We’ve done an annual ‘year in review’ for a few years now and it always amazes me looking back on the year that was. From the new construction, the infrastructure projects and all the planning that goes into running a city, it’s exciting to look back and see the fruits of that labor. So, if you’re stuck at home due to the weather or simply want to find out what we were up to this year, take a few minutes to look back at Elkhart’s 2022.
This was the year that many of the big, capital projects that we have been planning for finally got underway. The first was the water main extension to the industrial park. This project “looped” the water lines to the industrial park to provide higher water pressure for fighting potential fires. We established a connection fee district along that water line that would require developers to pay the city in order to hook up to the new water line whenever that area develops. That connection fee would entirely repay the city for the cost of the project.
The next big project was the city’s new maintenance shop building. Before this building, our public works employees, Ron and Rick, worked out of a two-stall garage. Much of our equipment had to be kept outside due to the lack of space. The new building provides four additional stalls to house equipment, a workshop area, an office, and plenty of storage.
Another big infrastructure project that started this year was Phase 1 of the stormwater / old lagoon reconstruction and park improvement project. The storm water portion of this project is a 5-year phased venture beginning on the east (lowest) side of Elkhart and working west. It started this spring with the dredging of the old sewer lagoons and continued during the summer and fall with the addition of new stormwater lines and grading of the old lagoons. This was necessary as we will be directing most of the city’s storm water runoff into those old lagoons.
After the ponds become the city’s stormwater detention basins, they will also become the centerpiece of the greatly expanded Prairie Pointe Park. The ponds will be stocked with fish and become an urban fishing destination complete with an ADA accessible fishing pier. The overall park will feature a shelter with public restrooms, walking trails, water features, a new toddler playground and even a small amphitheater!
The Parks and Recreation Committee is actively applying for grant funding for these great amenities. The park portion of this project is expected to begin in the spring of 2023 with grading and trail work and take about two years to fully complete. All told, the city has received over a million dollars in grants and local donations to assist in the funding of this project.
After Phase 1 of the storm water portion of the project is complete, we will be actively planning and designing the next several phases which will reach the west side of town in the coming years and help with drainage issues on the west side.
Other small projects completed this year included the installation of the new handicapped access in front of the post office and fire hydrant repair and painting throughout the community.
I know it’s still 2022 but there are a couple big projects that will be starting in the spring of 2023 that will be going out for bid very soon. The first is the water treatment plant improvement project. This project will increase our water capacity significantly with a new well, along with providing high quality water by adding new filters, in-line aerators and a new ammonia removal process. Water, of course, is vital to the growth of a community and Elkhart is committed to providing a sustainable, high quality water service to its residents. In addition, this project will help clear up the orange tint of the water by removing the iron content before it gets into the distribution system.
We’ll also be improving our main lift station starting next spring as well. This lift station is, perhaps, the single most important piece of infrastructure in Elkhart – moving everyone’s sanitary waste from their homes to the sewer lagoon north of town. As the city grows, it’s critical that the lift station is able to handle the new development. So, this coming spring we’ll be upgrading the pumps and adding redundancy to keep the system from backing up if pumps should fail while taking on the expected growth.
Speaking of that growth, let’s get back to 2022. It’s no secret that Elkhart has been growing rapidly since around 2019. However, due to rising interest rates and higher construction costs, development has cooled a little this year. As of this writing, we approved 83 building permits in 2022, which includes 23 for new construction (16 single-family residential and 7 commercial). That’s down from last year where we approved an incredible 110 building permits – 51 of those were for single-family new construction and 15 were for commercial new construction. The remaining permits this year went to primarily fence, deck or trade applications. Although it’s down from last year, it is still more permits than we approved in 2020 when only 78 permits were approved.
As interest rates continue to inch their way back down, I look for continued growth here in the NE metro. Perhaps 2023 will be a mirror of 2022 growth with regards to residential development. However, long-term, with Costco in Ankeny leading the way to our southwest and Bondurant to the southeast, I see significant residential growth picking right back up in 2024. That’s why we’re making all our infrastructure improvements now, so that we can continue to have capacity to serve all the new development. And, in working with area cities, we will be able to help manage that expected growth and continue to be good neighbors.
In staff news, the fire department was active again this year, as well. Looking at past call volumes – in 2014, the department responded to 95 calls. By 2019, that increased to 135. Last year, it increased even more to 166. This year, so far, they have responded to close to 150 calls. Our department members are putting in a lot of time to help keep you and your family safe. And they are always looking at recruiting more members. If you think you have what it takes to be part of the Elkhart Fire Department, please call us!
The department has twice a month training and make on average 12-15 calls a month. All that work didn’t stop them from taking a little time to hold their annual Hog Roast and a number of pancake breakfasts throughout the year. The Department was even kind enough to give the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause a ride through town! Thanks to Scott Drey, our Fire Chief, and all the department members for stepping up to meet the growing demand.
This fall, our City Clerk, Brenda, implemented the FrontDesk program – a program for residents to pay utility bills online and be able to track their water usage. If you haven’t signed up yet, please give Brenda a call.
The city held a special election to fill a vacant council seat on December 13th. Angie Schaffer won and was duly sworn in at the Council meeting on December 19th. Angie joins council members Brian Shipley, Steve Allen, Brad Fordyce and Nathan Gillmore as your City Council for the next year until the next regular election in 2023. Congratulations on your election win, Angie.
I’ve already mentioned the upcoming water treatment plant project, the lift station project and continued park improvements. But there is so much more!
We should see the final plat of Elk Run Phase 1 reach build-out along Adams Avenue on the far east side of town. There are already several new families moving into homes along Adams Avenue and the remaining lots should be full by the end of next year. We will also see streets being poured and foundations being dug in the first phase of Kimberley Woods. That development north of Prairie Pointe Park will ultimately bring over 300 new families to our community when it reaches build-out in a few years. Plus, the first phase of Kimberley Woods will include a large child-care provider which is slated to open in the spring. It is anticipated this daycare will serve over 150 children with before- and after-school programs, as well. That should spur even more residential development here in Elkhart.
We have also approved the purchase of new playground equipment for the west-side park. That playground equipment will be installed in the summer of 2023.
Next year will see some staffing additions as well. We are in the process of adding a Deputy Clerk position and will also be adding a third fulltime public works person to assist Ron and Rick.
Some of you may have noticed the gas line work being done as you come into town on the west side. That work is re-routing a gas line for the DOT’s upcoming bridge / interchange work along the I-35 corridor. Eventually the gas line that’s going into the ground now will become part of a larger gas main line that will serve Elkhart with additional capacity for natural gas service. The new, much larger gas main, will be installed by MidAmerican Energy next year and should be operational by November, 2023.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I know it’s a lot to take in all at once, but we hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we’ve enjoyed making it happen. We’re excited about all we’ve accomplished and everything that’s coming next year. Have a very happy holiday season and a safe and healthy new year, everyone.