Chesterton Tribune



Lone 'no' again vote blocks final payment for Sunset Hill children's center

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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 County Park.

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 Thursday.

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 be made.

The funds were raised from grants and private contributions and held in trust by the County Parks Foundation.

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.

Board President 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.

Kenworthy addressed 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.

Board 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.”

Lenckos and 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 Department.

Habitat and Restoration Grants

Lenckos reported 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.

NIHPA Festival Debriefing

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.

Garden Railway

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.



Posted 10/10/2019




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