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Wed, Sep 17, 2014 01:36 PM
Issue of September 10, 2014
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Laura Minzes, deputy director of historic sites, structures and land for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, unveils some of the planned changes to be made next year on the square in downtown Corydon in preparation for Indiana's bicentennial celebration in 2016. Photo by Alan Stewart

State plans renovation of Corydon square

Lawn would be closed most of 2015

August 06, 2014 | 09:21 AM

Darrell Voelker, director of the Harrison County Economic Development Corp., asked Laura Minzes, deputy director of historic sites, structures and land for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, to clarify a statement she made last Wednesday night at a public meeting at the Wright Interpretive Center in Corydon.

"What do you mean 'down'?" Voelker asked, in reference to the square in downtown Corydon.

"I mean, down. Like, it will not be available to be used at all," Minzes said.

Though the announcement sounds harsh, in reality a relatively short-term headache will yield long-term results as the state plans a million-dollar makeover for Corydon's town square in 2015 as Indiana prepares for its bicentennial in 2016.

About 40 people, including those who are part of the state's project team, were on hand at the public unveiling of the project, which is scheduled to take place from Jan. 1 to Oct. 15 at a cost of $1,099,000. That means Friday night band concerts, Bluegrass on the Square, the Easter egg hunt and other events that typically take place in the heart of downtown Corydon will have to take place elsewhere for about 10 months. The goal allows for added time to have work completed by Dec. 15, 2015.

"The state sees the official beginning of the bicentennial to be Dec. 11, 2015, so this gives a six-week window in case anything happens next year," Bec Riley, site administrator at the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site, said.

Riley went on to say, and Minzes reiterated, that the building would only be closed long enough for the rock-slab walkway leading up to it to be replaced to fall into ADA compliance. Other than when the rock-slab walkway is removed, the building will be open for the traditional fourth-grade tours, and sidewalks around the square, including the sidewalk leading to the main entrance of the courthouse, would be accessible.

"We're looking at a few days that the Capitol Building would be closed, but that's it," Minzes said. "The sidewalks around the square will remain open, with the sidewalk that cuts (north-south) through the square being closed."

"My office is totally on board with this. We know it's something that has to be done and it's a headache, but it's temporary. We'll look at alternate sites to have Bluegrass and other events," Jeremy Yackle, the county's Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director, said. "It's in the best interest of the building and the square and will help make sure it's enjoyable for others to enjoy in the future."

Of the overall cost, Minzes said $621,420 would come from the state, $177,580 would come from the Indiana State Museum and $300,000 would come from private donors, which could include the general public, tourism and town or county entities.

Minzes estimated the cost of fixing drainage on the square to be about $550,000 and $280,000 to re-do electric lines. The rest of the cost would go toward renovation work of the Hurley D. Conrad Memorial Bandstand, ticket booth (on the northwest side of the First State Capitol Building) and Porter Law Office building, as well as continue with the refurbishment of the Constitution Elm and its sandstone monument.

Also included in the cost is the cutting down of dead or disease-susceptible trees and planting new trees and the establishment of a forestation program that will replace trees lost in the future.

The trees on the square that are known to be prone to weak wood, hollowing, disease, etc. have been identified, Minzes said.

"Our next step will be to have an urban forester look at the health of those trees so that we know exactly which ones to remove," she said. "We have no intention of taking down trees outside of the ones in the drainage areas until we have to because of safety concerns for the public and/or structures therein."

Minzes said the project almost entirely deals with infrastructure, from a lack of, or slow, drainage in the "bowl" the First State Capitol Building sits in, to a shallow electrical system originally buried in the square right after World War II.

"With the drainage problem, we have moisture wicking up into the limestone, which presents a variety of issues. The slab-stone walkway (in front of the First State Capitol Building) needs to meet ADA guidelines. And there are electrical problems all over the square. Dig once and down once; we want to dig one time and have the square down one time," Minzes said. "Our goal is to get 100 percent of the water away from the square."

To do that, Minzes said, a new drainage system will be put into place and includes three rain gardens that slowly leech water from the square to the rain gardens so the runoff won't overwhelm the town of Corydon's drainage system.

Minzes went on to say that the state had considered installing an HVAC system in the First State Capitol but decided against it because testing showed the structure "breathes" very well.

Minzes said a magnetometer was used to map out where former structures on the square were located. Some the state knew about, and others it didn't. The state also needed to know where current electric lines are buried so those could be buried deeper.

Answering a question from the audience, Minzes said there were no plans to replace the fence taken down last year due to the replacement cost and potential liability issues once the wood begins to rot, as past wooden fences have done. Another question to the panel was if the state had considered a more durable fencing, such as iron.

"What I am hearing is rehabilitation versus restoration. With restoration you are returning something to original condition and appropriate to a point in time. That's not what we're doing with the town square. We are focusing on rehabilitation, improving what we have," Link Ludington, chief of Historic Preservation at Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, said.

Regarding the Constitution Elm, which was recently stripped of creosote, Ludington said the current monument was built by the Works Progress Administration. After examining past photos, it was determined that approximately four to five feet was cut from the base before the remnants of the Elm were encased in the sandstone monument. From there, not much else is known about the construction of the moment.

"If there are people who have memories of the construction of the monument, or who were told from people who were there, we'd like to talk to them and fill in some gaps in our research," Ludington said.

The key focal points of the work at the Elm site is to have the railing and plaque redone. There's also a proposal that would have a circular brick outline of the drip line of the Elm's far-reaching branches.

"All of this is a proposal," Minzes said. "There are some other things that may not be feasible, but we want to make sure, when we complete this work, that we've done the best job that we can."

Twitter: @TCD_alan

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    August 07, 2014 | 09:17 AM

    While I love that there will be improvement to downtown, I wish that everyone also cared about the streets close to downtown. There are houses so rotted that they should be torn down and some houses with piles of garbage in their yard, all within walking distance to historic downtown and the fairgrounds. When will this issue be addressed?

  2. print email
    August 07, 2014 | 02:46 PM

    Let's tear up ALL the history of the square right before we celebrate how good the history was. historic means old, not new concrete and removal of the things that make our square, well us. Might as well just bulldoze it and pave over it. we need parking downtown anyway. but whatever looks nice for the tourist for a couple of weeks, right?

  3. print email
    August 07, 2014 | 06:53 PM

    Poor drainage, dying trees, and a WW2 electrical system makes our square "us"? No one is "tearing up ALL the history". It's being preserved. Things deteriorate and require maintenance. You don't appear to have read the article. None of the structures are being removed. The Gazebo will be repaired. It needs it. The ground and utilities within the square is where most of the changes will occur. Hopefully, when it is finished, you'll have a nice place to either relax & enjoy the preserved history of our local area, or a nice place to rant & complain about everything.

  4. print email
    August 08, 2014 | 01:07 PM

    This ^^^^^ I nominate as the post of the year. No truer words have been spoken.

    Regarding the first post, I don't believe the state has any say in houses, or how people take care of them. Perhaps you should offer to help?

  5. print email
    August 08, 2014 | 11:49 PM

    Actually some states and cities can have and enforce ordinances to keep things clean.

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