets. Even though the old high school building, named after Commodore Stephen Decatur, has been gone for over 35 years, and the Decatur Civic Center stands where the school once stood, a lot of people, especially those who spent their high school years there, have a lot of rich memories of it and what it meant to them -- and the community. With the actual columns essentially gone, maybe a good alternative to remember the school’s history would be to incorporate the capitals into some project near the site of the civic center.
Government Can’t Be Trusted To
Report On Itself
There’s a guest editorial elsewhere on this website entitled “Local Government Units Trying To Become Less Accountable, Less Transparent To Taxpayers”. It is written by Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the Illinois Press Association, which represents more than 500 newspapers throughout Illinois -- including the Decatur Tribune. DeRossett explains that, in order to cut funds, some Illinois legislators are trying to remove legal notices from newspapers and let each government unit post their notices on government-operated websites. Whenever that has been tried, for the most part, less tranparency has been the result -- with some units of government “forgetting” to post some notices. This newspaper, the Herald & Review, along with about all newspapers in Illinois, not only print legal notices in our newspapers, but post those same notices online (for free) so that anyone has free access to them. Obviously, we charge to print the public notices in our newspapers, and its been that way for 200 years, but such costs represent a very small percentage of any government unit’s budget. Turning over the posting of public notices to some 7,000 government units in Illinois, with the bureaucratic tape and hiring involved, will give taxpayers less transparency, and in some cases, no transparency. I’ll let Dennis DeRossett explain what is happening in his guest column , but the growing attempt to pass legislation so that government can “post and police” itself is a really bad idea and should be rejected by any member of the Illinois General Assembly if it comes to a vote. Government has an increasingly dismal record when it comes to self-reporting to taxpayers what it is doing.
• POST OFFICE LIGHTS: One of our readers, Jon E. King, sent me the following email: “I was wondering if you could give me a hand in getting the beautiful art deco lights in front of the post office working? “I am a lineman for Ameren and stopped in the post office and asked the man at the window why the lights were not working. He said he didn't have any idea about the lights. I told him that I would be willing to help in any way to get the lights working again. “I gave him my name and phone number and he said he would give it to the postmaster. It’s been a few months now and I haven't heard anything from them. “With the work being done on Franklin Street I thought it would be nice for these lights to be working. “I know you have a passion for downtown Decatur as I do, but I have no contacts to be able to get this done. It may be something as simple as changing the bulbs in the lights, but I’m sure there is a lot of red tape being a US government building.” King makes a valid point. The illumination would certainly further improve what’s already been done with the streetscape project and I don’t see where it would cost much.
Transfer House Has A
Future In Our Past
I’m pleased the city council recently voted to approve funds ($63,575) to replace the truss beams in the Transfer House -- the well-known official symbol of Decatur. The structure, which was originally built in the center of Main & Main streets in the late 1800s, was moved to Central Park in 1962 -- because times had changed and North and South Main streets comprised a state route with a heavy flow of vehicular traffic. As you know, if you’ve read my columns over the years, I have a very passionate view of the structure and preserving it as a critical piece of our history. However, in addition to preservation it can be an important marketing tool and I saw that years ago, not only as a newspaper editor, but during the years I served as mayor. It was during those years that I, along with agreement by my fellow city council members, agreed on necessary renovations of the Transfer House because it was in terrible shape back then. It wouldn’t have made a positive statement for our city, if the symbol of Decatur had its roof blown off! That renovation work was done and the plan was to use the structure as an information center for our Looking for Lincoln project, plus enhancing the downtown area. After my years as mayor were over I was asked to serve on a committee to study the options of how best to utilize the Transfer House in future years. We gathered a lot of information, and had some presentations on what could be done inside the structure that would create an attraction to people visiting our area -- and foster a sense of pride to those living here. We even had some high-tech options to make it more user friendly for kids and young people in learning about our history. Then, the bottom dropped out of the economy. Our Looking for Lincoln funds were absorbed into the General Operating Fund and grants for such projects dried up. That was about seven years ago. Without funding, the committee had no reason to continue to meet -- and the inside of the Transfer House has essentially been empty since then. Although the current repair project doesn’t mean the structure is going to be transformed into any productive use in the immediate future -- because of a lack of funds -- it would seem a logical next step to make sure a stub or some capped plumbing pipe inside the house for a future restroom and that inside lighting be addressed. I realize the work now is to keep the roof from falling in, but the plan has always been to transform the structure into some kind of information/activity/meeting center with its great location in Central Park. The reason for the original construction of the Transfer House (transfer point for city buses and streetcars) is no longer a need, but the structure can retain its history and have its best days ahead of it -- if proper planning is done. The past can play very well in the future of our city -- and be another revenue source to help us.
Listen to the “City Hall Insider” hour with Paul Osborne on Byers & Co. at 7:00 every Thursday morning over NEWS/TALK 1340 WSOY. Also ask to be a friend on Facebook at “Decatur Tribune” and continue to check in for news on this website at decaturtribune.net