Residents got a glimpse Thursday of what will become the county’s first park
that will include a variety of sports fields for year-round use.
Following the regular Porter County Parks and Recreation board meeting,
consultants for the 65-acre Brookdale Park project, JJR, presented three
alternative draft mappings from what they have compiled so far in their
input sessions from county park committees and the public.
The planning firm expects it will have a master plan for the park sometime
next spring. Then the county will need to find funding for the park which
JJR projected would cost up to $16 million.
JJR Vice-President Paul Weise facilitated the session attended by about 20
community members. Weise said the alternatives his team developed were
fashioned by guiding principles from park leaders who desire Brookdale to be
place for all county residents, provide a safe and friendly recreation for
its users all year, be financially sustainable and good neighbors to
The consultants gave a list of potential amenities. All plans show up to 2
baseball and 2 softball diamonds on the east of the park located north of
the CSX Railroad between Meridian Rd. and CR 50W in Liberty Twp. Other
features suggested are soccer fields, picnic areas, playgrounds, court games
(basketball and tennis), interpretive/nature centers, trail systems with
native landscape, an ice skating rink for winter, sledding hills, a
performance venue/amphitheater, a fishing pier for the 7-acre onsite lake,
canoeing/kayaking, and wetlands.
“There are unique natural characteristics within the park to provide more
recreation and learning opportunities,” Weise said. A large family pavilion
could also be built and rented out which could create a source of revenue
for the parks department, he suggested.
The park board agreed to a $45,000 contract with the Chicago-based JJR
earlier this year to draft and develop the master plan.
Weise also talked about connecting the park trails with the Dunes-Kankakee
trail that runs from the north end of the county to the south.
New Center For
Boys and Girls
One of the alternatives presents a section in the Northeast corner that
would be set aside for an 18,000 square-foot facility for the Boys and Girls
Clubs with gym expansion.
County Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said much of the details about
the Boys and Girls Clubs area are yet to be determined as the group will
need to speak to the Duneland School Corporation about sending buses to the
park. The Chesterton Boys and Girls Clubs center is in need of more space
and has eyed Brookdale as a solution.
Lenckos said the county will not be picking up the tab if the Boys and Girls
Clubs do build their facility which would come with its own parking lot.
“It’s solely up to them to raise their own dollars,” he said.
The parking lot would be accessed off Meridian Road and another entranceway
would be found further south closer to the railroad.
A third entrance would be on the west side of the property with room for
about 100 vehicles.
JJR conducted a small traffic study and determined they would need
additional turnoff lanes along Meridian. The county also requires at least
50 feet of right-of-way.
Former Chesterton resident Mary Simons said she worked for the railroads for
30 years and knows too well that railroads are no place for children to
play. Simons said she believes the park will be beautiful, but feels the
developers should put up a fence or pull the sports fields away from the
“(Railroads) are dangerous and they can kill people!” said Simons.
Neighbors of the park echoed Simons’ concerns and said trains pass through
the area at least once every 45 minutes day or night.
Weise said the team will look at ways it can prevent children from venturing
on to the tracks since one of their top guiding principles is to provide a
Lenckos talked about the possibility of putting up some type fence structure
around the park.
Optimistic Despite Funding Challenges
County officials in the audience including county council member-elect James
Polarek were waiting in the audience to hear what JJR anticipated in their
breakdown for development costs.
For the passive area to the west, the cost would be close to $4,750,000
(Infrastructure -$1,750,000; Recreation - $1,250,000; Amenities-$1,000,000;
The sports areas are projected to cost $12,000,000
(Infrastructure-$5,000,000; Recreation-$1,000,000; Fields- $3,000,000;
Amenities-$2,000,000, Landscape Restoration-$1,000,000).
Weise said he expects the final costs to be less and said it was important
not to ignore what had been established in the guiding principles. “We want
to do this right,” he said.
Lenckos said that the parks will not come up with the money right away.
Brookdale he said would be developed in a piecemeal fashion each time the
money becomes available. Some of the money could come from County Economic
Development Income Tax funds.
The parks’ Land Acquisition and Development Committee which has been the
chief agent in developing the park is now concentrating on starting
fundraising efforts to collect the money which will include sponsorships.
Polarek, who will represent the County’s Council fourth district as a
Republican, told the Chesterton Tribune the idea “looks good on
paper,” but he does not place the project very high on his priority list due
to the troubled economy.
“Let’s not forget there are about 4,000 property appeals we got to get to
first,” said Polarek.
He said he expects the process of would alone cost close to $1 million to
regrade the farmland and personally didn’t feel the location was the best
choice for a county park seeing it is only two miles away from Sunset Hill
Farm County Park.
The county parks fully acquired the land in August from resident Barney
Retired Portage Park Superintendent Carl Fisher, who was asked by JJR to be
an adviser for the Brookdale project, spoke to audience members who
commented they thought the price would be too steep. He said that the goal
is reachable as long as realistic goals are set and not to fret if some
things need to be postponed.
“We have been given the assignment to give to you a dream,” Fischer said.
“Step by step, year by year, you can come up with different funding sources.
If we pull together and work together, it will really happen.”
Fisher, who has 25 years experience in park development, said it is most
important to have a plan in place and the team should prioritize needs.
Lenckos said all plans would need to be approved by the park board who will
then give the plans to the county commissioners for their approval. Once the
commissioners give their nod, then the county council will have the
authority to decide funding.
Name the Lake!
Public attendees were given comment sheets for each of the three options.
Weise said the JJR team will put together a hybrid or preferred plan that
will be presented to the park board for final approval by the Land
Acquisition and Development Committee.
Those in attendance were also asked to submit suggestions for what they
would like the small lake to be called which will be voted on at a later
Weise said the group plans to hold a subsequent public input session
sometime in early January.
Santa was good to the parks department this year as Lenckos reported earlier
at the parks board meeting nearly 5,000 residents visited the event at
Sunset Hill Farm on Nov. 20, which was more than last year’s turnout.
Lenkcos said good weather helped boost attendance figures. He took time to
thank the staff for many hours of their involvement and the 15 sponsors of
the event for supporting the event. He said about 50 volunteers pitched in
and included members from the Northwest Indiana Historical Power Association
Parks board member Annetta Jones commended the staff and said the displays
remind her of days ago when people would drive around to see lighting
displays at Christmastime.
Lenckos said the public can drive through Sunset Hill Farm to see the
displays for free during the weekend nights from now until Christmas.
Also on Thursday, the board approved continuing the four year agreement with
NIHPA for use of land at Sunset Hill Farm which lasts until 2012. They also
will retain Dave Hollenbeck as their attorney for 2011.
Under old business, Lenckos said the board decided to restructure the parks’
mission statement during their recent workshop session and plans to present
a draft once the staff gives their input.
Lenckos also announced the department is planning another public input
session for Brincka-Cross sometime in January. A master plan for the
Furnessville park is expected to be completed next spring.