A single “no” vote
has again blocked the Porter County Parks and Recreation Board from making
the final payment on the new children’s activity center at Sunset Hill
The Park Board
voted 3-1 last week in favor of authorizing Parks Superintendent Walter
Lenckos to seek an additional appropriation from the County Council to make
the final payment on the new Horton Children’s Center at its meeting
The final payment
is $68,856 to Chester Inc., which was the construction manager on the design
and construction of the new grain-bin shaped education center at Sunset Hill
Farm County Park.
The money, which is
already in park accounts, must be formally appropriated for the payment to
The funds were
raised from grants and private contributions and held in trust by the County
The project was
years in the making, and no taxpayer dollars went into it.
The lone no vote
was by Bryan Waisanen, who was the Parks Foundation’s President until June
and is in his fourth month on the Board. He was appointed by the County
Commissioners in July after the Board of Commissioners had previously left
its appointment to the Park Board vacant for over a year.
Only four members
of the Board were present last night since Member Annetta Jones was absent,
and one of Judge Mary Harper’s appointments to the six member-Board is
vacant. Four of the six members must agree to approve any actions, no matter
how many are present. The Park Board has found itself in the same quandary
several times in the past year--when one person is absent, all members must
agree to act on anything.
Waisanen cited the
same reason last week as he did when he blocked the request last month: he
isn’t comfortable with the way the project turned out.
This time the other
Board members pressed him for details.
Waisanen said there
have been change orders that haven’t come before the Board throughout the
project, and expressed concern over a $19,800 change order that was approved
by the Board before he was a member. He said that setback, the surprise
discovery of debris in the soil for the Center’s planned parking lot,
constitutes the Foundation being made to pay for the mistakes of others
“with a surcharge on top.”
Waisanen also said
the Center’s bathroom didn’t turn out exactly how it was planned, more HVAC
units were added without explanation, and a lack of site safety during
construction caused delays and was a liability. He said a lack of oversight
has soured the construction of the new building, “an exceptional idea,” and
called for the Board to conduct a forensic audit of the billing and work
before making the final payment.
Craig Kenworthy said the Park Board signed a contract and got a building,
and the bill needs to be paid. Board Attorney David Hollenbeck confirmed the
Board can still take legal action if they conduct an audit of the process
after paying the bill in full if they have reason to believe they didn’t get
their money’s worth.
Waisanen’s concerns about the HVAC units: Kenworthy said the Board got a
more efficient system by adding two units that can be run separately instead
of one large unit.
Kenworthy said he
understands Waisanen’s concerns, but he wants to make good on the Board’s
contract. “If this is convoluted as it sounds, or its being made to sound, I
think we need to take it up, and figure it out. But my biggest concern is
our contractual obligation to Chester,” he said.
“We can do the
forensic accounting later, and if we find someone did something wrong, we
hold them accountable,” Kenworthy added. Kenworthy also noted that not once
in the better part of a year and a half has any member of the public or the
Foundation taken advantage of the Board’s public comment period at the end
of each meeting to voice similar concerns, and waiting until the last bill
is due is late in the game.
Vice-president Rich Hudson added that he and Hollenbeck met with Foundation
members to discuss similar issues after the first failed vote last month,
and he left that meeting thinking the issues were resolved.
“My problem is we
were told we were getting something, and we got something different and we
paid full price,” Waisanen said. “If I hire somebody to paint my house, and
they spill paint on my carpet, I’m not paying for my carpet.”
Foundation members reminded the board and public that there will be a ribbon
cutting ceremony for the Horton Children’s Center at 5 p.m. on Wednesday,
Oct. 23. Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by calling the Park
the Department received funding to create between 10 and 20 acres of
pollinator habitat at the Hawk Ridge property in Pine Township and to do
some native planting at Brookdale Park. The Hawk Ridge funding is federal
dollars from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and that section of
Hawk Ridge has always been planned to remain as open prairie, so pollinator
habitat is right in line with the Board’s long-term plans, according to
Lenckos thanked the
Northwest Indiana Historical Power Association for good communication during
the last weekend of September when their planned annual Steam and Power show
was hit by rain. Lenckos and Board member Drew Armstrong thanked NIHPA for
taking a proactive approach and canceling certain demonstrations and events
so their tractors wouldn’t tear up the fields at Sunset Hill. Lenckos also
said he appreciates NIHPA’s partnership with the Board and complimented the
organization of this year’s show, saying it was the best he’s seen in the
past nine years.
David Ransom of the
Illiana Garden Railway Society reported IGRS plans to have trains running on
their new tracks every Saturday at Sunset Hill until winter sets in, with a
total of six trains altogether. Ransom thanked NIHPA for their work at the
Park and partnership, and complimented Parks staff.
Ransom said since
bringing the IGRS trains out to Sunset Hill, he and his group have enjoyed
watching Parks staff run their programs. “It’s just amazing to see all these
kids come to that Park and have such a good time,” Ransom said. “And
Walter’s people just do a fantastic job of entertaining these kids. We enjoy
watching them all have so much fun.”
In other business,
the Board renewed its legal services agreement with Hollenbeck.
There were no
changes from last year’s contract.