Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman plans to roll out a solar energy initiative this year that has the potential to be a “game changer” for the city, he said.
By adding solar panels to power all city-owned buildings and streetlights, Luedeman said the city can save at least $3.2 mil- lion over the next 25 years.
That savings could pay for needed renovations and upgrades to city hall and still give the city additional money for other projects, he said.
The renovation needs at city hall include heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and lighting and are estimated to cost around $2 million.
“We cannot Band-Aid this building much longer,” he said. “I think this is a no-brainer.”
Luedeman discussed the measure along with other future projects and needs in the annual State of the City address at the end of the regular city council meeting Monday night.
“I’m kind of looking into our crystal ball,” he said. “What things can we change to make things better for our future?”
Luedeman said all of the projects and needs of the city are being driven by growth.
Going solar is an idea he is modeling after North Vernon, which is the first city government in Indiana to be completely powered by solar energy.
“I’ve watched North Vernon go through their process. It took them over three and a half years,” he said. “It’s not that hard of a process. It’s something that I think we need to take a look at.”
He plans to recommend the city council request proposals from a few solar energy companies to get the project going. Luedeman has been working with Councilman Matt Nicholson since last year to study the feasibility of implementing solar energy.
“I highly recommend that we do this,” Luedeman said.
Besides generating electricity for city buildings and streetlights, Luedeman said another option to look at is building a solar farm at Freeman Field to provide similar cost savings to the industrial park. The solar panels could be installed at the former Seymour Recycling site since that property can’t be developed due to contamination, Luedeman said.
The city would then be able to guarantee industries that their electric bills will not go over a certain price for 25 to 30 years, he said.
“I don’t know a city in America that could go to a business right now and guarantee that their electric bill will not go up,” he said. “I think it could be a huge economic boom for our city.”
Luedeman has presented the solar farm idea to the city’s airport authority to study since it controls all property at Freeman Field.
“I think when you look at the possibility of putting us on the map and retaining our businesses, this could be the game changer we need for recruitment and people moving into this area,” he said. “Again, ways to offer a savings and keep our businesses here and keep them growing right here in Seymour, Indiana.”
Another project that will begin this year is the south side sewer project. The city has purchased all of the land needed for the new sewer line, and said he Luedeman expects the project to go out to bid in the next two to three months.
The $15.5 million project was proposed in 2013 and just received approval from the Jackson County Commissioners last week, as some of the sewer line will be outside city limits.
The work is aimed at easing sewer capacity issues in the existing system south of U.S. 50 (Tipton Street) and opening up areas for future growth.
Currently, the city has a self-imposed sewer ban in the affected area, meaning no new sewer hookups are being allowed east of Burkart Boulevard at this time. That ban will end once the project is complete.
Moving from sewers to roads, Luedeman said Seymour was awarded another $8.5 million from the Indiana Department of Transportation for the first phase of the Burkart South extension. That brings the city up to $12.5 million awarded for the planned road, which is estimated to cost $25 to $30 million and will include a much-needed railroad overpass.
With matching dollars from the city, Luedeman said the total amount the city has for the project is closer to $15 million, or half of what is needed.
Besides planning new sewers and new roads, the city also currently is constructing a new downtown park, which will serve as a community gathering place for concerts, the Seymour Area Farmers Market and other outdoor events.
The $3.5 million Crossroads Community Park is scheduled to be completed in June. It is being funded by the city’s redevelopment commission using tax increment financing revenue.
Luedeman said the city’s parks and recreation department will be a big focus this year with ongoing efforts to increase the number of people coming here for baseball and softball tournaments and continuing progress on adding trails throughout the city.
Park plans include discussions on building another sports complex, renovating One Chamber Square, completing the third and final phase of the skate park, increasing security, expanding and improving parking and adding a splash pad at one of the parks.
One idea Luedeman has come up with is to turn the existing 25-year-old city pool into a splash pad and build a new indoor pool in partnership with Seymour High School that could be used by both parties year-round.
“It’s just an idea I’m throwing out there to think about,” he said.
He also wants to see more public art, including murals and interactive art, in the city and is looking to work with a former Seymour artist to make that happen.
The parks play a big role in helping recruit people to the community, he said.
“Just recruiting people to come to your community because there’s a job there just doesn’t happen anymore,” he said. “You’ve got to make them have something to do.”
Besides the parks department, Luedeman said the city’s fire department also is going to have some major needs and expenses in the coming years, including a new aerial ladder truck, renovations and upgrades at Station 1 and the need for a new fire station on the west side of the city.
There also are additional needs for more stormwater improvements in the Meadowlark, Allegretti and Juliann drive neighborhoods off of South Walnut Street.
After Saturday’s storm, Luedeman said there was about 3 feet of standing water in intersections, and residents couldn’t get to their homes because the water was so deep.
“It’s definitely a target area for the future, but unfortunately, it’s not cheap,” he said.
Luedeman wants to see the city continue to grow, but without looking into annexing more property into city limits, that won’t happen.
“We’re getting to the point where we can’t physically grow anymore unless we have an annexation,” he said.
Putting a price to all of the projects and work the city will need in the next few years, along with some wish list items, Luedeman estimates it will cost a total of $105 million.
He plans to utilize grants, cost savings from solar energy, the redevelopment commission, partnerships, capital bonds and look at raising sewer and trash collection rates to pay for it all.
Regardless of the work that needs to be done, Luedeman is optimistic the city has great things ahead of it.
“I think this is going to be one of our best years ever with everything we have planned,” he said. “So let’s get busy and get to work.”