Several project underway to improve quality of life in Columbia City

Local News

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (WANE) — Construction is not hard to find in Columbia City. Quality of life and expansion projects can be found throughout the area.

But this is not new for the city of nearly 10,000, which has seen steady growth, especially over the last decade. Columbia City was even named one of the fastest-growing cities in Indiana.

Mayor Ryan Daniel said he believes part of the city’s success is its location to U.S. 30, and the other part to the city’s continuing focus on improving quality of life.

“Communities are either growing or dying,” Mayor Ryan Daniel said. “We continue to invest in those amenities that are going to bring and attract people and retain talent to our area. (And) I think most importantly it’s our people. Our people are welcoming, wonderful, loving individuals and we continue to find ways to be hospitable to our neighbors.”

Currently, there are several projects in different phases that officials believe will draw more people to the city as well as make Columbia City a community residents will want to be a part of.

Master Plan for former Columbia City High School

For more than a decade Columbia City has tried to build a new high school. This coming fall, that dream will become a reality with the opening of its new high school located off of Highway 9.

But what will happen to the old high school? City leaders plan to transform that section of town into a new park.

“We are excited about the opportunity for it,” Daniel said. “We have all kinds of wonderful things we have planned for this generational project that will really transform our parks system here in Columbia City.”

The $50 million project will be done in phases. Plans call for an amphitheater, skate park, and indoor athletic gymnasium, along with a bridge over the river to connect to Morsches Park, and more.

Once students move to the new high school and the old high school is demolished, the city will take possession of the property and start what Mayor Ryan Daniel calls a generational project.

“The nice thing about the plan is that it complements the Aquatic Center that we already have there and the future growth of that area,” the mayor said.

“What I really love about this concept is that we will be utilizing this space for the betterment of the community,” Daniel said. “Citizens and visitors who went to this high school, played on this football field, will be able to still enjoy that for their kids and their grandkids.”

To learn more about the project and see designs, click here.

Sewage & Water Project

Columbia City residents may have noticed large holes in the ground as well as closed roads over the past few months. The holes are part of the city’s long term control plan for sewage and water.

The long term control plan is a project that will help clean up and reduce the amount of stormwater and sewage that is going into the city’s streams, rivers, and lakes. Even though it is mandated by the state and EPA, Daniel says it’s just as important as the other projects because it’ll help the environment.

Picture of the last retention basin going in on South Chauncey Street near downtown Columbia City.

The plan is made up of underground retention basins and in-pipe storage. When the city gets a heavy rainfall, those retention basins and the new, larger pipes underground will be able to hold the excess rain until the precipitation is over. This will also help reduce flooding in the streets.

“If we can store during the event, we can convey to the plant, treat and discharge it appropriate, ” Daniel said.

The $10.8 million project is in its last phase. By the time the project is complete, the city will have three underground basins and more than 40 60-inch pipes underground. With the new storage, it will give the city an additional 1.1 million gallons, which will be added to the 3 million water basin at the treatment plant.

“It’s been designed to capture a one-hour tenure rain event,” Columbia City Waste Water Superintendent Mike Cook said. “It will limit the combination of wastewater and sewage into our rivers, which is a good thing.”

If everything going according to plan the project should be complete by January 2021.

Affordable Housing & Housing Market

The housing market continues to remain competitive in Northeast Indiana. Houses that used to sit on the market for weeks are now going within hours. In Columbia City, it’s no different. Currently, the city has subdivisions growing at an exponential rate.

“What we’ve tried to focus on in the past 8 plus years is different types of housing availability,” Daniel said. “As Columbia City continues to grow, one of the things that we are focused on is how can we get different types of products for different social-economic groups.”

Deer River development will have 18 new homes in the starting phases of construction. Mayor Daniel says that out of the 30,000 people that live in Whitley County, only 30 homes seem to be available on the market. He says to say the city needs more available homes.

Within the past months, the city has also opened the Van Buren Flats downtown. The spaces offer retail space on the ground level and affordable 1, 2, and 3 bedroom apartments on the levels above.

Rent for the apartment ranges from $200 to $900, and the minimum income a person must earn is just below $30,000 a year.

“We wanted to get housing downtown to build a walkable city,” Community Development Director Chip Hill said. “We feel its a good fit for Columbia City to get more retirees and people downtown.”

To learn more about the Van Buren Building, click here.

Pocket Park and Ohki Alley Update

With the growth of Columbia City, local leaders wanted to bring new life to areas downtown that otherwise would go unnoticed. Thomas Marshall Plaza is one example of that.

“This is just a really great place to come in and relax and enjoy,” Daniel said. “This is one of the crown jewels of our downtown.”

Back in 2016, the city dedicated the Thomas Marhsall Plaza on Van Buren Street downtown. The pocket park allows residents to sit and enjoy nature without leaving downtown.

With the success of Thomas Marhsall Plaza, the city turned to a new project, Ohki Alley. When complete, the alley will include a small rain garden, artistic bike rack, flexible seating, a beer garden, painted murals, and movable planters.

“We are really excited,” Hill said. “It’s going to be a neat little area.”

In November, the Whitley County Economic Development Corporation, the City of Columbia City, and the Community Foundation of Whitley County launched a crowdfunding campaign to transform the alley, located between 116 and 118 W. Van Buren Street, in honor of local businessman Shinzo Ohki.

Construction is now underway and the project is scheduled to open in during the Make It Your Own Mural Fest in September.

Future Plans

Even though city leaders say they are busy with current projects, officials are continuing to develop new projects for the future. Mayor Daniel said the city is looking to add more trails and continue downtown revitalization. He also hopes more subdivisions will be built to help accommodate the growing house market.

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