Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners approve Expo Center and opera house upgrades

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Although the Porter County Expo Center and Memorial Opera House have experienced success over the past year, both are getting a long overdue makeover.

Porter Expo Center Manager Brain Schafer spoke to the Porter County Board of Commissioners saying he is hoping to improve the interior aesthetics of the Expo Center which has not been updated in nearly 15 years.

The commissioners’ approved Schafer’s request of $63,274 at their Tuesday meeting for the improvements which will include replacing carpet on the walls, painting the rooms and halls, sprucing up the front entrance, replacing glass that has been cracked or broken and renovating the restroom facilities which have slipped below standards.

Schafer said he would like the upgrade to give the Expo a more uniform look, coordinating the color and style of the main hall with the two banquet halls. He said the staff will oversee the project and will try to create an “elegant” feel.

Porter County Commissioner President Robert Harper, D-Center, complimented Schafer on his previous efforts of refurbishing the landscape around the exterior of the building and keeping the area clean. Harper said he expects inside upgrades will continue to improve the facility.

Schafer said he expects the upgrade process for the building will take approximately four weeks once they receive the funds which will come from the county economic development income tax.

The commissioners also approved $53,945 to be used for improvements and upgrades to the Memorial Opera House, $42,000 of which will be used for a digital sound system upgrade.

Schafer, who serves as business director and executive producer for the opera house, said the facility is hoping to use the funds to purchase wireless microphone gear and is also looking to replace the older desktop computer unit with four new laptop computers. The reason being that ticket sales have risen drastically and the opera house’s box office would be able to serve their customers more efficiently if additional computers are used.

County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, agreed with the request acknowledging the progress the opera house has made.

“Success has its price,” he said.

Schafer said that a digital system will attract more acts to the facility. He said the facility may be able to bring in big-name musicians that could possibly give the opera house a bit of national exposure.

The commissioners and County Attorney Gwenn Rinkenberger showed strong interest in the idea of expanding the acts.

“Do you think you could get Lady Gaga?” joked Rinkenberger.

Both the Expo Center and the Memorial Opera House have had a successful year, according to Schafer, who also said the locations have been great tourist draws for the county.

“We’re on the up and up,” he said.

ADA Self-Evaluation Hearing

Set for March 2

Rinkenberger said Tuesday that the Indiana Department of Transportation has asked that all counties in the state complete an evaluation to determine if all their facilities and services are accessible for those with disabilities.

The American Disabilities Act is asking for counties to develop a comprehensive report using public input that points out architectural or systematic obstacles impeding people with disabilities from recieving full use of government services and provide possible solutions on how the county plans to remove those obstacles. Those who do not submit an evaluation will be excluded from receiving federal funds from the ADA.

Rinkenberger said she will be working with the Porter County Plan Commission and Tina Bengs of Hoeppner Wagner & Evans in gathering data for the survey. A public hearing will also need to be held in order to receive public input.

Rinkenberger suggested to the commissioners they start the hearing during the Mar. 2 county commissioners meeting. A notice will be sent to local papers announcing the meeting in the same manner as regular public hearings. Questionnaires will also be used to gather data.

It is yet to be determined how long it will take the county to complete the survey but each step of the process will take some time, Rinkenberger said.

LIDAR Aerial Mapping

Bids Received

The commissioners received bid proposals for Aerial Photography and Topograhy at the meeting in bundles delivered by the Porter County Plan Commission.

The mapping will be used to collect images and data for the countywide comprehensive drainage study. The images will be collected by using LIDAR Technology which can take photographs in one-foot contours, said Plan Commission Executive Director Bob Thompson.

The committee made up of various county environmental officials and city engineers will meet next Monday to review the bids. The committee will make their recommendations at the next commissioners meeting on Feb. 16.

Thompson said he and Drainage Board President Dave Burrus hope the county can approve a contract by March when the landscape is best fit to photograph.

Board of Health Appointment

The commissioners announced Deborah Hric as their appointee to the Porter County Board of Health. Hric will be succeeding Visiting Nurses Association clinical manager Marylyn Johns. Johns resigned from the health board after she was chosen to represent District 4 on the Porter County Council.



Posted 2/3/2010