Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners remain quiet on parks' funding request for Raise the Barn

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After making a well received pitch to the Porter County Council last month, the county parks and recreation went before the board of commissioners Tuesday seeking a funding source for the proposed $3 million Raise the Barn activity center at Sunset Hill Farm County Park, but no motion was made.

The department hopes to raise $1 million by the end of this year with half coming from private donations, $300,000 coming through a “Raise the Barn” fund campaign, and $200,000 in collected donations from the Porter County Parks Foundation. That leaves $2 million which Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos has asked the county to commit so construction can begin.

The council, which serves as the county’s fiscal body and would be responsible for the funding, at their last meeting asked Lenckos to consult the commissioners for their opinion on which funds to draw form.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, has suggested using hospital interest money for the project as Sunset Hill Farm neighbors the new Porter hospital. But fellow commissioner Carole Knoblock, D-South, said “not to put the cart before the horse” and said she would like to review the matter more closely to see if the activity center would benefit all county residents.

Evans asked if the parks had yet raised the $1 million to which Lenckos replied a significant portion of prospective donors are waiting for the county to put up its share before they are willing to contribute.

Evans said he agreed with Knoblock that the plan needs a “bigger amount of skin” before proceeding and asked Lenckos to return to the council, saying the matter of drawing funds should ultimately be decided by the county’s fiscal body. The request is similar to the building of a new animal shelter, he said, which is also estimated at $3 million.

Lenckos said the park board at its meeting on Thursday is expected to vote on contracts with the firm hired to oversee the construction in order “to keep things moving.” The Raise the Barn project was proposed over a decade ago and completion in less than a year’s time is the department’s goal.

“We’re looking at a very doable project this year,” Lenckos said.

The Raise the Barn project includes moving the parks administrative offices to the Sunset Hill Farm location, freeing up needed space in the county administration center. Lenckos said the headquarters would lower park maintenance costs.

The center would include geothermal technology which is supported by the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) and the department would save 60 percent on utility costs. Using the technology would also be an education tool on green initiatives for the public, Lenckos said.

The building would also provide more accommodation for summer camp programs which are expected to increase to 20,000 participants by next year.

“Every single elementary school child in the county would get to experience an outdoor education class at our facility,” Lenckos said.

The center would also open up the chance for the parks to hire a few more full time employees and would be accessible from the hospital and Rogers-Lakewood Park in Valparaiso, Lenckos said.

Evans said hospital visitors could also visit the park quite easily and expressed a desire to develop the park further such as adding a museum relating the history of Colonel Robert Heffron Murray, who had bequeathed the property to the county.

Contractor to help collect

outstanding traffic citations

The commissioners in another matter Tuesday approved a contract with Eagle Accounts Group to go after traffic citation fees that have not yet been collected.

County Clerk Karen Martin recommended the group and said there is nearly $500,000 owed the county by those with outstanding violations. Eagle performs similar services with 96 governmental units inside the state.

Vice President of Governmental Account Services for Eagle, Shelley Septer said many times drivers neglect to pay the citation and are subject to having their licenses suspended. Often times offenders are from outside the county.

The group will give back what is owed to the county and charge offenders an additional percentage which will be then paid to the company.

Also on Tuesday:

• The commissioners awarded $180,060 to the county sheriff’s police to purchase portable and mobile radio equipment for their vehicle fleet that is compliant with the narrow band requirements set by the Federal Communications Commission. The money will come out of the county jail’s rainy day fund.

• Architect Bob Gerometta presented rough construction plans for the new IV-D court at the County Juvenile Service Center which would involve some minor changes such as replacing panels and carpeting. The commissioners asked Gerometta to get bids for the construction.

• The commissioners also approved one proposal made by the county jobs cabinet presented by Thompson. The first was by Desila Rosetti who was given $12,950 to hold focus groups with local businesses. The amount is taken from the $75,000 that was designated by the county when the cabinet was formed. A separate proposal involving a cabinet member retreat will be discussed at the commissioners’ next meeting. Evans commended Thompson for his assistance as staff for the cabinet.


Posted 6/6/2012