Prognosis good for construction boom

2012-03-04T00:00:00Z Prognosis good for construction boomBy Jeff Burton, (219) 548-4354

Around Porter County, a boom in the construction of new health care facilities continues, with two large facilities set to open.

Built on the site of a long-vacant former Jewel grocery store on Indian Boundary Road, just east of Ind. 49, the new Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Chesterton is providing emergency medical care in the county's northern end.

The $22 million LEED-certified facility houses an on-site laboratory, physician offices and around-the-clock emergency care.

Further south along Ind. 49 at Burlington Beach Road, Community Healthcare System is planning to build a new 55,000-square-foot outpatient care facility.

The Valparaiso Health Center will be affiliated with Hobart's St. Mary Medical Center and provide residents with an immediate care facility, a pharmacy, radiological services, outpatient rehabilitation and physical therapy, weight-loss surgical services and offices for a number of physician specialists.

The $18 million two-story building could open as soon as the end of 2012.

The largest project, though, is the 430,000-square-foot Porter Regional Hospital building in Liberty Township.

With construction ahead of schedule, the new 225 private-room hospital at the northwest corner of U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 is set to open in August, some three months earlier than originally expected.

The estimated $225 million project has reportedly created about 600 construction jobs since ground was broken in July 2010. Once the facility opens, officials have said, it could create about 100 new permanent jobs.

The new hospital is nearly double the size of the current Porter Valparaiso Hospital Campus. Once vacated, that building's site also is set to spur development as part of the Valparaiso University campus.

In September, hospital and university officials made the sale of the 13-arce site official. Under the terms of the sale, the price of which hasn't been disclosed, the two patient towers and other buildings will be demolished and turned over to the university as shovel-ready land in 2013.

University officials said because of its location, the land could be used for improved or relocated athletic facilities, but no firm decision will be made until a strategic plan is in place later this year.

Elsewhere on the VU campus, administrators in October officially opened the new 13,500-square-foot Donald V. Fites Engineering Innovation Center. Attached to the Gellersen Engineering and Mathematics Center, the $13 million building includes a manufacturing center, a project lab and state-of-the-art equipment for students.

Set to open this year, a three-story, 52,000-square-foot building adjacent to the Christopher Center for Library and Information Resources will consolidate many faculty offices in a central location on campus, and also add classroom space for the College of Arts and Sciences.

The university also received a $15 million alumni donation in 2011 to preserve the iconic Chapel of the Resurrection and construct a 9,000-square-foot addition to house campus ministries.

In downtown Portage, construction continues on the University Center building, which is set to house classrooms area universities may use as a satellite location, as well as offices for WorkOne.

Todd Olthof, president of the Home Builders Association of Northwest Indiana, said he's "very hopeful" the number of new housing starts will increase in 2012, following the institutional boom.

"I would expect we'll see increases in 2012 and I'd expect double-digit increases," Olthof said.

In 2011, new housing permits issued in Porter County were down about 7 percent from the previous year, Olthof said. He said a variety of tax incentives offered to first-time home buyers and others building homes likely caused the numbers to be a little higher in late 2009 and early 2010.

He said economic improvements could help give those interested in building the confidence to do so. He said with a low foreclosure rate, the Northwest Indiana market is well positioned for a home-building recovery.

"Analysts across the country expect increases," he said. "We might be a market that experiences greater numbers."

Olthof said for every new home constructed, three jobs are created and that if both Lake and Porter County saw a 20 percent increase in the number of new homes constructed, that would mean 483 new jobs for region residents.

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