Times change, people grow. They move into a community, or they move out and – with each generation that passes – the needs and character of the community changes, too.
Many people from the Portage area were saddened last year when it was announced that Camelot Bowl, the iconic bowling alley and sports entertainment complex was set to close. Located on Route 6, just east of County Line Road, Camelot Bowl, which has served as a staple of the Porter county area for more than 40 years, would be setting up pins for the last time and was scheduled to close for good on Dec 31st of last year.
Times change. People grow. Their needs change, but change often brings opportunity.
There were rumors of a new buyer, a deal in the works, but details were sketchy. Today, it was announced what was to come of that building where so many area residents had spent so much of their time over the last few decades: it will be renewed to serve as the new home of Neighbors’ New Vistas High School & NEO Adult Education.
Rebecca Reiner, Executive Director of Neighbors’ Educational Opportunities, took a few moments to speak with us before today’s groundbreaking ceremony at the former bowling alley.
“This is going to be an expanded version of the comprehensive adult education program which has existed at our old location on Central Avenue here in Portage for over 50 years. We offer an alternative adult education opportunity, with courses such as English as a second language, GED courses, college entrance exams, US citizenship instruction. We are expanding from just 40,000 square feet to over 70,000 square feet at this new location. We are also expanding our curriculum from our core high school classes, to focus on more career-ready classes. We have plans to offer courses in business, career certification, certified nursing, pharmacy technician, manufacturing training, etc. The current business climate here in northwest Indiana has demonstrated to us that what’s really needed is more training to make sure that our residents are ready for the workplace,” said Reiner.
The project is being funded via loans which NEO obtained from the state of Indiana, as well as a private loan from 1st Source Bank.
“This is a $4.5 million dollar project,” said Reiner. “That’s huge for a non-profit such as NEO, but our program has been around for over 50 years and we really had no choice but to move on and move up.”
Indiana Senator Ed Charbonneau attended the ceremony, along with Portage mayor James E Snyder.
NEO is happy to be partnered with Chester Architectural and Construction company, which is handling the extensive renovation project.
The building, once finished, will feature areas for an adult high school, adult education and on-site child care as well as a sports complex.
“We’re working with Workforce Development, Ivy Tech and other regional partners who know what exactly will be needed in the local business community and we will be working to offer certification programs in those areas,” said Reiner.
Mayor Snyder took a few moments to address the crowd gathered amidst the rubble of the old bowling alley, which is already well underway towards its new future.
“Second chances… getting our kids and adults prepared for life… is priority number one for everyone here. Here is a building getting its own second start, getting renovated, getting turned around and getting a second chance at life, much like what New Vistas does every day. Take people, help them get turned around and give them a second chance. To be here, to be able to see all this happen is really exciting,” said Snyder, before turning the floor over to Indiana State Senator Ed Charbonneau.
“I’d like to echo everything that the mayor has said about New Vistas. This program is serving a segment of the population which is very easily overlooked at times. We need a champion that is willing to take on a challenge like this, to bring it to the attention of senators, and New Vistas and every student who will benefit in the future from this project has a champion right here in Rebecca Reiner,” said Charbonneau, to a round of applause.
Reiner was quick to share that applause with all the people who helped make the event possible.
“It wasn’t just me. It was the students, and NEO and all those who have supported us – community leaders, civic organizations and all those who have helped us to provide these services over the years. We’re hoping that this new building, with its new facilities and programs, will allow us to expand those services,” said Reiner. “It’s the students that have motivated us, students who have come here from other countries and others who have come here to continue their education which may have been interrupted for whatever reason. We have an incredible board of directors who worked hard to make this happen. It was important for us to remain here in Portage, this location is central to the residents of both Lake and Porter counties who come here to take advantage of our programs.”
“We have a staff that you would die for. Our students should be honored because they are the ones who have worked hard and chosen to continue their education, and we’re all really grateful for the support that we’ve received from the community,” said Reiner.
Also on hand was Pete Peuquet, president and CEO of Chester Architectural & Construction Services, who was happy to present Reiner and NEO with a check for $25,000 to go towards NEO’s programs and services.
“As far as our company is concerned, we have been very fortunate to be involved with various organizations throughout the region,” said Peuquet. “This is going to be an excellent facility for the community and for all the students who will pass through here.”
NEO serves roughly 800 students a year, and has graduated 1,200 over the last four years.
The project is scheduled to be completed by fall of 2016.
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