IU partnership defines costs, benefits of construction

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A partnership between multiple entities throughout Owen County and Indiana University, Bloomington’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, or SPEA, led to a presentation outlining how the construction along State Road 46 through Spencer will impact the community both now and in the future.

SPEA did a plan two years ago for the town of Spencer, and other classes completing capstone projects focused on the town are planned.

Construction on State Road 46 began in April and is scheduled to continue until 2018.

The most recent presentation, which was Monday evening at The Historic Tivoli Theater, 24 N. Washington St., Spencer, was at the Spencer Main Street board meeting.

“In the coming years, the town of Spencer, Indiana will face substantial economic impacts arising from the reconstruction of State Road 46, also known as Morgan Street, a major artery through the heart of the town,” the executive summary of the project, which was handed out at the meeting said. “With adequate planning and stakeholder involvement, this construction presents a unique opportunity for Spencer civic organizations to strengthen connections with each other and the public, enhance economic development efforts and increase support for tourism and downtown revitalization.”

“We have identified approximately 60 businesses that are impacted during the construction,” Sarah Mosier, a student presenting the project said.

The project consisted of three main areas, with the first being an analysis of the cost and benefits of the construction along State Road 46. The project included a construction survival guide to help local businesses minimize the impact of the construction.

“We recommend submitting that to all local businesses in the area,” Mosier said of the guide.

She said that following the advice will help maximize the long term benefits.

Mosier suggested collaboration between businesses. In other communities, collaboration has led to shared parking, shuttle systems and delivery systems during construction to allow businesses to continue serving customers.

“It’s not just one or two. It’s many businesses that are affected, so in other situations, when other towns have gone through this kind of thing, we  do see a lot of collaboration from those local businesses,” Mosier said.

The second area that the report touched on was how to effectively communicate with the community. The students focused on the building of a website to share the information and what such a site could look like.

“It’s critical to communicate effectively with the community to ensure a successful project,” Amy Carter, another student presenting the project said. “Early in our discussions with Owen County Chamber, a website was mentioned.”

She walked through some ideas and samples of what other towns have done for similar websites and projects and touched why it is important to share construction information with the public.

“According to some 2015 data that we had, there are 13 and one-half thousand residents employed — about 66 percent are working in Owen County, and 34 percent work outside  the county,” she said. “And then there is an additional 1,100 individuals who work in Owen County but live outside the county.”

After sharing statistics on smart phone and internet use throughout the county, Carter once again focused on the website.

“It’s a prime way to reach people throughout the county,” she said. “There are a ton of about construction … But we really focused on a website.”

A website, she said, would be able to show pedestrian routes to inform people on where it is safe to cross and what intersections ought to be avoided.

“I’ve heard discussions, even tonight, about how dangerous some of the areas are getting,” Carter said.

The last student to present was Valerie Pena, who switched gears to provide goals for Spencer Main Street to try to achieve as an organization to help revitalize downtown.

“The beauty of Spencer Main Street is the downtown renovation and revitalization goes far beyond the platform or areas within the downtown area,” Pena said. “It truly will change the whole concept and the whole premise of Owen County. It will have that much of an influence on that.”

Pena saw much of the same happen in Bloomington throughout the last 30 years.

“And I say that speaking somewhat from background,” she said. “I came to Bloomington, Indiana in 1985, and anyone who happened to know downtown Bloomington back then, it wasn’t that great. It had a lot of issues… It’s like watching that all again, and we know that there will be this great future at the end when all of the programs are put together.”

Pena said in order for Spencer Main Street and other organizations to find success, the best method is to collaborate and find projects that are mutually beneficial to multiple groups.

“In a community this size, there’s not much to gain by hanging out on your own and just figuring, ‘I don’t need anybody else, I’ve got my own and we’re going down that path,’” Pena said. “We haven’t seen that at all with you all, and we want to make sure that continues.”

This fall, another IU Bloomington class will focus on planning and community development and will focus on Spencer.

“I think SPEA is very dedicated, and I know Frank (Nierzwicki) is very dedicated to helping this community,” Pena said. “We think it has tremendous potential.”

The students answered questions from the audience, including what the next step they think Spencer Main Street should take.

“We tried to do a checklist that was actionable, not just broad things, but action items,” Carter said, adding that it allows the group to focus on something is doable and attainable.

Nierzwicki, a clinical assistant professor for the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said SPEA has an interest in Owen County.

“You always have a friend in Bloomington, believe it or not,” Nierzwicki said.

Steve Withem, president of the Spencer Main Street board of directors, said he appreciates what SPEA is doing.

“Sometimes you forget that your original intention was to drain the swamp when you’re up to your a** in alligators,” Withem said.

Spencer Main Street is comprised of volunteers, which is why Whitem is grateful that SPEA has an interest in helping the town.

“To a volunteer organization like ours, that’s very valuable,” he said.

To hire consultants to do the work the students did for their capstone project would cost tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

“We don’t have that type of money,” Withem said.

After the presentation, the board had their regular meeting in which they approved the minutes from their last meeting and solidified the details for their upcoming dinner on Aug. 14.

Tickets still are being sold for $10 each.

Withem told the rest of the board how much he appreciates what they do for the organization.

“One thing that’s not lost on me is how hard everyone with Main Street works,” he said.