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Park board ponders partnership for sports fields at county home site

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The concept of creating soccer fields at the former County Home grounds was kicked around on Thursday as the Porter County Park Board debated what role it should have in a potential partnership.

Representatives of the Valparaiso Soccer Club, president Stuart Stanfill and Bryan McFadden, told the board they are in search of land available to put in three full-size soccer fields so their teams can have some place to play their games on weekends.

Stanfill said the club, which has about 200 boys and girls participating, has traditionally played at West Side Park in Valparaiso but playing time there for VSC and other teams has become scarcer as more are competing for their use.

“We’re not alone in that it is going to be a continuing problem,” Stanfill said.

As reported in the Tribune earlier this week, Stanfill and McFadden turned to the Porter County Parks Department asking if they it had land that could be set aside for sports field development.

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said nothing was available in terms of land zoned for active use. Lenckos however suggested the former county home grounds, a 9-acre parcel on Ind. 2 south of Valparaiso, which had been previously suggested as a location for a soccer field, T-ball field and a playground with walking trails.

The property is owned by the County Commissioners who on Tuesday took the VSC’s request of putting in three or four full-size soccer fields under advisement. County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said he would like to see commitment from the park board before his board votes on the measure.

But the park board voiced its concerns on which party would be responsible for development costs. Board members Craig Kenworthy and Rebecca Tommerlin said the board is not in a financial position to carry out an agreement, especially since the engineering would need to be done on grounds considered wetland.

“Is that the best thing to do with that property, to flatten it?” asked Kenworthy.

The VSC is “willing to bring cash to the table,” McFadden said, about $10,000 currently, and plans more fundraising.

Giving his two cents, Board member David Canright said past three-way partnerships between the board, commissioners and other parties such as the Calumet Trail and the Zona Wildlife Sanctuary have been “awkward at best,” although he said he would support the request, saying that the county needs more space for youth sports fields. He said he would be open to the Commissioners deeding the land to the county parks.

Lenckos said staff discussions with VSC have not been centered on engineering and development costs. The only consideration given so far is to have the park staff maintain the fields. The body which would ultimately make the call on the engineering tasks would be the County Commissioners.

Kenworthy said there may be flatter land in Center Twp. that the club could purchase.

He asked Stanfill and McFadden if VSC would have exclusive rights to the fields if they were to be a partner in this. The two said the fields would be open for use by all local soccer clubs but VSC would like to be permitted to reserve use of the fields for tournament games on a few Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year from Noon to 5 p.m.

VSC would also like to build its own storage shed and would provide “minor things” such as its own goals and field striping, McFadden said.

Still citing lack of available funds, the board asked that the parks staff continue discussions with VSC to come up with a dollar figure that could be weighed by the board, Commissioners, and possibly the County Council. Further discussions would need to continue with the Essex Park neighborhood adjacent to the Home grounds.

“It sounds like we are in favor but there are some ‘buts’ that will have to be figured out,” board president Rich Hudson said.

Lenckos said one of his department’s goals is to have more parks available to residents in the southern half of the county. Potential sites are being sought by the parks’ Land Acquisition and Development Committee.

According to national standards, Lenckos said, Porter County is deficient in park land by about 500 acres, not including the Dunes State Park and the National Lakeshore.

“That’s more than two Sunset Hills,” he said.

From the audience, Charlotte Read of Liberty Twp. said the grounds are connected to the Salt Creek Water Shed and implored the board that if a partnership is agreed to, the group would take steps to preserve the watershed features.

700 N. Residence

In other action Thursday, the board split 4-2 to approve a parks staff member occupying the residence at the entrance to the Sunset Hill Farm campground, near CR 700 N., from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 next year.

Lenckos said future plans for the residence involve housing counselors for Sunset Hill Farm’s spring and summer camps and to watch over the campground if it is used to accommodate campers when the sites at the Dunes State Park and National Lakeshore fill up on the weekends.

Lenckos said the parks department is not to the point where it is ready for counselors to stay in the residence next summer, but possibly for 2014. Lenckos said the camps for youth at Sunset Hill Farm are growing in the spring and fall months.

The staff person who would occupy the residency in 2013 is to keep the place in good condition and be present for events.

Voting against the measure were board members Annetta Jones and Kenworthy. Jones said the residence could be used for educational programs instead since it comes with a kitchen and a stove. Jones, a county extension educator, gives cooking and canning lessons at the Sunset Hill Farm interpretive center, which currently lacks a stove.

Lenckos said he knows of a stove that could be moved into the center for the classes.

Raise the Barn

discussion postponed

At the start of the meeting, Hudson announced that a presentation and discussion on the design for the Raise the Barn activity center at Sunset Hill Farm would be tabled until the board’s next meeting in November.

This came as surprise to Kenworthy, who thought the project should be kept moving.

Tommerlin said the development committee is waiting to discuss funding matters with the parks’ County Council liaisons Jeremy Rivas and Jim Polarek before advancing the project.

Parents as Teachers

Parents as Teachers Executive of Porter Director Jill Stricker shared with the board a report on how many families in the organization are participating in programs taking place at Sunset Hill Farm.

The organization helps families with child development for children up to five years of age and helps prepare them for school. Programs at Sunset Hill Farm through the organization include preschool camps and Springtime on the Farm, teaching children about caring for farm animals. Another popular program mentioned was the Tot Storybook Trails.

Parents as Teachers will continue the programs under a Memorandum of Understanding to be finalized at the November meeting.

Stricker said Parents as Teachers started in Duneland and its client base now extends to the entire county, with many from South Haven, Kouts and a few from Westville.

“Is there any way we can help you?” asked Kenworthy.

“You are already doing so,” replied Stricker.

Brookdale Pond

Read mentioned she was glad to see the pond at Brookdale Park near CR 900N in Liberty Twp. open to public use. The park hosted GoFishin last weekend, marking the first activity at Brookdale. About a dozen children turned out to enjoy an afternoon of fishing.

 

Posted 10/5/2012