The City of Greencastle and the Putnam County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) are joining forces to go back to the future.

The city and the CVB are purchasing the old Penn Central Railroad freight depot building, moving and renovating it to become a People Pathways trailhead and base for nature education programs as well as making the location home to a bicycle rental program to encourage residents and visitors to ride People Pathways. That includes a new segment to be installed along Veterans Memorial Highway in 2024.

Plans are to move the depot from its present location along the south side of Berry Street, just west of Crown Street, in the city’s South End to vacant property at the southeast corner of Veterans Highway and Cemetery Road. The vacant site is city-owned land at the northwest corner of Forest Hill Cemetery property.

The site is “surplus land,” Mayor Bill Dory said, indicating it is not usable as cemetery property. The project provides an opportunity “to preserve a piece of local history,” he added.

The location is considered key because it provides parking and a view of the silo mural that has beautified the northwest corner of the U.S. 231-Veterans Highway intersection.

After first negotiating with Vectren/Centerpoint Energy for two years from September 2020 for a site at the southwest corner of the U.S. 231-Veterans Highway intersection, the CVB purchased the freight depot for $10,000 with the intent of moving it by February 2023. However, the gas company subsequently declined to lease its property to the CVB.

“That’s a major gateway into the city,” Eric Freeman, executive director of the CVB, told the City Council at its November meeting.

Calling the Vectren site “an ugly corner” with an “opportunity to beautify it,” Freeman said the motivation was the current lack of a place for people to park and enjoy the silo mural as well as a chance “to use it as a branding opportunity” for Putnam Parks and Pathways.

The new site off Cemetery Road is “really a good second option,” Freeman said, adding that the Cemetery Board “is enthusiastically supportive.”

Mayor Dory agreed, noting it is ground the city (Cemetery Department) has to mow anyway.

“It’s the same area that’s been looked at for a community garden,” he added, “but there were some issues with the soils test for growing food.”

The plan includes the city providing $27,500 in EDIT funds, listed as a City Council allocation, to own the building, Putnam Parks and Pathways to cover utility costs and building/liability insurance in perpetuity, Forest Hill Cemetery to maintain the grounds and the Heritage Preservation Society of Putnam County to restore the building exterior to its original appearance and leverage it to build a brand for Putnam Parks and Pathways. The building is to be lighted with a large Putnam Parks and Pathways logo.

City Clerk-Treasurer/Mayor-elect Lynda Dunbar called the bicycle rental portion of the proposed project “a fabulous idea.”

“That’s what they put the pathways in for, we might as well use them,” she added while suggesting that organizers look into putting restrooms at the site.

“The site is big enough,” Mayor Dory said, “that it might be easier to put restrooms on site instead of inside the depot.”

He called the restroom suggestion “a great idea” that might be accomplished “in a couple different ways.”

The cost of moving the building carries a current bid of $26,000, Freeman said, with an additional $2,000 needed to temporarily remove overhead utility lines.

Three bids to construct a foundation at the new location, install a gravel drive, cement curbs and a gravel parking lot range from $27,500 to $39,000. It is understood that the parking lot and drive will need to be paved in accordance with city zoning requirements and that work cannot be included in the Next Level Trails grant funding for the new People Pathways segment. Paving will be undertaken in a second phase.

Meanwhile, site design and planning work will be provided at no charge by Align Civil Engineering of Greencastle, and the Cemetery Board will donate use of two parcels of its land at the new location.

Overall the project cost is estimated at $55,000 — $28,000 to move the building and temporarily remove utility lines and $27,5000 to construct a foundation and gravel drive/parking area at the new site. The CVB Board has agreed to fund half of the total cost if the city agreed to fund the other half.

Had the city not agreed to fund half the cost, the CVB would have been forced to deed the depot back to the current property owner and scuttle the project.

However, Councilman Darrel Thomas made the motion to support the project and finance the city’s share out of EDIT dollars. The motion was approved unanimously with Council members Stacie Langdon, Dave Murray, Cody Eckert, Russell Harvey and Veronica Pejril adding affirmative votes. Council President Mark Hammer was absent.

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