Chesterton Tribune

County Park Board favors Liberty Township sports fields plan

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Parks and Recreation board is saying “game on” to what may become the first active county park to feature youth sports fields.

The board unanimously voted 5-0 in favor of the plan at their meeting Thursday night, but members said there are many questions that need to be answered before moving forward.

Chairman of the Porter County Land Acquisition and Development Committee Richard Maxey opened his request with a written statement saying the board has an opportunity to make a “historic” decision.

“You are elevating the Porter County Parks to a new and higher level of planning and development,” Maxey said in his statement.

The committee held a meeting Monday to discuss the possibility of partnering with local youth sports organizations Liberty Rec League, Inc. and the Duneland Soccer Club to maintain and develop 65.3 acres of land located between Meridian Road and CR 50W near CR 900N.

Liberty Rec coordinator Paul Shinn said that the project could make a positive mark on county tourism if the park is developed to the point where regional tournaments for baseball, softball and soccer can be held.

Maxey said the county could benefit from the partnership with Liberty Rec and Duneland Soccer club as they have had years of experience in maintaining athletic fields and organizing events and programs. Liberty Rec, whose organization includes nearly 600 youth participants, manages Fireman’s Field near the Liberty Township Fire Station and other fields on the grounds of Libertery Elementary and Intermediate schools.

Maxey asked the board to make the decision before the land’s current owner, Barney Michaels of Liberty Township, leases the property for farming which, he said, could delay the project.

Park Board Attorney Dave Hollenbeck said the county currently does not have possession of all land and cannot yet give authority on what is to be done with it. The board is scheduled to complete purchase of the last of three parcels in April or May bringing the total to 65.3 acres using revenue from the county economic development income tax. The county is completing a three-year deal with Michaels to gradually acquire the land, also known as Brooksdale, in sections starting in 2007.

Maxey said it was important for the plan to move quickly and the development committee has a team of professionals who know how to proceed with the project.

Board member David Canright said that even if the board acts as fast as it can, the project will most likely take longer than what the committee is hoping for, being “bogged down” with a few key decisions. Canright said both the board and the committee first have to figure what exactly the plan is, who the developers will be and how to fund it.

Park Board President Richard Hudson said there is no master plan to guide the proposed active park and the planning and development would need to go through stages.

The Porter County Plan Commission will also need to review the development as well as the Porter County Drainage Board.

Hudson said he would also like to see approval from the County Board of Commissioners and the County Council for the project, who may decide to give additional funds. Maxey said he had spoken with two of the three county commissioners who were very much in favor of having an active park for the youth of Porter County.

In addition to reaching out to the commissioners, Canright suggested the committee speak with the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitor Commission which may also be willing to donate funds or be able to develop a grant for the project.

Maxey talked about working with the PCCRVC in promoting events and said he hopes once the fields are developed, the park can be self-supporting and be very little cost to the county. The park could attract people to the area and be able to host national events similar to Patriot Park Sports Complex in Michigan City, he said.

Board Member Jim Perkins, who is one of two board members on the Land Acquisition and Development Committee, said he didn’t want to “shortcut” the project and suggested the board hire a local engineer to help develop the plan. He said there are engineering firms in the area currently looking for work at reasonable pay and having a consultant will be a benefit.

Maxey said he would like to partner with more corporations and businesses for their support in the development of sports fields or material needed.

Hudson and Perkins showed enthusiasm for the opportunity to partner with organizations on the project. Hudson said he hopes more organizations will be interested in working with the parks department and said he was glad that Liberty Rec and the Duneland Soccer Club were eager to be included.

The board passed their vote with the motion that commits the park to developing baseball, softball and soccer fields and requested that the committee provide them with budget reports and updates during the different stages throughout the planning.

The board also agreed to pursue partnerships, particularly Liberty Rec and Duneland Soccer Club, but first need to work out the logistics before making any commitments.

Maxey was asked to begin searching for an engineer and present his recommendations to the board at the next meeting.

Maxey thanked the board for their decision and said the development committee will work to avoid any red tape or delays.

Public Gives Pros and Cons

Comments from the audience showed a general agreement that the park will be a benefit to children of Porter County, but some felt the board should take other considerations into its decision making.

Park supporter and retired architect Herbert Read of Chesterton said the board should also look to enhance the natural features, such as the large pond on the west side of the property that may be used for more passive activities. He said that the park needs constituents and requested that the board use great care in the planning to keep the development at proper limits.

“People who come to the parks should love them, but not love them to death,” he said.

Read said he also believes the plan should go before the public.

Parks Department Staff member Andrew Erwin said he is in favor of having an active park at the Brooksdale property but also agreed that the park should exercise care.

Shinn along with fellow Liberty Rec representative Mike Sellers thanked the board for their approval and said they are looking forward to “sharing” the fields with the county. Shinn said Liberty Rec already maintains fields and has worked hard to be a good partner in the past.

“We’ve been good stewards, pouring in our blood, sweat and tears,” said Shinn. “It all comes down to the kids.”

Duneland Soccer Club President Mark O’Dell said the organization is appreciative of the board’s decision to seek them as partners. He said he believes the park will be a more central location for the youth as the Duneland area is experiencing a lot of growth and development.

The board agreed that they will direct the planning firm to include sports fields specifically for youth. The final plan may also include picnic areas and walking trails at the edge of the water features.

 

Painting class planned for Porter County park

By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Recreation Department is encouraging citizens to discover their creative side, all in the wave of a brush.

Director of Porter County Recreation Gayle O’Connor said at Thursday’s Porter County Parks and Recreation Board meeting the recreation committee will be holding a free painting open house for all skill levels at the Sunset Hill Farm County Park on Saturday, Feb. 20 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The class is the start of a new Adult Enrichment initiative geared toward adults and older children.

O’Connor said Donna Dewberry and artist Shirley Massey will be leading the class at the open house.

The recreation department will also offer painting classes on Thursday mornings and evenings and also on Saturday mornings beginning the week of Feb. 22. The cost for each class will be $20 with all supplies provided, said O’Connor.

O’Connor said she hopes to include more activities in the Adult Enrichment program starting in the spring. “We’re waiting for the weather to break,” she said.

O’Connor said the recreation department is developing a wellness program for the adults of Porter County and also would like to educate children on wellness at the summer camps.

Plans are underway for a kite festival on May 4 at Sunset Hill Farm. The annual event has been known for the last two years as the “Kites and Canines” but O’Connor said she would like to modify the name to make the event feel more oriented towards families. The event will feature a stunt team that will perform in wind or rain as long as there is no lightning.

O’Connor also said she is working to collaborate on a fundraising event with the Parents as Teachers group which she will talk about at the March 4 parks board meeting.

In a separate matter, board member Ruth Jarnecke who serves on the Foundation Committee, reported that Tom Allison of Kouts would like to use Sunset Hill in expanding his Bargain Bazaar program. She said Allison would enjoy having the scenery of the park.

Jarnecke said Allison, who also uses the Porter County Expo center for his bazaars, is hoping to set up around 200 booths at the park on Sunday afternoons. Jarnecke said this morning that Allison plans to speak further about his plans to the park board at their next meeting.

Garden at Brinkca-Cross Ready for Wedding Rentals

The park board also approved an agreement that would allow renters to use the garden for marriage ceremonies at the Brincka-Cross property.

Brincka-Cross Supervisor Paula Ramos proposed that the couples can rent the space for $65 for four hours with a $45 damage deposit. Ramos said there may be a concern with the parking capacity at the Furnessville property since the parking lot can only accommodate up to 20 cars.

The board unanimously approved the request for 2010 and said they may need to revisit the decision if parking does become a problem.

Ramos also mentioned she will be creating “bucksheets” that will give details on the trees and birds present in the Brincka-Cross Gardens. She said she will have the sheets ready for the board to review at next month’s meeting.

The board is also considering opening the garden section of the property to the public on April 1 for tours. Ramos requested this date at the December meeting saying it will be around the time the trees and flowers will be in bloom.

Superintendent Search

Board member Jim Perkins said the board had reviewed the 50 applications it received for the vacant parks superintendent position. At an executive session last week, the board selected 14 candidates they would like to interview.

Perkins said the park board would like to hire an outside firm to assist them in the interview process and background checks. The board unanimously approved a motion to seek a consultant.

The chosen candidate will be replacing former parks superintendent Ed Melendez. The new superintendent will play a big part in the development of the Brooksdale property (see related story). Park Manger Matt Howton and Park Supervisor Mike Howton are serving as co-interim superintendents during the transition.

 

 

Posted 2/5/2010