Officials across Porter County have not let the economic hardships of the past few years take their focus off the future.
Nearly three years after completing the lengthy and complex process of selling the county hospital, county officials are looking forward to the fruits of those efforts this spring with the groundbreaking of a new $210 million hospital at the northwest corner of Ind. 49 and U.S. 6.
"I think it will provide state-of-the-art health care for a state-of-the-art community," County Commissioner John Evans said.
The new five-story, 430,000-square-foot hospital will dwarf the current 250,000-square-foot facility. It initially will offer 261 private rooms, create 600 temporary construction jobs and staff 1,626 full-time positions within two years of opening, up from the current 1,500 jobs, Porter hospital CEO Jonathan Nalli said.
The 103-acre site also will feature an 80,000- to 100,000-square-foot medical office building.
Members of the County Council helped paved the way for the project in September by unanimously approving $12.4 million in tax breaks. A few days later, the Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed a legal challenge by a group of nearby landowners.
The Porter County commissioners also had the foresight early last year to form a Redevelopment Commission to help guide development in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The newly appointed board wasted no time going to work on a plan to bring new life to the U.S. 6 strip through South Haven and to Lake Eliza to the south.
The group also is leading the way in a study of land surrounding the new hospital site to determine what can be done to complement the development. The commission will be earmarking an estimated $800,000 contribution from the hospital as part of the tax breaks to improve the unincorporated portion of the U.S. 6 corridor both east and west of the hospital site, said Mike Bucko, commission president and Porter County treasurer.
The commissioners also chose two firms late last year to begin a multiyear comprehensive drainage study, which is believed to be one of the biggest projects the county has ever undertaken.
The study, which intends to identify drainage patterns, capacity and problem areas, was pushed to the forefront because of the development that has taken place across what had been a primarily rural county, county Drainage Board President Dave Burris said.
The county and its municipalities will use the results of the study to tackle the various problems it points out, he said.
Officials in the city of Valparaiso broke new ground in the county by venturing into the area of municipal-run public transportation with its in-town V-Line bus service and a bus route to and from Chicago.
While both services have experienced some growing pains, the city continues to have faith and succeeded in overcoming opposition last year to win overwhelming support for $1.76 million in federal funding to buy four new buses for the city's ChicaGo Dash commuter service.
The city also initiated a new campaign to increase awareness of the ChicaGo Dash and added a new stop in January at the entrance to the toll road along Ind. 49.
Bus shelters were installed late last year for the local V-Line buses, and the city plans to seek grants to get more shelters.
"It's been a benefit, I believe, to the community," said Tyler Kent, assistant city planner and transit manager.
Valparaiso also celebrated the opening last summer of its new $15 million YMCA.
In just the first couple of months after moving from downtown to the new 80,000-plus-square-foot facility, the Y added 600 new membership units, which includes individual family members, and increased overall membership to 9,400.
The YMCA in Portage had undergone its own $3.2 million expansion just a year earlier.
Increased fun and fitness also were in mind when leaders from across the county signed on to a resolution that supports a proposal to create a contiguous trail from the Indiana Dunes State Park south to the Kankakee River.
The price tag of nearly $1 million a mile and the absence of any clear funding source did not dampen enthusiasm for the project.
Planning is also under way on an incomplete trail system that eventually would run northeast along the lakeshore from Illinois to Michigan.
County officials also completed work at the end of last year on the consolidation of the local 911 emergency telephone service when the Portage dispatchers were incorporated into the county system.
The yearlong effort, which is expected to save Portage $500,000 a year, completes the transition of directing all 911 emergency calls to the county.