HAMMOND | Schererville Police Chief David Dowling remembers playing at the park named after his grandfather Edward Dowling, a former Hammond mayor, when he was a child.
But, he said, aside from the highway in the background, it was nothing like it is now.
Dowling appeared with other members of his family along with Hammond and Purdue Calumet officials at the grand opening Friday of the Dowling Park Athletic Complex.
He said he was "very proud to have our name attached to it. It's a wonderful legacy to my grandfather."
The Dowling Park Athletic Complex, featuring a variety of athletic fields and other improvements, was lauded as a "game changer" by Rick Costello, Purdue Calumet athletic director.
Noting that recruiting is the "lifeblood" of intercollegiate athletics, Costello said the school's "recruits, our parents, our students, our coaches, our fans and even our opponents are just so impressed with Dowling Park."
The complex, east of Kennedy Avenue and north of the Borman Expressway, includes baseball, softball and soccer fields, a tennis court, and a 1.8 mile walking trail. Work was initially expected to be completed by the end of August, but rain caused the opening to be delayed.
Purdue University Calumet already has been using the athletic fields and is paying the city $175,000 under a one-year lease until a long-term agreement can be worked out. McDermott said he wants to make sure whatever arrangement is made, even if the university decides to eventually purchase the complex, that it will continue to be available for Hammond residents.
There has already been discussion with the School City of Hammond and other schools about having a game of the week at the facility in the future, he noted.
Purdue Calumet Chancellor Thomas Keon praised the partnership that allows the university and city residents both to make use of the facilities. He said he has been stressing the necessity of partnerships for the university to grow since he became chancellor and said "it would not be possible for the university to have a facility like this on our own."
McDermott said it is a partnership that "benefits everybody involved."
He said a "strong and happy and healthy Purdue Northwest equals a strong and happy and healthy city of Hammond."
Keon said he did not think the university, which is in the process of merging with Purdue North Central to become Purdue Northwest, would purchase the complex outright.
"I don't think so," he said Friday. "Not in the short run."
The renovations at the facility that began in November 2013 were estimated by city officials to cost about $8.3 million. In November 2014, the Hammond City Council approved a $7.3 million bond issue that was to be used primarily for constructing the athletic fields and the tennis facility. Additional money came from gaming revenue allocated for the mayor to spend on city projects.
The first phase of the project included the soccer, softball and baseball fields, dugouts, and parking areas. The second phase included the tennis courts, walking path, bleachers, restrooms, concession stands, a training room and service facilities as well as completion of the parking lots.
In addition to the new facilities, the park's drainage also was improved. City Engineer Stan Dostanti noted earlier that in the past heavy rains would make the park unusable.