HOBART | GEO Group, which owns the property where a fire occurred Wednesday at the former St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church Hall, said it's working with the city to demolish the building. Florida-based GEO builds and operates correctional detention facilities around the world.
Firefighters responded about 8 p.m. to the property at 4101 W. 49th Ave. and saw flames and smoke coming from the boarded-up building.
They struggled with a partial roof collapse and unstable floors while extinguishing the fire, which is believed to have started to the south of what was once the building's entrance.
Firefighters from Lake Station, Ross Township, Crown Point, Lakes of the Four Seasons and Union Township provided assistance.
Bob Scott, Hobart EMS director and lead fire investigator, said Thursday the cause of the fire is still undetermined.
Pablo Paez, GEO Group vice president of corporate relations, said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the fire and said the firm is coordinating efforts with Hobart officials to demolish and remove the building from the property.
"We will also continue to engage community stakeholders in discussions about the potential economic opportunities and jobs associated with our project," he said, referring to a proposed illegal immigrant detention facility. "As we have stated in the past, we invested in Hobart for the same reasons many businesses locate in Indiana — strong transportation networks, a great business climate and an educated and well-trained workforce.”
Public opposition from residents has been ongoing since GEO bought the 40-acre property east of Interstate 65 near Robinson Lake in November.
Merrillville attorney John Bushemi, who serves as local legal counsel for GEO, said the company had the building boarded up in early March following a request from the city to do so.
"After it was boarded up the city inspected and approved the building as secured," he said.