Members of the public got an “inside” look at the future 10,000 square-foot
Raise the Barn education center at Sunset Hill Farm County Park at
Thursday’s Porter County Park Board meeting.
Nearly half of the building, or 81’ x 43’ as the plans show now, will be the
barn structure with a large assembly room for children, according to
interior floor plans by Tom Vavrek of Vavrek Architects.
Vavrek said the plans are still in their infancy stage but the barn
structure will have a large assembly room that could be used for youth
programs or a space to hold community events and classes and can fit up to
Adjacent to it will be a program room which could have seating for about 160
people, the plans show. Agencies like the Porter County Extension Office
could hold their educational programs, open to county residents, there.
Within the program room would be a kitchen area for education and catering
or vending for events at Sunset Hill Farm. The space will also include
additional storage space and a restroom.
Vavrek said the “barn” section will have a second-story loft area that can
be used for yoga classes and step exercise classes.
“It’s a real challenge but I think we were able to squeeze everything in
that the staff wanted,” Vavrek said.
This eastern portion of the t-shaped center will be constructed with “heavy
timber” to give it the appearance of a natural barn, Vavrek said, while the
rest will be done with conventional construction.
The two sections will be separated by a lobby space with a reception counter
where visitors can get information about the park. The west section will
also house a “nature classroom” with built-in lockers where children or
visitors who use the park for recreation can store their belongings.
Next to the classroom, the plans show a small meeting space or library that
will be protected from noise. Vavrek said the room can be used for
photography and bird watching clubs.
Taking up a large portion of the western half of the center will be an
administrative area where the parks department could move its offices. The
office space, as plans show now, will have space for at least 15 employees.
It is planned to have a small rec room and a conference room. Vavrek said
the space will be designed to use up as little space as possible.
Board member David Canright said before the board decides to proceed any
further with the plans, discussions should be held with the County Council
and the Commissioners on how they would like to use the space, since the
idea has been floated to move a few more departments out to the building,
specifically the Extension Office and the Recycling and Waste Reduction
The County had done a needs assessment which recommended officials look for
ways to add or free up more space at the County Administration Center.
But moving those departments to Sunset Hill Farm may mean more office space
will be needed in the Raise the Barn center.
Canright said the board would need to know from the Council and
Commissioners their decision on space to get a better idea on what funds
need to be raised.
Vavrek said he intends to design the center for space to be used efficiently
since adding square footage will increase costs. The latest estimate for
construction is roughly $3 million.
Board member Annetta Jones also requested a stove be included in the kitchen
area for the Extension office programs. She added that the plans overall are
“very well thought out.”
“We’ve got a lot of good things here,” she said.
From the floor, parks supporter Herb Read said that although he supports
having a community center, he had hoped the barn could educate kids about
what life was like on a farm more than half a century ago with animals
“What started out as a barn has morphed quite a bit,” Read told the board.
Chellberg Farm at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has stopped housing
animals and children in Porter County lack the opportunity to see how farms
were run long ago.
“I’m hoping the County can now fill that void,” Read said. “I would like to
see (the park) have an authentic, honest-to-God barn.”
Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said the goats, pony and chickens at the
livestock barn have continually attracted crowds to Sunset Hill Farm and
setting up a new animal barn is one of his department’s many goals.
Canright said Raise the Barn had originally been conceived as an activity
center but it has never been considered formally that animals would be
involved with it.
Board member Rich Hudson was elected by his peers to be their chair for
In a 5-1 split vote Canright was picked over Rebecca Tomerlin for vice-chair
after the board deadlocked 3-3 on the first vote.
The department also saw an addition to its staff, Lenckos reported. Geri
Rose has been hired as the marketing and events coordinator, a part-time
position. With that, Lenckos also announced that Recreational Supervisor
Gayle O’Connor has resigned and has taken a position in the private sector.
Also in his staff report, Lenckos said the Camp FUNset Winter Camp hit its
maximum of 20 children during the school winter break.
Leash rule at
Lenckos said his department will also be refining rules and policies to fit
each of its parks.
One rule Lenckos reminds the public about is visitors who bring dogs to
Sunset Hill Farm must keep them on a leash. The department has received some
concerns from trail users who’ve encountered unleashed dogs, not knowing if
the animal is friendly or dangerous.
“They don’t know your dog, and there is a county policy, so please keep your
dog on a leash,” Lenckos said.