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County to preserve, relocate La Porte EMS base

April 1, 2019 GMT

La PORTE — A 4-year-old La Porte County structure that was originally slated for demolition has received a stay of execution.

County leaders recently approved a plan to use a specialized firm to move the La Porte EMS base — lock, stock and barrel — from its current home on 305 State St. to a new location to make room for the new La Porte Hospital facility. The decision to move the structure rather than demolish and rebuild it will save the county nearly $500,000, which will free up funding for another project on EMS officials’ to-do list.

The county will pay Wolfe House & Building Movers $375,000 to move the La Porte EMS building — which currently houses two ambulances, with a third expected to be added to the fleet by July — to a new site located one block to the east, behind La Porte Hospital’s current human resources building. Leaders will set aside an additional $586,460 on other tasks for the relocation, including building a new foundation and utility hookups.

The move, which is expected to take six to eight weeks to finish, must occur ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline the hospital has given the county to vacate the State Street property. The county is currently working with the hospital to find a temporary space for the ambulance service to use during construction.

The project is welcome news to La Porte County EMS Administrator Andrew McGuire. The official said it was “heartbreaking” to find out the La Porte base was slated to be torn down to make way for the new hospital, as he had a big hand in the creation of the hanger, which the county EMS has used since 2015.

“It’s wonderful that [county leaders] want to move the building and preserve it,” McGuire said. “If it all works out, it will be a win-win for everyone.”

Proceeds of the nearly $1.1 million land sale the county made with the hospital for the property will fund the project. In comparison to demolition, which would have required the county to find additional money to cover the projected $1.4 million price tag, the move’s estimated cost of $941,460 will allow leaders to set aside the nearly $100,000 left over for improvements to county EMS base in Michigan City.

The department has used the former fire department building for nearly 20 years, though the base has not received any significant upgrades or improvements since it moved in, McGuire said. Although the funding will not cover everything on McGuire’s wish list, it should allow the county to tackle some top priorities, he said.

Among other issues, including problems with the roof and heating/cooling system, the ambulance hanger needs to be extended 5 to 6 feet in order better house the four vehicles currently operating out of the location, the administrator said. The vehicles are packed so tightly inside that crews have difficulty getting around the bay, he added.

“It’s about comfort, safety, being able to function better,” McGuire said. “There are many different points on why that [work] needs to be done.”

The county has also acted on another longstanding EMS department goal — the creation of a new base in Rolling Prairie.

Leaders recently hired engineering firm RQAW to begin design work for the proposed structure, which could cost between $521,000 to $707,000 to build, depending on the number of ambulance bays and crew amenities county leaders want to have at the location.

Leaders are eyeing the former Sauk Trail rest park, currently owned by the Indiana Department of Transportation, as a possible home for the new base. The county is in talks with the agency, in hopes the state will donate the land for the project.

The EMS department has tossed around the idea of building an ambulance hanger on the east side of La Porte County for over 30 years, McGuire said. Having paramedics stationed in Rolling Prairie could cut the response times to emergencies in Galena, Hudson, Kankakee and Willis townships by more than half — minutes that could be crucial for patients.

“We’re talking life or death here,” McGuire said. “It would mean the world if we could build that base, not just for us but for the residents of La Porte County.”

The county is not expected to fund the construction this year but may do so in 2020.