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Michigan City Courthouse project remains on budget

La PORTE — Despite encountering several setbacks in recent years, things are looking up for La Porte County’s overhaul of the Michigan City Courthouse.

On Wednesday, the La Porte County Board of Commissioners authorized a construction services contract with Michigan City’s Tonn and Blank Construction for the $22.5 million project, which will expand and renovate the 1909 structure.

The board also approved a guaranteed maximum price agreement with the contractor for the $22.5 million figure the county and company budgeted for the project last year.

The contracts came several weeks after the county opened subcontractor bids for the construction job, which Tonn and Blank is looking to break ground on this fall.

The selected bidders came in under budget, which, when combined with the lower-than-anticipated architecture and engineering costs, keeps the project within its $22.5 million price tag.

The savings will also allow the contractor to add to the scope of construction, including spending an additional $75,000 to salvage and reinstall certain furnishings from existing courtrooms to the renovated structure, including benches, jury boxes and rails, according to Matt Hubbard, pre-construction manager.

Tonn and Blank, general contractor for the project, received bids from 67 prospective subcontractors for the project – 11 from county-based companies – spanning 28 construction categories. Contracts have been awarded for all but two bid categories, which Tonn and Blank plan to rebid due to contractors not having proper bid materials, Hubbard said.

Having costs remain on budget is a positive development for the renovation plan.

The project, which has been in the works for five years, will include an expansion to the 111-year-old structure, which will contain handicap-accessible restrooms and elevators, as well as office space for personnel currently working out of the county’s other Michigan City building on 8th Street.

Builders also plan on updating the interior of the current courthouse, including improvements to the heating, air-conditioning and electrical systems.

Also included in the plans is construction of a parking area for prisoner transports underneath the building, with inmates and escorts entering through a secure entrance.

The improvements will not only enhance the accessibility and security of the courthouse, but also fix ongoing electrical problems – the building has suffered several electrical fires in recent years.

The county has faced several hurdles to this point in making the project a reality, however.

After agreeing to a $22.5 million design – scaled back from the original $27.1 million concept county officials rejected due to the price tag – in spring 2019, Tonn and Blank later revised estimates up to $24.6 million, due to a rise in construction costs and steel prices.

County officials were able to bring this figure back down, though, by receiving fee waivers from the Michigan City Common Council and having county department heads use money from their budgets to offset some construction costs.

The most recent setback occurred in April, when the commissioners ordered a halt to the project after Auditor Joie Winski warned commissioners and the council that the county could face significant revenue losses due to the financial turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board lifted the hold the following month, however, after working out a new financing plan with the council.

The council had originally authorized an $8 million appropriation from the emergency reserve fund to use as a down payment, with the remaining dollars coming from a $14.5 million bond. Under the revised plan, the county will put forward a smaller initial commitment of $3.5 million – $2 million of which would come from the emergency fund and $1.5 million from the Major Moves fund – leaving more dollars in the rainy-day fund to make up for any budget shortfalls.

During Wednesday’s meeting, County Attorney Shaw Friedman praised Tonn and Blank for working with the county the past several years, and sharpening their pencils at many points to bring the project’s price and scope in line with officials’ expectations.

“This is tremendously extraordinary work by Matt, Jon [Gilmore, company president/CEO] and others with the firm to make this thing fit within the budget, and do it with a quality, size of structure and overall capability, which is exactly what this commission wanted,” Friedman said.

Commission President Sheila Matias echoed Friedman’s sentiment, also crediting Winski for “keeping everyone’s feet to the fire” during the many planning sessions.

“Those pencils got really, really sharp,” Matias said. “Thank you for that, on behalf of taxpayers.”

MC family will be homeowners thanks to Habitat for Humanity volunteers

MICHIGAN CITY – More than a dozen volunteers have been hard at work at the corner of Tryon and Hobart streets this week building new homes for families served by La Porte County Habitat for Humanity.

The organization has served La Porte County since 1983, and the residences at 411 Tryon St. and 204 Hobart St. are its most recent undertakings.

“We live in a city which is in desperate need of housing for middle- to low-income families,” said Sophia Coleman, executive director of La Porte County Habitat for Humanity.

“… That is our mission – to build homes for low-income families. And we do that in a number of ways, but the basis of our organization is to find volunteers to keep the costs low.”

Most of the volunteers present on Thursday morning were parishioners from St. John’s Christian Church in Archbold, Ohio. Thirteen of them traveled some 2.5 hours to frame the Tryon Street house, with their mission trip beginning Monday morning and scheduled to end Friday afternoon.

“My reason for being here is Matthew Chapter 25 [in the Bible],” said the Rev. Erich Christman. “It’s the parable of the sheep and the goats, where Jesus instructs his followers to visit those who are in prison, to clothe those who are naked, to feed those who are hungry – to take care of others. And that’s what we’re doing.

“It was great to meet the family this week; we don’t always get to do that. It’s just a matter of working together to fulfill that mission.”

The family to which he was referring was Leroy and Amanda Jackson; their 17-year-old son, Donovin Jackson; 16-year-old daughter, Alishiana Jackson; 5-year-old grandson, Malikai Linnenburger; and 4-year-old grandson, Maison Linnenburger.

Until they move into their new home, the family is renting a two-bedroom home, with all four children sharing the same bedroom – the grandsons in the same bed.

So, moving into a more spacious four-bedroom house is especially exciting for the kids.

“It’s very, very exciting to finally have my own room and a bigger room and to have my own things and my own space,” Alishiana said.

She looks forward to filling her room with plants and creating a “natural vibe.”

Donovin said he’s looking forward to having a quieter space of his own where he can play video games.

Amanda and Leroy said they’re particularly happy that their mortgage will cost them about half what they currently pay for rent.

“It’s a stress-reliever for me,” Leroy said. “It’s just a great opportunity to be a homeowner. It’s something my wife and I have been trying to do for years, and now we’re finally able to do it with the grace of God. We’re just thankful and blessed and grateful.”

Amanda recalled the day they found out they were getting a new home. She said they’d applied twice and been denied both times, so they worked to build their credit.

Then, one day in early April, she received a phone call from Coleman telling her to look outside.

“She was wearing a mask and holding a sign that said, ‘Hey, Jacksons – you’ve been approved!’,” Amanda remembered. “We all ran outside and were crying. I think I cried for a week. We’re very grateful.”

And to prove their gratitude, the Jacksons have been volunteering at the job sites at both their future home on Tryon Street and the Hobart Street house on the adjacent lot.

Coleman estimates it will cost another $40,000 to finish the work at the two homes; but she hesitated to provide a projected completion date, as it depends on the availability of volunteers, and donations of money and supplies.

To volunteer with or donate to La Porte County Habitat for Humanity, contact the organization at (219) 814-4985 or

Multigym workout machines available at county parks

MICHIGAN CITY — The La Porte County Parks has installed multipurpose outdoor fitness equipment at two of its parks, including Luhr County Park in La Porte, and plans to soon have equipment at all four parks.

Equipment is now available at Luhr County Park located at, 3178S CR-150W, La Porte and Creek Ridge County Park, located at 7943W CR-400N, Michigan City, thanks to a partnership with the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte, according to parks spokeswoman Laura Moyer.

Fitness equipment will open soon at Red Mill and Bluhm county parks as well.

The fitness equipment include 16-plus different exercises, offering a full body workout, she said. With adjustability where needed and a unique chin/dip assist mechanism, the multigyms are suitable for users of all fitness levels.

Up to five users at a time can take part in the workouts, and each of the stations is designed to be adaptable.

Beginners or casual users who want to exercise after a walk along the trail can realize additional health benefits while in nature, Moyer said.

She reminds park patrons to read and follow the instructions on the machines to avoid injury.

In addition, Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box encourages patrons to keep using precautions, including social distancing and hand washing/hand sanitizer upon their return from use of outdoor equipment.

The machine at Luhr Park is located by the pond under the Kiwanis Shelter among other fitness equipment, the playground and the kids fitness equipment.

The multigym at Creek Ridge is under the Greenburg Shelter close to the trail and not far from the playground. Parks are open from 7 a.m. to sunset.

Gov. Eric Holcomb allowed playgrounds to open back up on June 12, and the parks department urges park patrons to utilize social distancing and hand washing/hand sanitizer after utilizing playgrounds.

– From staff reports

Indiana's death toll from COVID-19 surpasses 2,500

INDIANAPOLIS — Twenty-three more Indiana residents have died from COVID-19, pushing the state’s confirmed and presumed deaths amid the pandemic over 2,500, state heath officials said Friday.

Eighteen of the 23 newly reported deaths occurred Wednesday and Thursday, raising the state’s confirmed COVID-19 deaths to 2,327, the Indiana State Department of Health said.

The state agency has also recorded 189 fatalities considered coronavirus-related by doctors but without confirmation of the illness from test results. Those deaths give Indiana 2,516 confirmed or presumed deaths from the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

The state health department also reported 389 more coronavirus cases Friday, increasing Indiana’s total confirmed cases to 41,746.

The La Porte County Health Department on Thursday reported three new cases, all Michigan City residents, bringing the county total to 292 public cases, 177 Westville Correctional Facility cases, 1 Westville Correctional clinical case, and 8 Indiana State Prison cases, for a total of 478 cases and 25 deaths.

Two cases were also moved from La Porte County to St. Joseph County jurisdiction on Thursday.

Friday’s state totals include 482 cases and 25 deaths in La Porte County; 611 cases and 36 deaths in Porter County; 1,628 cases and 53 deaths in St. Joseph County; 4,326 cases and 233 deaths in Lake County; and 58 cases and 3 deaths in Starke County, according to ISDH.

To date, 392,887 test results have been reported to the state agency and about 11 percent of those results have been positive for the coronavirus. In La Porte County, 6,091 test results have been reported.