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MERRILLVILLE — It's common to find people of all walks of life in Merrillville's many neighborhoods.

Town Council President Richard Hardaway said the town is rich in diversity with several different ethnic groups that make up the community.

“That's what makes us Merrillville,” he said.

Traveling through the municipality, it's easy to see the town is welcoming of different backgrounds and religions.

In addition to the many denominations of Christian churches in the community, Merrillville is home to a Hindu temple, an Islamic center and a Sikh temple.

Many of the different ethnic groups in Merrillville have annual festivals and other events to celebrate their heritage.

Because of the many backgrounds found in the community, Hardaway would like the town to eventually host a large diversity event each year to bring all the different ethnic groups together.

Hardaway said the town doesn't yet have adequate space to host such an event, but Merrillville is working its way toward a major diversity program.

Until that happens, the municipality is looking to bring people together each year through the town's free concerts in the park program each summer at Pruzin Park.

Last year's event brought in more than 700 people, and the town plans to see more this year.

Hardaway said Merrillville is expanding the event to a two-day program. On July 26, there will be a concert featuring a variety of genres. On July 27, a gospel concert will take place.

Hardaway said Merrillville has invited local churches to participate in the gospel concert, and four have signed on so far.

He views the expanding concert series as a prelude to an ethnic and diversity festival.

“The first real opportunity to do that is once the community center is built,” Hardaway said of the diversity program.

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Merrillville officials continue to plan for that facility to be constructed on the more than 30 acres of property the municipality purchased in the 6600 block of Broadway.

Design work continues for the center, and town officials also are discussing all the amenities they want included there.

Once all of that work is finished, town leaders will have a solid cost estimate to build the facility.

Hardaway said the goal is to begin construction before the end of year.

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“I think that's doable,” he said.

The new community center will expand programming for people of all ages. Merrillville also is interested in partnering with a youth organization, which also could operate in the facility to provide more activity options for families.

“These are the things that are important,” Hardaway said.

Hardaway places a strong emphasis on youth in the community, and he has worked with the Merrillville Community School Corp. to strengthen the town's relationship with the district.

“We have a great school system,” he said

Hardaway said the Merrillville Community School Corp. has high standards for its students to help them succeed.

He said Nick Brown, who became the Merrillville schools superintendent last year, “has improved on an already great system.”

As the community center project and the efforts of the school district make the town appealing to families, the municipality also has success bringing in new businesses.

Town Councilman Shawn Pettit said the ongoing 101st Avenue bridge replacement could help with economic growth.

The project, which is expected to finish in the fall, will improve access in the southern end of town. The enhanced traffic flow should make that area more enticing for new development, he said.

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