Home builders hopeful 2011 will be better

2011-03-06T00:00:00Z Home builders hopeful 2011 will be betterBy Jeff Burton jeff.burton@nwi.com, (219) 548-4354 nwitimes.com

While the number of residential housing starts has yet to rebound to the level they were at just a few years ago, builders around Porter County are optimistic the numbers will rise this year.

"The Home Builders Association of Northwest Indiana expects 2011 to be a year filled with significant economic improvements and substantial growth in home ownership throughout Northwest Indiana's Lake and Porter counties." said Ben Houser, president of the Home Builders Association of Northwest Indiana.

While some residential bright spots, like The Village in Burns Harbor, are still seeing growth, the county is experiencing a boom in commercial and institutional development.

Around Porter County, new educational facilities are springing up.

Construction on the $13 million expansion of the engineering building at Valparaiso University started in the spring, and the building is set to open later this year.

Built onto the southern end of the existing Gellersen Center near Sturdy Road, the 13,500-square-foot Donald V. Fites Engineering Innovation Center will bring the latest in engineering technology to campus, including a lab that will be used in research to test the structural integrity of bridges.

The environmentally conscious building is also set to become the university's first to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

Named after Donald Fites, the former chairman of Caterpillar Inc. and a member of the university's board of directors, the building will join the Christopher Center library, the Kallay-Christopher meteorology and geography building, and the Harre Union, all built in the past decade.

The university is also planning to construct a new building for the College of Arts and Sciences on the site of the former student union. That building will provide additional faculty offices as well as classroom space.

In the county's northern half, the city of Portage is planning to construct the 32,000-square foot Portage Learning Center. At $6.1 million, the building will house classes for Indiana University Northwest, Purdue University North Central, Valparaiso University and Ivy Tech Community College.

Officials are hoping the building, situated on the Central Avenue site of a demolished grocery store, will spur additional growth in the area.

The largest development in Porter County, though, is the new Porter hospital campus in Liberty Township.

Officials broke ground on the 225-private-room hospital in July. Located at the northwest corner of U.S. 6 at Ind. 49, a mammoth steel structure has already risen from the former soybean fields. At 430,000 square feet, the state-of-the-art facility will be almost twice the size of the current hospital in downtown Valparaiso.

The $225 million project is set to bring up to 600 construction jobs to Porter County by the time the building opens in the summer of 2012. When it opens, plans call for the creation of about 100 more permanent professional jobs.

Developers are also hoping the hospital acts as an impetus in spurring other growth in the area.

County officials are currently considering a proposal to rezone more than 100 acres near the hospital site, allowing restaurants, pharmacies, medical offices and other professional firms to anchor in the area.

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