Roann set to make precedent for Indiana

By Joseph Slacian

ROANN – The Town of Roann is on the verge of setting a statewide precedent.

The Roann Town Council will have a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, to create a park that includes a portion of land where the former Roann School building once stood.

The building was razed in June 2018, thanks in part to a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) received from the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) by the town and Wabash County Commissioners to demolish the building and create a green space at the site.

“Whenever you do a Community Development Block Grant for blight, you have to designate what that space is going to be used for, because they want to make sure it’s being used for the whole community,” Clerk-Treasurer Bob Ferguson told The Paper of Wabash County. “Of course, when we first did the project it was Wabash County and the Town of Roann who owned the property. For us to actually say what it would be used for, that would be a whole new conversation. So what we did was call it green space.

“Green space means exactly how it sounds. You can’t put a park on to it. You can’t put benches on to it. You can’t put a pavilion on to it. It’s green space.”

The site is now owned solely by the Town of Roann. Commissioners signed the property over to the town on Feb. 9.

In the past, to change the designation community officials would simply inform OCRA that they wanted to change the designation from green space to park and leisure. However, that process has been changed over the past year.

“Once you designate the property as green space, park, you can’t change that for five years, unless you go through the redesignation process,” Ferguson explained. “No other town in the State of Indiana, no other project in the State of Indiana has gone through this process. We are going to be the first.”

Ferguson said he has been in contact with OCRA officials asking about various steps in the process.

“They keep telling me, ‘Well, I don’t know. We’re going to learn this together,” he said.

Ferguson and the head of the CDBG program have been working together for about three months on the matter.

In order to get the original CDBG grant, a hearing took place in which residents were informed the former school site would be turned into green space. Since town officials now what to change the designation to park and leisure, another hearing must take place.

“You want to make sure it can still be sued for everyone,” Ferguson said. “When OCRA and HUD and everyone originally approved getting the school razed and making it green space, they kept the opinion of the people of Roann in mind, and they wanted to make sure it could be used by everyone.

“Now, we want to make sure we can continue that, and they don’t want you putting in something that can only be used by certain people or by certain groups of people. It can be used by everybody. That’s why the public hearing.”

Council members invite residents to attend the hearing and to express their views on the matter.

“Those are opinions good or bad,” he said. “Remember, we’re setting a precedent here for the whole state. However, Roann does this, that’s the way the whole state’s going to have to do it from now on.”

While that could be a daunting task to some, Ferguson is excited by that prospect.

“To most people, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” he said. “To me, that’s exciting, because we are now setting the precedent for the state. That kind of stuff just invigorates me because I’m thinking, ‘Wow, now we’re doing something that’s never been done before and now we’re getting to take the blank canvas and draw on the big, blank canvas, and now we’re setting it up.
“From now on, whenever someone wants to change the designation or something like that, they’re going to be calling me saying, ‘What’s the resolution look like?’

Part of the process to change includes sending a drawing about what the proposed change will look like. Ferguson drew the rendition sent to OCRA.

“We didn’t want to spend money on architects and engineers and all of that stuff because we didn’t think it was necessary, and OCRA didn’t think it was necessary either,” he said.

OCRA officials, according to Ferguson, said the town could vary from the rough drawing, noting they just wanted somewhat of an idea of what the land would be used for.

The Roann Little League diamond is part of what would be a 7.6 acre park.

“We would like to add some pavilions,” Ferguson said, so people can gather for family reunions and other celebrations. “There would be an area for kids to play. We want to have things for all ages.”

A monument using bricks and the entrances to the old school also would be included in the new park.

“We don’t really know, because we haven’t discussed, what that monument will look like,” he said. “That’s going to be planned out and we’ll see how that plays out.”

Many of the decisions will rely on recommendations from either a parks board or parks council which the town council approved. Ultimately, the council will make the final decision.

Following the public hearing, the town council will consider a resolution seeking the change. Once the resolution is approved, it can be sent to OCRA. There, Ferguson expects it to be quickly approved by OCRA.

“I’m very, very confident that they’re going to approve it because we’ve worked on this for the last three months together, so I’m sure they’re going to say, ‘This all looks good, let’s go ahead and go with it,” Ferguson said, saying the approval will come within “days” of its submission.

“This will only help our community,” he continued. “That was the big thing. We want this to kind of go along with how we tried to do everything else. We want to make Roann a better place to live, grow and play. By getting the park area in this area,  it’s going to do all three of those things. It’s going to give the kids a place to go, the parents a place to go, give senior citizens a place to go.

“We want to look at all of that and have something in that park for everyone.”

Posted on 2019 Jun 11