Chesterton Tribune



RDA funding eyed for dunes visitor center revamp

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The Porter County Commissioners got a peek into the final concept plans for the proposed $1.6 million floor space redesign for the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center during their meeting Tuesday.

The visitor center, at Ind. 49 and U.S. 20, is home to the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission which shares the facility with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Presented by PCCRVC Executive Director Lorelei Weimer, the plans call for removing physical obstacles such as the brochure racks at the entrance and replacing them with visual and interactive features to educate visitors about Lake Michigan and the formation of the Indiana Dunes.

“A lot is focused on the dunes themselves and we don’t take for granted that we have Lake Michigan,” Weimer said.

A map of the lake will be featured in the central part of the exhibit along with topographical representations of the dunes and a narrative of the Dunes’ “success story.”

The information desk will be moved forward and its column removed, Weimer said, to make it easier to receive guests. The room on the southeast end currently being used by the NPS will now become the “destination room” for Porter County attractions. A green screen will be set up for visitors to take photos with selected images, with the option to send them to their e-mails.

The theater room, which Weimer said is the most underutilized portion of building, will be opened up and the seats inside movable to allow for dinners or reception events to be held. The theater will loop videos on the “the story of steel” in Porter County and an exhibit section geared to children is planned.

The gift shop and book store will also be removed from the back corner and the plan is to have moveable carts stationed throughout the visitor center offering merchandise.

Weimer said the idea to reconfigure the center started in early 2014 and a committee was formed to oversee the planning process including members from the PCCRVC board and staff, the National Parks Service, the Indiana Dunes State Park and the non-profit Friends of the Indiana Dunes.

When the building opened nearly nine years ago, the NPS had planned on receiving $1 million or so to create exhibits, but the funding never materialized so they ended up using what they already had from the previous visitor center, Weimer said, which is why many of the materials are in need of updating.

“It really is time for a facelift,” Weimer said.

Weimer said the cost for the whole project would be nearly $1.6 million, the majority to cover the cost of the exhibit elements while the physical building modifications would make up about 10 percent of the cost. No funds have been dedicated yet.

The PCCRVC is working with the NPS to identify possible funding sources, Weimer said, and a fundraiser of some type could happen in the future. Weimer said she has considered the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority as one possibility.

Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said the County pays $3.5 million into the RDA each year so there is a chance for funding to be drawn from there. He agreed the changes would give the visitor center a boost.

“It does need to function better and this really is a great concept,” Evans said, who also complimented the PCCRVC staff on recent landscaping along the exterior of the building.

Insurance controls

In other business, the Commissioners made minor adjustments to the County employee health plan’s pharmaceutical management.

Troy Scott of R&R Benefits said that in the 30 days since the refurbished plan began issues have arisen, just as he thought would happen.

One of the controls in the plan is that any pharmacy prescriptions over a $1,500 threshold is “flagged” by insurance provider Magellan Health, and needs verification from a physician that those receiving the drug are using it for its intended purpose.

The control’s intent is to help the County contain overall costs on its health plan. It’s caused concern among employees but Scott said that once the proper checks are made, they will get the medication that they need.

“We’re not denying access to anybody,” he said.

The Commissioners approved Scott’s recommendation to raise the control threshold on “specialty drugs” to $2,500. Examples would include chemotherapy drugs and injectables, Scott said.

Another change to the plan dealt with preferred and non-preferred prescriptions. In some cases, the preferred prescriptions are not the most effective for employees and if there is a version in the non-preferred column that would work best, the employee would be able to receive it at the same cost as the preferred medication as long as their physician can substantiate the reasons for the change.

Scott said the employees will be educated on the changes. He said the number of concerns since the new plan went into effect have declined in the last couple of days and he expects that to continue with the new modifications.

Evans said he thinks the transition to the new plan has gone “very well” compared with previous occasions when the health plan has been overhauled.

TIF parcels

The Commissioners approved continuing a contract with Umbaugh and Associates as the County Auditor’s office sets its sights on updating all records on parcels in the County within tax increment finance (TIF) districts.

Auditor Vicki Urbanik said she wants to determine the base value of each TIF area and determine the amount of revenue passed on to other taxing units. The Porter Vale area in the Valparaiso City limits is currently the only TIF area that has pass-throughs.

Urbanik said she hopes to have the updates complete by the Aug. 1 deadline for the net certified assessed values.

Umbaugh has worked with Urbanik these past few months to figure the correct amounts for properties with abated property taxes.


The Commissioners named two appointments to the Porter County Regional Airport board -- Mark Taylor, who has been on the board before, and Dante Pergher.

In other business, the Commissioners voted unanimously to accept a bid from Stevens Engineering of Portage for $27,685 for emergency replacement of the condensate pipe at the County Museum, as recommended by mechanical maintenance supervisor Jerry Bryan.




Posted 7/8/2015




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