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City opts out of lead $2.3M remediation grant

MICHIGAN CITY — The city will opt out of $2.3 million grant program to help remediate lead problems in homes, test children for lead, and train residents to help find and solve lead problems.

Last year, the city was awarded a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant under the Lead Based Paint Hazard Reduction Grant program, a grant which was lauded by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, U.S. Sen. Todd Young and former mayor Ron Meer.

However, the grant required a local match of $420,000, and the Mayor’s Office announced Friday that the cost is too high.

“After careful review of the current progress of this grant, the new city administration does not believe we can successfully comply with all the terms and conditions set forth in the grant, which includes meeting the quota threshold of 150 units needed to be completed by the federal grant guidelines,” the statement said.

“If the city does not successfully comply with all the terms and conditions of this grant before it expires, the city of Michigan City will be liable for repaying all the $2.3 million in federal monies, as well as completely losing the local match of $420,000.”

Mayor Parry said in the statement that “after careful consideration, the administration believes that it would be improper to place the city in a detrimental financial liability, and has started the process of discontinuing the grant.”

By ending the program and satisfying outstanding liabilities, the city would be able to return approximately $300,000 to the Riverboat Fund, the statement said.

It is common knowledge that there is a lead problem in the city, though determining the extent of the problem has been a problem for city and Michigan City Area Schools officials because only a small percentage of children have been tested.

Lead poisoning can have a number of severe health effects, and complications are most prominent in children.

The Committee on Lead was established in 2017 to help educate the community about the dangers of lead and initiate preventative measures to protect families.

The grant money was intended to be used to implement LeadSafe Michigan City, a program aimed at eliminating childhood lead poisoning, officials said when the grant was announced.

When the grant was announced, Michael Kuss, general manager of the Michigan City Sanitary District and chairman of the Committee on Lead, said the primary source of lead contamination is lead paint, especially in older homes and primarily in rental units.

The LeadSafe Michigan City program would be a lead-reduction program that included Healthy Homes interventions citywide, a statement from the city said. The goal was to focus resources on neighborhoods with the highest incidence of childhood lead poisoning and/or the greatest risk of lead exposure based on state and local data.

Specifically, Kuss said, the grant money would be used to:

Make 120 units lead safe

Protect 105 children under the age of 6 from lead hazards

Screen 1,500 children through lead testing

Train residents in either lead-safe cleaning practices or lead-safe work practices

Assist Section 3-eligible individuals and companies with obtaining professional certification to perform lead remediation

While the grant money will now be forfeited, the city will continue to work towards those objectives, the mayor said Friday.

“Based on concern for our children, the mayor and his administration will be conducting lead abatement through our Community Development Block Grant Program,” the statement said.

“In addition to this, the public should know that the State of Indiana has a lead abatement program called the Lead Community Action Program. This program is similar to the Federal Lead Grant the city was awarded, but actually provides more abatement funding to residents.”

The city will continue to do lead abatement through the Community Development Block Grant Program and refer citizens to the state program, the statement said.


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State certification for Michigan City High's Compressed Air Academy

MICHIGAN CITY — Michigan City High School students seeking to pursue a career in advanced manufacturing can now graduate as a Certified Production Technician.

The designation, which includes specific industry credentials and work experience, is now available after the school was certified as a State Earn and Learn program earlier this week.

MCHS partnered with several compressed air companies in the area to launch the Compressed Air Academy last fall. It allows high school students to get industry-tailored instruction, hands-on experience with equipment, on-the-job training and opportunities to continue their education or enter the workforce upon graduation.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development is helping to skill-up the state’s workforce by developing and facilitating comprehensive work-based learning programs with education and industry partners, offering SEAL certificates to employers and high schools through its Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship, according to Darrel Zeck, executive director of DWD’s Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship.

During a ceremony Tuesday, Michigan City Area Schools administrators, employers and community partners gathered to accept the certification from DWD officials of the Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship.

“We have multiple schools and companies currently utilizing SEALs to advance Indiana’s workforce,” Zeck said.

“Michigan City High School is a big addition to the SEAL certification initiative and its mission to help provide Indiana employers with a skilled workforce.”

SEALs are structured, scalable programs ranging from just eight weeks to two years in length and include industry certifications tailored for any sector, he said.

They are designed to meet the skills that employers demand, are geared toward both adult and youth populations, and satisfy Indiana’s new graduation pathway requirements.

For MCHS, the Compressed Air Academy is a partnership involving the Economic Development Corporation of Michigan City and compressed air companies Sullair, Boss Industries, Dekker Vacuum Technologies, Sullivan-Palatek, Compress Air, Mikropor, Cook Compression, Freezing Systems and Services, LEFCO, Midstates Refrigeration and Supply, and Vanair.

Three of the companies donated industry-grade air compressors and vacuum systems for the classroom, and several consulted with MCAS educators as they designed the program, Zeck said. One even shared its training manual to aid in development of the curriculum.

Beyond that, companies are mentoring students, hosting field trips, and offering paid internships, according to Barbara Eason-Watkins, MCAS superintendent.

“From the outset, businesses understood that they would need to have a deep level of involvement to ensure students’ success,” she said. “They were eager to help us and are committed to continuing this work.”

To give the program additional credibility, the school system sought out the state’s SEAL program.

“SEAL certification shows that our program has been vetted and approved at the state level,” Eason-Watkins said. “This demonstrates to industry that we are offering a high-quality, results-oriented pathway for our students.”

MCHS piloted the program during the 2018-19 school year, with seven students enrolled. Now in its first full year, the academy has grown to 45 students.

The curriculum, designed by school and industry leaders, centers on the operation, troubleshooting and repair of compressors and incorporates National Center for Construction Education and Research materials that offer certificates for each level of completion.

Dual credit in advanced manufacturing is offered to students of the academy through Ivy Tech Community College. Students in the program can earn up to 21 credits over four years in addition to six industry-recognized certifications.

DWD projects Indiana employers will need to fill 1 million additional jobs in the next 10 years, Zeck said, half of which will not require a four-year college degree, but some type of certification or credential beyond a diploma.

The WBL program is part of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s NextLevel Jobs initiative.

For more information about the SEAL program or the Compressed Air Academy, email the DWD at wbl@dwd.in.gov.


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Michiana Humane Society director reflects on first 100 years

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of monthly articles on the Michiana Humane Society as the organization celebrates its centennial in Michigan City.)

MICHIGAN CITY — Legend has it that in 1920, the stray dog population in Long Beach had become so bad the police chief ordered his officers to shoot strays on sight.

A group of women became alarmed at the prospect and organized to help the dogs be protected.

That was the beginning of the Michiana Humane Society.

The 100 years from that day to this have seen revolutionary changes in pet ownership and animal welfare, much of it do to changes in lifestyle.

Work days shortened from 12 hours to 10 to 8, freeing up time for leisure activities, including spending time with pets.

The development of commercial pet foods throughout the 20th century improved pet health and longevity. The introduction of the birth control pill in the 1960s freed families to choose to have fewer or even no children, and many couples eventually filled their lives with pets.

And while agriculture still thrives in La Porte County, more and more people moved off the farms and into retail and business, where they no longer had use of working animals.

As the role of animals shifted from servant to beloved family member, animal welfare also changed.

We no longer have “the pound” – a death row for dogs where “the dogcatcher” brings strays for a few days until, if unclaimed, they are put down.

Modern shelters work to rehabilitate and “re-home” animals, no matter the time it takes. Shelters consider the animals’ comfort and mental state when establishing care plans, and encourage volunteers to spend time with the animals.

Spay and neuter surgeries have helped reduce the population of unwanted animals. In fact, in some parts of the country where intensive spay/neuter efforts are in place, they actually need to transfer cats in from other communities to fill the market for adopters.

Here in Michigan City, we have not yet achieved that milestone, but we have made great strides.

Over the past 10 years, the Michiana Humane Society’s live release rate (percentage of animals adopted or transferred to other organizations) has risen from below 50 percent to 98 percent.

Cooperation between Michigan City Animal Control, the La Porte County Small Animal Shelter and the Michiana Humane Society focuses on the well-being of the animals. Multiple hoarding situations have been cleared with the three organizations working together.

The community has been critical to the successes we’ve achieved. Over the years, hundreds of local volunteers have helped care for our animals, including fostering young and sick animals until they are able to be adopted; exercising and playing with the animals in our care; and hosting benefits to raise money to support our work – we even have volunteers who care for our gardens.

Each year generous children ask for gifts for our animals rather than for themselves on their birthdays; and local companies select us as their project for community service days.

Our current building stands as a tribute to the community. When an earlier building housing the shelter was condemned, our Board members, Tonn and Blank Construction and hundreds of large and small donors mobilized to build a new building in record time, often using donated materials and labor.

Our gratitude to our community is truly deep, as we continue to grow and improve.

While we no longer worry that the police will shoot strays on sight, we still have an overpopulation of stray and feral animals, as well as beloved pets that must be re-homed, in our community. We hope to continue to alleviate those problems as we begin our next 100 years.

During our anniversary year, you’ll be hearing a lot about the shelter and the work we do for our community. We hope that you visit us during our special year and see how far we have come.

And when you visit us, or hear about the second chances we’re able to offer pets and their people, remember how fortunate we all are to live in such a caring, generous community!