By Kathy Bernel
We’re still in the throes of a pandemic that has stolen lives, sickened many, and up-ended economies the world over. Not much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season, right?
The City of La Porte has been on the receiving end of over four million dollars in the last four years, all in the form of grant money from the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte. The foundation, funded from the proceeds of the March 2016 sale of La Porte Hospital, is dedicated to improving the health and wellness of local residents. It does this by funding organizations that have identified projects to improve life here.
The city is one of those organizations.
“This year we give thanks and celebrate what partnerships and cooperation can accomplish,” Maria Fruth, HFL president and CEO, said Tuesday. That spirit of partnership and cooperation can be seen in projects, both highly visible and behind the scenes, throughout La Porte.
Mayor Tom Dermody said a favorite HFL-funded endeavor is the kayak launch in Soldiers Memorial Park. Awarded $112,180 in grant cycle 2019, the city summarized the project in its application to HFL as follows: “The goal of our project is to provide recreational opportunities for those with physical challenges who want to engage in water-based activities. We propose installing the ADA-compliant kayak and canoe launch on the Hennessey wetland, allowing access to the La Porte Chain of Lakes Blueway (Pine and Stone lakes and the Hennessey wetland). Construction would also involve paving the lot near Cummings Lodge across from Stone Lake Beach as well as installing a set of kayak lockers for daily storage.”
That project, Dermody said, highlights one of the best things La Porte has to offer: its lakes and outdoor recreation opportunities. La Porte has surrounding communities beat, hands down, in terms of quality of life, Dermody said. And quality of life, he believes, is exactly what businesses are looking for when assessing areas in which to locate and/or expand.
“Many mayors have said they wish they had the natural resources that La Porte has,” Dermody said. That’s one of the reasons for the city’s adoption of ‘“La Porte — Livin’ the Lake Life” as a tag line in its marketing efforts.
Dermody is also proud of the nearly completed Clear Lake trail head and boardwalk, as well as the Chessie trail connection and the outdoor fitness areas at Kesling Park.
The mayor acknowledged that he has fielded complaints from residents who expect the city to use the funds to improve sidewalks and fix roads.
“Number one, you can’t use (HFL foundation funds) for projects like that,” Dermody said. “Number two, people have been saying ‘We want more things to do.’” And people want La Porte to be able to offer a quality of life that makes residents want to stay, and makes their kids want to stay as well, he added.
Dermody credited his predecessor, former Mayor Mark Krentz, for starting a number of the projects, and he praised his team at City Hall for continuing work on the projects. He expressed thanks to Fruth and members of the HFL board of directors for their commitment to improving the lives of La Porteans. Earlier this year, Fruth noted that “(the) success of our community’s health and wellness organizations, as well as the Healthcare Foundation’s mission, lies in the development of deep partnerships across our community.”
Observing the city’s progress with the grant funding, Fruth said Tuesday that “the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte has been strengthening the city and parks infrastructure by awarding those funds to create an environment that invites healthy lifestyles, accessible to all.”
She also noted that the HFL’s goal for the middle of next year is an educational campaign focusing on the benefits of active living.
Here are highlights of some of HFL’s larger partnership grants with the city:
$887,000 Stone Lake Trail (2019 strategic grant, cycle 2)
Project summary: The City of La Porte will design and construct an .8-mile multi-use trail along the shores of Stone Lake from Craven Drive to the Stone Lake Beach House. The 8 ½-foot-wide asphalt trail will run along Lake Shore Drive and Grangemouth Road and will include nodes with lake access that bump out into Stone Lake every 500 feet or so along the trail. The project includes shoreline improvements with native plantings and erosion stabilization. This is the first segment of a planned loop trail around Stone Lake that will connect Soldiers Memorial Park to the Chessie Trail via Truesdell Avenue.
$570,089 Clear Lake Trailhead and Boardwalk (2018 strategic grant, cycle 2)
Project summary: With the construction of the Clear Lake Trailhead and Boardwalk, we hope to see greater access to recreation and exercise activities for all La Porteans, including sedentary adults. The trailhead provides the essential access point for the Clear Lake trail and the boardwalk, two new facilities for recreation and exercise to be constructed in 2018-2019. By 2022, the City of La Porte plans to complete 1.7 miles of trail that will encircle Clear Lake and tie into 3.5 miles of the Chessie Trail, connecting Pine and Clear Lakes with our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
$506,000 18th Street Greenway (2020 strategic grant, cycle 2)
Project summary: The City of La Porte has been working to support the School Corporation’s expansion of the Kesling Campus; to date various roadway and limited pedestrian improvements have been completed, however one key piece is missing. The 18th Street Greenway Project-Phase 2 continues the work, providing safe access for biking and pedestrian students to and from the Kesling Campus and Kesling Park. The project will develop a multi-use side path between Kingsbury Avenue and I Street along the south side of 18th Street and sidewalks to fill an accessibility gap along Kingsbury Avenue (Fox Street and 18th Street).
$425,000 Sub-area Plan and Clear Lake Recreational Improvements (2018 strategic grant, cycle 2)
Project summary: Through completion of the Sub-Area Plan and Clear Lake Recreational Improvements, we will see greater access to recreation and exercise activities for all La Porteans in the heart of the city. The planning portion of the grant will maximize the effectiveness of proposed recreation-focused projects in the area of NewPorte Landing, Clear Lake, and downtown. The construction portion of the grant includes completing a recreational access point on Clear Lake, preparing underutilized wetland for recreational improvements, and building a connector trail that will link the Chessie to Clear Lake.
$232,020 Chessie Trail, phase 1 (2017 strategic focus grant)
Project summary: The Chessie Trail, Phase 1, is the first leg of the City of La Porte’s first regional trail. Phase 1 connects Kiwanis Teledyne Park to NewPorte Boulevard and is approximately 1.5 miles in length. Future phases of the trail will traverse the entire city and extend into neighboring communities.
$181,768 Kesling Park Batting Cages and Shade Sails (2018 strategic grant, cycle 2)
Project summary: The Kesling Park ball diamond complex becomes a hub of nearly constant activity from March through October, with leagues and tournaments for adults and youth filling the schedule. While the Park Department has invested in the facility in recent years, adding more and improved amenities will help us get more residents active and draw more visitors to our parks.
$165,000 Tennis Renaissance, phase 1 (2018 strategic grant, cycle 2)
Project summary: Our goal is to create a resurgence in tennis participation in our community in order to deliver better health and wellness for residents. The first phase of this initiative calls for the renovation of the Bill Reed Tennis Complex in Kesling Park. The courts are worn and cracked and on the verge of presenting a safety risk. The renovation of these courts will also allow us to provide either dedicated or shared-use pickleball courts which will better serve our senior population.
Other HFL grants have been awarded with an eye toward safety, such as $24,212 to the La Porte Fire Department’s Automated External Defibrillator (AED) program; $24,000 to La Porte parks for water filling stations; and $64,800 to the city’s Park Safety Initiative for the three regional parks for AEDs, lighting detector systems and radar speed signs.
For a complete list of the grants awarded to the city, or for more information about grant opportunities through the HFL, visit www.hflaporte.org.