MERRILLVILLE — Work for the community center is expected to start in coming months, but town officials remain divided on the project.
The Town Council, Redevelopment Commission and Redevelopment Authority last week approved various matters associated with the initiative, including awarding more than $2.1 million in contracts to prepare the town's property on Broadway near 66th Place for construction.
Each of the items considered by the three panels received split decisions.
The site preparation work includes excavation, site utilities, asphalt paving and concrete.
Engineering Administrator Steven King said the site work is expected to start before the end of the year, but an exact date hasn't been determined.
Action taken by the RDC and RDA continues to advance the lease revenue bond financing plan for the community center. The town is pursuing two bonds totaling $24 million.
Merrillville anticipates closing on the bonds before the end of 2019.
As the approval process continues, there have been differing views about the project.
As they did last week, union members who attended the meeting applauded the decision to progress the financing for the project.
Randy Palmateer, business manager for the Northwestern Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council, reiterated the project will create union jobs. He also believes it could produce more development in nearby areas.
Bill Barnes, operations and entrepreneurial manager at the Purdue Technology Center in the Purdue Research Park, agrees the project will produce job growth.
Barnes, a board member of the Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the center also could attract more people to the Purdue Research Park.
Don Koliboski, vice president of economic development of the Lake County Economic Alliance, also supports the endeavor, indicating it can help attract more private development.
Resident Rick La Fever said he is a union member, but he opposes the community center project.
He said he is “ashamed” of some of the union members who are supporting the initiative.
“We don't need this project right now,” La Fever said.
Former Councilman Andy Sylwestrowicz questioned how much debt the municipality is carrying and believes the center would “take away a lot of money for the town of Merrillville.”
Councilwoman Marge Uzelac said the votes she's cast against the project aren't an indication she opposes unions.
She said her main concern is the funding method.
Uzelac said she initially was in favor of the project but changed her mind after reviewing figures, and she believes the project as it stands could create a financial burden.
She thinks the town should consider renovating a vacant structure in the municipality because it could be more cost effective and fill an empty building.
Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey suggested exploring the possibility of Merrillville acquiring the Andrean High School property if the school is moved to a different location.
Guernsey said he understands no final action has been taken regarding moving the school, and such a decision won't occur until a new bishop is appointed to the Catholic Diocese of Gary.
Town Councilman Shawn Pettit said an extensive and costly renovation project likely would be needed to convert that building into a community center.