PORTAGE | Several local universities are close to signing a lease in the region's newest building dedicated to higher education and job development.
Work is winding down on the construction of the University Center on Central Avenue.
Workers still are hanging lights and doors. Furniture is scheduled to be ordered this week.
Doug Sweeney, the city's building commissioner who has overseen the yearlong construction of the 31,500-square-foot facility, said last week the project is coming in on time and likely will come in under budget.
The project, which will house WorkOne offices as well as classrooms to be shared by Purdue North Central, Indiana University Northwest, Ivy Tech Community College and Valparaiso University, is being constructed by the city's Redevelopment Commission. Its estimated cost is $6.1 million. Furnishings are estimated to cost an additional $140,000.
Lease agreements between the city and universities also are near completion. Attorney Gregg Sobkowski reported to the commission that he anticipates to have final leases for approval by the end of April.
"I'm very proud of it and very excited about it. I really expect the city of Portage to be proud of it when it is done," Sweeney said as he toured the building.
"The city is to be absolutely commended," said Stephen Turner, PNC's vice chancellor for administration.
He's anticipating his university to utilize "at least a couple" of the classrooms beginning in August. While the curriculum hasn't been set, Turner said the four universities will not be offering competing programs and anticipates PNC will offer some of core curriculum classes.
David Malik, executive vice chancellor of academics for IUN, said his university is equally as excited to expand opportunities to Portage and nearby residents. About 460 Portage residents already attend class on the Gary campus.
The University Center will allow more opportunities for people interested in pursuing their education, he said, adding IUN will be utilizing four classrooms and will offer undergraduate and graduate-level classes. They also may offer concurrent enrollment with high schools.
"There are so many dimensions we can do," Malik said about the facility and partnerships with the other universities.
The building — with its two-story atrium, academic offices, classrooms, science lab, computer lab and smart rooms — is energy-efficient, Sweeney said.
One classroom can also double as a community space. Seating 200 when open, it can be split into two individual classrooms.
The atrium, with its sail-covered lights, dunes landscape planter and sand and aqua cover scheme, serves as both a student lounge and community events area, said Sweeney.
"(Former) Mayor Velazquez wanted to tie this in with the lakefront theme," Sweeney said of the building's decor.
In addition to the universities, WorkOne will occupy 5,500 square feet of the building.
"Everything in here is designed for them," said Sweeney, pointing to the three classrooms, two training rooms and computer lab.
The city is planning grand opening ceremonies when the building is completed.