Courthouse Square back on city's radar

Allen Laman/The Herald
Danielle Traylor of Velpen uses a crosswalk on the Courthouse Square in Jasper on Thursday afternoon.


JASPER — Revitalizing the Jasper Courthouse Square is back on the city’s radar.

Wednesday, the Jasper Common Council was briefed on 4-year-old designs that were aimed at updating the Square’s infrastructure and enhancing the quality of life downtown.

Mayor Dean Vonderheide explained that updating the area is again a high priority for Jasper leadership. He said the presentation was aimed at “getting everybody on the same page.”

“It’s an opportunity,” Vonderheide said of the work that could potentially reshape the city’s heart. “What we have, is we have a real need for infrastructure replacement. We’ve got stormwater issues, we have aged infrastructure with our waterlines and sanitary sewer. And if we’re going to tear up to do anything, we’re going to tear up to do it all.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Kevin Osburn, a principal architect at Rundell Ernstberger Associates of Indianapolis, explained that the project's original goals focused on producing a space that would encourage downtown living, catalyze private investment and create a walkable, pedestrian-friendly space and “vibrant mixed-use regional destination at the heart of downtown.”

“And then really, it’s really about investing in the future of the city as well,” Osburn said.

According to the city’s 2013 comprehensive plan, this meant slightly reducing the space dedicated to cars to lay wider sidewalks, creating “activity nodes” in the four corners of the Courthouse Square, planting trees and more. Under Rundell Ernstberger’s plan, brick pavers would have been installed on sidewalks and in parking areas — but the roadway would have remained asphalt.

Work on the Square was shelved in 2017 as the city moved forward on two other projects — the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center and Parklands of Jasper. The 2019 Impact Jasper Comprehensive Plan reestablished the Square as a top priority.

Existing conditions in the area are less than ideal. The Courthouse Square itself and legs of Main Street were ranked in “very poor condition” per the city’s 2016 pavement condition ranking. The pavement needs to be replaced, Osburn said, as do the sidewalks, ramps, curbs and planters.

Waterlines in the area were built 100 years ago and are “well beyond their useful life,” Osburn said, as are the sanitary sewers, which were built in the early 1940s. The storm pipes are made of clay — a material no longer used when building storm sewers.

Vonderheide explained that while raised sidewalk areas have been brought down to reduce tripping hazards, some hazards still persist.

The project’s total price tag was $4.5 million when it was officially put on hold three years ago.

“We paid a lot of money for the study that they did and the proposal that they presented,” Vonderheide said of the Rundell Ernstberger design plans. “And if we’re going to address this, I didn’t want to be redundant in paying a lot of money and doing a lot of effort on that side of it. I want to at least start with where we left off.”

Vonderheide now plans to assemble a core team consisting of downtown merchants and residents, council members and other groups that will guide the project planning moving forward. He described Wednesday’s meeting as a starting line.

Tying the Courthouse Square's shopping and restaurant offerings into the city’s nearby attractions, he said, is critical to the city’s future economic development.

“We can’t ignore this element of it,” the mayor said. “It’s just that at the last time, it was a matter of priorities and funding. And so now, let’s dust it off and let’s figure out what it is we not just need — but what it is we want to do with the downtown area.”

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