Jasper leaders prioritize city projects


JASPER — Mayor Dean Vonderheide, the Jasper Common Council and other city department heads met Thursday afternoon to begin the process of prioritizing projects that will enhance the city in years to come.

Dozens of projects were listed and ranked in order of necessity, whether there is funding and if the projects are already in progress. Projects included all city departments, including infrastructure improvements, potential countywide trail construction and continued downtown revitalization.

Downtown revitalization work, which will include things such as facade improvements, will focus on the Downtown Square area for now, Vonderheide said, as the city cannot yet realistically afford to move into other areas yet.

One big project, the construction of a new multi-million dollar aquatic center, is being discussed by local officials but doesn’t have any official plan or funding yet. The center, which received the most interaction via public surveys, City Attorney Renee Kabrick said, was placed fairly high on the priority list.

Vonderheide said the project will almost definitely need outside funding, though.

“We’re going to need stakeholders,” he said, “this can’t just be a municipal project. It could end up being $20 million … it could be less, it could be even more.”

Vonderheide said the city has spoken with several others, including the Indiana National Guard, about how the project can be completed. The city is working on finalizing a potential location first.

“For a long time, with this project, I was looking at a Mount Everest,” Vonderheide said. “But now, I think it is achievable … if we line up the partners up front.”

Another high-priority project discussed was the construction of a countywide, multi-use trail system. The city doesn’t have funding for it yet, partially because the Indiana Department of Transportation — which would likely fund a good portion of it — plans its grants out several years in advance.

“If we want to take on segments of it by ourselves,” Vonderheide said, “we have to find the dollars.”

This summer, the city also plans to create a list of abandoned or run-down houses so that it can move forward with finding a way to rehabilitate them. At the time, this list will only include owner-occupied spaces, not rental properties.

“There are more abandoned homes here in Jasper than you’d think,” Vonderheide said. “The problem is that they can really pull down the rest of the neighborhood.”

Code Enforcement Officer Kenny Hochgesang said that many of the owners of the properties would likely be willing to work with the city to fix them if they were told that they need to or are offered some form of help.

Any potential projects on the prioritization list would all ultimately require the approval of the appropriate government boards before being undertaken by the city. City officials will meet again in the future to further discuss the projects.

“This isn’t setting anything in stone yet,” Vonderheide said. “We just can’t commit until we prioritize our projects.”

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