Home News Portage library garden will bring community together

Portage library garden will bring community together

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The new library garden at Portage Public Library isn’t quite finished yet but is now open for public use.

“It’s the beginning of a walkable downtown,” Mayor Austin Bonta said. He proved his point by walking to the outdoor space from his office at City Hall for the ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday.

“How refreshing that was to walk somewhere in our downtown,” he said.

His predecessor, Sue Lynch, noted that a bike path will connect the library to the Prairie Duneland Trail, making the library garden even more accessible to pedestrians.

“This is a dream come true here,” Lynch said.

Early in the pandemic, Porter County Public Library System Director Jesse Butz asked if the city’s parks department could provide benches for use outside the library. The library offers a robust Wi-Fi signal for use by students and others outside the library as well as inside.

“It just kind of evolved,” Lynch said. “It just started with that dream, and it kind of kept escalating.”

“This has been a dream of ours for quite some time,” Butz said.

Library Board President Kristy Merritt said she hopes the library garden will be a place of growth, learning and togetherness for the community,

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Porter County Public Library System director Jesse Butz holds up a sign featuring a rendering of the proposed Portage Library Garden as Portage Mayor Sue Lynch speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, July 20, 2023. (Kyle Telechan for the Post-Tribune)

Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune

Porter County Public Library System director Jesse Butz holds up a sign featuring a rendering of the proposed Portage Library Garden as Portage Mayor Sue Lynch speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, July 20, 2023. (Kyle Telechan for the Post-Tribune)

Already, the outdoor venue has proven its ability to bring people together.

County Councilwoman Sylvia Graham served on the subcommittee that helped the county decide to devote some of its American Rescue Plan Act funding for the project. It met several of the criteria for funding. It’s education, it allows for social distancing, it is a permanent facility for the community.

“This is a beautiful beautification project,” Graham said.

County Councilman Andy Vazquez represents south Porter County, but he’s impressed by the north county project. “I love the vibe up here,” he said.

“Come on out. Enjoy it. Your taxpayer dollars paid for this,” Vasquez said.

“I love this project,” said County Commissioner Laura Blaney. “When we first saw the drawings, we were blown away.”

“This is what happens when so many people come together,” Blaney said.

Abonmarche’s lead designer for the project was Arvin Delacruz. “This was designed for the unique experiences of this community and this community alone,” he said. Features at the park represent the steel industry and the Dunes, both of them central to Portage’s identity.

“How many times have we heard are libraries even needed anymore?” Delacruz said rhetorically. The library garden proves the answer is yes.

“This represents your community. We’re just honored to be a part of it,” he said.

“It’s a community-driven project, and there’s a lot more to come,” Butz said.

The county, city, library system and others all chipped in financially. Sponsorships will allow others to contribute. Just scan the QR code at the library garden to select a feature to sponsor. Naming rights are “for the useful life of the item,” Butz said.

Features include a pavilion, hurricane-proof shade canopies, sculpture garden and many benches throughout the park. The sundial plaza has a designated spot for people to stand and listen to an echo from their voice. Bill Hasse, president of Hasse Construction, proudly guided visitors to the spot so they could try it out.

Portage’s library garden is the second in the county library system. The first was opened in Valparaiso.

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Porter County Public Library System director Jesse Butz discusses plans for the installation of a library garden in the woods alongside the South Haven branch as well as plans for branches countywide on Friday, October 27, 2023. (Michael Gard/Post-Tribune)

Michael Gard/Post-Tribune

Porter County Public Library System director Jesse Butz discusses plans for the installation of a library garden in the woods alongside the South Haven branch as well as plans for branches countywide on Friday, October 27, 2023. (Michael Gard/Post-Tribune)

The next one to open will be in South Haven, with a grand opening planned in August, Butz said. Heavy rains this spring affected construction, but they also showed where additional drainage improvements were needed. Musical features will be added there next. In keeping with the character of the property, mushrooms and cattails will be featured themes.

The Library Board recently authorized contracts for work to begin in June or July for the library garden in Kouts. A climb-on pig will honor Kouts’ Pork Festival and the town’s heritage as a hog market.

Hebron’s library garden will be tiny, but there isn’t much room for a library garden there. Hebron Public Library, one of the last Carnegie libraries to be built, recently celebrated its centennial. “It’s in good shape,” Butz said, with the Library Board committed to addressing deferred maintenance there and at other properties in the library system.

Doug Ross is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.



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