Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Design plans for Sunset Hill Park education center move forward

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Proposed Sunset Hill Park Activity Center (left) and Children's Garden (Right) with existing nature center and restrooms in white at upper right.

 

By JEFF SCHULTZ

The long, ongoing effort to construct an education center at Sunset Hill Farm made progress on Thursday as the Porter County Park Board agreed 5-0 to accept a revised design for the building.

Architect Tom Varvek rolled out a revised floor plan that included a large assembly space that would accommodate up to 160 people for community events and youth programs.

He gave the board several options for the kitchen on the end of the assembly room suggesting an island be put in absorbing areas originally planned for storage. The storage areas could be moved across the hall to maximize use of the kitchen so it could be used for catering, he said. A stove has been included, which the Parks Department or Extension Office could use for their programming.

The exterior of the assembly room and kitchen will be part of the “barn” structure of the building, as the project had originally been conceived as “Raise the Barn” intended for educational programming at the former farm.

The center would have two points of entry separated by a main lobby. The entryways could have a vestibule with 24-hour restrooms for park users, although the main building will be locked when not in use.

On the other side of the lobby will be at least two classrooms, the main one being a nature classroom named in the honor of the late educator and former park board president Art Willing.

Varvek showed two sets of plans, one with an extra wing for administrative offices and one without.

That is so there can be a lower range of costs, giving a better opportunity for the Parks Department to reach its funding target for construction.

Varvek suggested that when a request for bids go out, firms could give alternate bids for the office wing.

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said that even without the office wing, there will be space designated in the main structure for park staff to have an office. If the extra offices do get added, they could be used to house other County Government agencies, alleviating crowding in the County Administration Building in downtown Valparaiso.

Even with less space, Lenckos said the plans as they are will still meet all of the goals set out by the board.

Lenckos said several sources of funding will help cover the overall cost. With donations from the Willing family and the Porter County Parks Foundation, he hopes to garner additional grants and request support from the County Council.

Sitting in on the presentation Thursday were County Council members Sylvia Graham, D-at large, and Mike Jessen, R-4th.

The estimated price tag, according to Lenckos, would be between $2 million to $3 million.

In terms of growing services, Lenkcos said that the education center would double the number of school-aged children in its educational programming and field trips, expanding to grades 6-8.

“This will really impact the community to have some high quality events and turn this into the facility we would all like it to be,” he said.

Varvek also spoke about the center’s exterior and landscaping, assuring park board members the building will be “structurally sound.”

Camp FUNset

Sign-ups for Camp FUNset will start on Saturday, Feb. 28 at Sunset Hill Farm from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Registration will also be available on the Park Department’s website. Lenckos said that this year they will be adding Fridays to the camp week.

In other business:

-- Lenckos announced that crews will begin clearing land for the new trails at Brincka Cross Gardens County Park in either April or May. A groundbreaking is expected by the end of summer.

-- Plans are moving for Aukiki Park in Pleasant Twp. and a rezoning of the 63-acre property is scheduled for first reading at the next County Commissioners meeting. East Porter County Schools Superintendent Rod Gardin has voiced support for the park.

-- The agreement with John and Mary Hodson of the Kankakee River Historical Society will continue this year as the parks department has agreed to help with programming and the Aukiki River Festival in August. In exchange, the parks department can host field trips at the property along the river.

-- The Duneland Photo Club which holds its meetings every first Tuesday of the month at the Sunset Hill Farm will be taking pictures of the different parks properties and will make them available for the parks department to use.

-- The board approved to send out a Request for Qualifications for food vendors at Sunset Hill Farm.

 

Posted 2/6/2015

 
 
 
 

 

 

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