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Michigan City's Washington Park

This structure in Michigan City's Washington Park was falling down before the city's Redevelopment Commission paid to have it restored. The City Council gave it back to the Park Department on Tuesday.

MICHIGAN CITY — The city’s Park Department is getting back one of its structures at Washington Park, but not without controversy about whether the park workers will have the resources to maintain it.

“We barely have money to buy food for the animals in the Washington Park Zoo,” said Council President Don Przybylinski, D-at large.

The City Council voted 6-3 recently to return the “greenhouse” building to the Park Board after the dilapidated structure was rescued and restored by the city’s Redevelopment Commission.

The Park Board and RDC had both adopted resolutions in support of the move.

The building, constructed in 1934 by the Works Progress Administration, was once the Park Department headquarters. It now is used to store rescue equipment for the Police and Fire departments. A greenhouse originally extended from its east side but no longer does.

“It was personally gratifying to me to see this structure restored,” said Councilwoman Sharon Carnes, D-5th.

Before the RDC stepped in, the Park Department didn’t want to preserve the building, she said. The conversation had shifted from preservation to historic ruins.

“These are historic structures, and they’re part of Washington Park,” Carnes said. “They deserve all the same protection as the other monuments in that park.”

“What’s the future going to be to maintain this structure, and the use of it?” asked Councilman Bryant Dabney, D-1st.

“I think it’s totally unfair to dump more and more on them without the resources to care for it,” Dabney said.

Przybylinski expressed similar sentiments.

“If you don’t have the funding for it now, I don’t know how you’re going to have the funding for it three months from now when the budget comes out,” he said.

"I assume the Park Board had the same conversation we're having here today," said Councilman Tim Bietry, D-At-large.

Councilman Ron Hamilton Jr., D-3rd, said the city should have built a larger building.

“This building is not up to standards for what we needed,” he said.

A building proposed several years ago, after studying the city's space needs, would have been large enough to house all of the Park Department’s equipment, Dabney said.

Hamilton questioned the building’s future under Park Department control.

“I don’t really believe they were taking care of that property very well,” he said. “The building was falling down,” and junk was dumped behind it until the mayor ordered it to be cleaned up.

Dabney, Hamilton and Przybylinski voted against transferring the building to the Park Board’s control.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.