PORTAGE | An exploration is underway into the possibility of selling the North Porter County Government Complex to North Shore Health Centers and building a new courthouse in downtown Portage.
Porter Superior Court Judge Julia Jent, who has worked at the complex for 16 years, said the proposal would provide more room for the two courts housed there and give Portage a long-needed anchor and business magnet for its downtown.
"We are bursting at the seems, and are not going to be getting any smaller," she said.
Portage City Council President Sue Lynch said she recognizes the potential benefits of the project, but wants to see its price tag.
"What is the big picture here?" she asked.
The area being considered for a new building is city-owned land, where the east side of the mall had been before it was demolished by the city with redevelopment in mind.
Lynch and others said the proposal is still in an early exploration stage, but Porter County Commission President John Evans, R-North, said an appraisal has been ordered for the roughly 40-year-old complex south of U.S. 6 on Willowcreek Road.
"It may go nowhere," Evans said. "It's definitely worth exploring."
He said money could be borrowed in the form of a bond to build the new courthouse. Evans also pointed out the county is sitting on $170 million in principal and interest from the 2007 sale of the former county hospital.
Porter County Councilman Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, who along with his peers is charged with making financial decisions for the county, said he is keeping an open mind.
"It's not an immediate plan I'd support," he said. "But something long term I'd listen to."
Portage Mayor James Snyder lauded the county commissioners and council for "showing vision in difficult times" by exploring the project.
"Buildings don’t stop deteriorating just because the county or city finances are strained," he said.
Snyder said North Shore's interest in purchasing the complex is good news for the city and county.
"North Shore provides health care to thousands in need in Portage, and their growth in Portage is exciting," he said.
North Shore CEO Janice Wilson did not return a call Thursday for comment.
Snyder said he put together an exploration committee made up of himself, Jent, Lynch, Rivas and Wilson's son, Ken Elwood, who heads up the county's public defender office.
The commissioners freed up some room at the north county complex last month when they agreed to move the health department to leased space at a nearby office building owned by Porter Regional Hospital.