Chesterton Tribune



Parks department building stronger case for Raise the Barn funding

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The Porter County Parks Department’s Raise the Barn project never reached its turning point last year after funding requests were tabled by the County Council, but Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos feels he has enough substance in a new report to convince the Council that the facility is worth the investment.

The four Park Board members present at the meeting Thursday -- Dave Canright, Craig Kenworthy, President Rich Hudson, and new member Erik Kozuszek -- gave Lenckos approval to put the request before the Council, even though the Council has said it is tightening its purse strings more this year.

Absent from the meeting were members Ruth Jarnecke and Annetta Jones.

The tabled request is for $1.5 million of hospital interest money. The funding has been supported by the County Commissioners, which is also required for hospital money to be released.

Lenckos has put together a financial operations report breaking down the numbers as was requested by Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, during last fall’s budget season.

Anticipated costs to operate the center, with its utilities combined with additional staffing, will be $83,000 to $100,000 annually, Lenckos said. He believes that given the success and record attendance for programs last year, the Raise the Barn Center will not only be sustainable but also a revenue generator.

“I wouldn’t be saying this if I didn’t think it was true,” Lenckos said.

The report features an analysis with an apples-to-apples comparison on what other park departments have gained through rentals of their banquet halls which have all brought in self-sustaining revenues. The list includes Smith Hall at Red Mill Park in LaPorte County, Cummings Lodge in the LaPorte City Parks Department, Oakwood Hall and Sycamore Hall in the Portage Parks Department, and the Fireman’s Building in Warsaw.

Current plans completed by Vavrek Architects for the Raise the Barn activity and education center show that the assembly hall could provide seating for 160 people in an 81’ x 43’ space for community events.

The rentals at Sunset Hill Farm and Brincka-Cross Gardens totaled 93 events in 2013, and the parks continually have been booked, Lenckos said.

Lenckos said the center will expand on programming for both kids and adults which would also mean more revenue. Camp FUNset was wildly successful in 2013 and has a waiting list of kids which is growing each year.

Another point, Lenckos said, is that even in the recent economic recession market analysis shows that recreational spending is up. Residents are looking for ways to get healthier and a new phrase, “sitting is the new smoking,” is becoming more popular, he added.

“It’s a good time to tell people to invest in parks,” Lenckos said. He also feels that given the location near the Toll Road and interstates that the Raise the Barn center will be very marketable.

Canright said the plans to move the parks offices to the center will be desirable for the County Council and Commissioners because it will give them the extra space needed in the County Administration Center and make it easier on their budgets.

“This shows we are helping out the big picture, that we’re being a team player. It shows the Council we are serious about this and it’s not just fly by the seat of our pants,” Canright said.

Lenckos listed Raise the Barn as one of his top five priorities for 2014 as he spoke with the board about deciding what the department’s objectives should be for the year.

The list also includes the south county park, trails at Brincka-Cross Gardens, restoration of the pond at Sunset Hill Farm and the Sunset Hill children’s playground and garden.

The board decided that it will choose which priorities to incorporate into their 2014 plan when it has a full board next month.

Funding snags

In other business Thursday, board attorney David Hollenbeck said the funding from the County Commissioners to purchase the 63.5-acre parcel north of Kouts for the proposed park on the west side of Ind. 49 has been encumbered.

After further negotiations with the property owner, Hollenbeck said the expected closing date for the purchase for $600,000 is next Wednesday, Jan. 15.

The park board also encumbered an additional $70,000 or so for planning and development of the new south county park and had contracted with Ratio Architects of Indianapolis and the Duneland Group for further engineering. However, Hollenbeck said he received notice from the County Auditor’s office that $25,000 of those funds were earmarked by the Commissioners for the Zona Wildlife Foundation.

Hollenbeck said he has questions on whether the Zona group will use that money and will seek to resolve that matter. “We’ll have to sort it out,” he said.

Even if that money ends up out of the hands of the parks department, Lenckos said there will still be enough left over for Ratio to start its tasks.

“At least we can keep the project moving,” said Kenworthy, who was instrumental in finding park land in the south part of the county.

There are also issues that have come up with the purchase of additional land at Brincka-Cross Gardens, as the owner of the Smith property has given Hollenbeck a list of changes he wants made.

Hollenbeck told the Tribune there are no serious issues that would derail the deal and expects the matter to get resolved in an orderly manner.

Also in his report to the board, Hollenbeck advised the board the Damon Run Conservancy District is making a few changes to its rates charged for sewer and water as recommended by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, containing both increases and decreases.

DRCD provides water to Sunset Hill Farm and Lenckos said there is an effort to get a sewer connection for the Raise the Barn center once it is built.

Steering committee

Kenworthy said now that the land purchase of the south county park is imminent, the park’s steering committee consisting of sports enthusiasts, coaches, and public officials is looking to hold its first meeting.

The meetings will be open to the public, he said, getting the stakeholders together.

Canright repeated his suggestion that a 501(c)(3) non-profit be formed by supporters to help raise funds for the park.

Kenworthy said grass will be planted on about 10 acres of the park sometime this year.

The board agreed to lease the other 50 acres for farming and will put out a request for proposals for interested bidders.

Also on Thursday, Lenckos said the Parks’ spring programming guide will be going out and in mailboxes next week.



Posted 1/10/2014




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