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Merrillville community center receives $10 million donation
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Merrillville community center receives $10 million donation

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MERRILLVILLE — A $10 million gift from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation could help perpetually fund operations of Merrillville’s new community center.

The Town Council on Tuesday announced the massive gift and that Merrillville’s $24 million facility has been named the Dean and Barbara White Community Center.

“Through the foundation’s generosity, the Dean and Barbara White Community Center will be able to impact the lives of all Merrillville residents, young and old, for generations to come,” Council President Rick Bella said.

Merrillville will receive $2 million disbursements during the next 5 years, and the gift will be administered through the Legacy Foundation, Councilman Shawn Pettit said.

“Words cannot begin to express the town’s gratitude for this enormously generous donation from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation,” Pettit said.

Many town officials celebrated the announcement Tuesday by taking pictures with a rendering of the community center.

Bella said it's been a difficult year because of the pandemic and other issues, but the donation could help rejuvenate the community.

“To have this type of a bright spot coming now is just a real shot in the arm for us,” Bella said. “It's going to help us move the community center forward in a very positive way and we can't thank the White foundation enough.”

Pettit described the donation as “probably one of the most important if not the most important item that the town of Merrillville has ever experienced in its 50 year history.”

He said the White family established its roots in Merrillville decades ago with the development of the former Radisson Hotel, Star Plaza Theatre and the Twin Towers property, and the family continues to have a significant impact on the community.

“The foundation is proud to honor Dean and Barbara’s legacy by providing the lead gift to the Merrillville Community Center,” Pettit said. “It is their hope that this center enhances the quality of life for the town’s citizens and serves as a gathering place for people of all ages to engage, learn and improve their physical and emotional health.”

In addition to the gift from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, the town could receive additional contributions from other entities and businesses.

Pettit said Merrillville will offer smaller sponsorship opportunities for other areas of the community center, including scoreboards and courts.

He said the town could maximize the gift by using portions of it as needed and gaining interest on the remainder of it. If handled properly, it’s possible the town could “live off the interest so to speak,” Pettit said.

“It could fund it for a very, very long time,” he said of the gift for the community center operations.

Construction continues for the 95,000-square-foot center at 6600 Broadway, and the building remains on pace to open March 1.

“The programs and amenities at the center include a fitness center, elevated walking/jogging path, three regulation basketball courts, six volleyball courts, a rock climbing wall, a multipurpose turf athletic field for both youth football and soccer use,” Pettit said.

There also is a multipurpose community room that has space available to rent for events, meetings and other activities.

Although the opening is months away, the community center has already started attracting attention, Parks Director Jan Orlich said.

She said there have been six requests for basketball court time and five requests for field usage.

“I even have people calling for banquets and wanting to reserve the banquet facility without even knowing the cost of the facility yet,” Orlich said.

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