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Lake County's weekly hometown news source since 1857

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Petition count begins
By Andrew Steele
Star Managing Editor
   CROWN POINT - The petition drive that will determine the fate of the new high school project concluded Monday, beginning a 15 business-day period for the Lake County auditor to count signatures.
    Both opponents and supporters of the project were satisfied with their efforts to collect signatures, but neither would say how many they had.
    "There's no way of knowing," opposition leader Michel Nikolich said. "The real decision will be made in the auditor's office."
    Every signer must be a property owner listed on the county's property tax records. Also, petitions had to be filled out completely and accurately.
    Supporters of the new school presented copies of their petitions to the School Board at its Monday meeting.
    "The YES campaign petitioners feel the message received was in support (of building the new school)," campaign leader Karen Schrum said.
    She said support for the new school came from all kinds of residents, older and younger, some with children and some without.
    Nikolich also said his SOS campaign collected signatures from a variety of people, some saying they don't care how much a new school costs, others saying they're not willing to bear a tax increase.
    If the YES campaign has collected the most signatures, the project may proceed unabated. If the SOS campaign has collected the most, the project will be delayed one year, at which time the School Board may begin the process again, if it wishes to do so.
    The deadline for counting the signatures is Oct. 21, though the auditor's office is allowed additional time depending on the number of signatures.
    The official supervising the count, Doug Hensley, said the job should be done well in advance of the deadline.
    "We've been counting all along," Hensley, the director of property taxes for the office, said. "We've had to hire some help but we've kept up to date."
    The staff put in time over the weekend in anticipation of Monday's final rush, he said.
    Hensley said the only way he can foresee the count going beyond Oct. 21 is if the outcome is close.
    "If it's reasonably close we want to go over them again," he said. All of the signatures ruled invalid will be rechecked, he explained.
    The office has the equivalent of three full-time workers making sure petitions are filled out correctly and checking names against property tax roles, Hensley said.
    But one area that's difficult for the staff to check is duplicate signatures. Each property owner can sign either or both petitions, but only one time each.
    Any additional signatures are not supposed to be counted.
    "We do the best we can on (disqualifying duplicate signatures)," Hensley said, "but there's no practical method of checking that."
    When counting is completed, the auditor will send certification to the school corporation and to state tax officials, Hensley said.
    The actual petitions will be kept at the auditor's office, and will become public record after the count is certified, he said.

photo by Gene Milkowski/Star

Shannon Morfin, a sophomore at Crown Point High School and member of the Key Club, paints the ceiling as Lowell homeowner Phyllis Brown ponders the improvements made to her home and outside property Saturday as part of the Christmas in September.

Early present
For some, Christmas arrives in September

By Kathie Godfrey
Star Correspondent
   LOWELL - "It's just like an unbelievable gift," Phyllis Brown exclaimed Saturday as her home was undergoing a renovation by 17 volunteer workers from Centier Bank and Whiteco.
    "It's my birthday in October and I told my family I don't need anything now," the Lowell widow said.
    Actually what Brown, who will be 76 next month, received that sunny September day was an early Christmas gift, courtesy of the Christmas in September program and the volunteers involved in it.
    Brown's Lincoln Street house began its life in 1864 as a two-room dwelling built with a $60 mortgage. In their 45 years in the home, the family removed the home's rear windows and added an arbor and sunroom and enlarged kitchen area. The house grew and grew, just like the old growth evergreen and deciduous trees that all but obscured it from view on the crest of the hill near South Viant Street.
    But workers armed with two chainsaws changed that last weekend when they removed 10 storm damaged, overgrown trees and trimmed dead limbs from many of the remaining trees on the property's two-acre lot.
    Councilwoman Karen Brooker, R-2nd, said trees had been the only thing visible on the lot for years.
    "I'd never seen this house before," she said. "I didn't even know it was here."
    Brooker volunteered to wash windows, walls and furniture at the Brown home in order to avoid heavy lifting prohibited by her doctor following surgery earlier this month.
    Other volunteers at the home painted walls and ceilings, replaced faulty switches and installed smoke detectors.
   Brown said she learned of the program during a hospital stay when a friend saw a newspaper ad for the Northwest Indiana Christmas in September organization. The friend encouraged Brown to apply to help get her damaged trees removed.
    "I looked at the guidelines and said 'Let's do the whole house,'" Brown said, laughing.
    But Brown, who qualified for benefits under the program's income criteria, was still shocked when she was notified that her home had been one of five in Lowell selected in May.
    "You never think it will happen to you," she said. "Now my friends have told me they all want to come here for Christmas."
    Trees have also been a big problem at another Christmas in September home on West Main Street, where overgrown shrubs had totally blocked outside light from the house's lower level.
    "We hadn't seen out of these front windows for years," said homeowner Patricia Mann as she looked out onto a sunny Main Street Saturday.
    Mann and her sister, Lowell resident Barbara Schwimmer, said they grew up in the 100-year- old brick home which featured a reflecting pool and iron hitching posts for horses that had once been located near the street. Both sisters were delighted with the one-day transformation of their family home.
     Volunteers from Lowell and Crown Point Rotary organizations and NIPSCO removed overgrown bushes at the front of the house, and scraped and painted exterior windows, eaves and wrought iron work. Interior work included cleaning and painting walls, ceilings and woodwork.
    At the same time, electricians from Hammond Local 697 provided power to the Mann garage, replaced faulty light fixtures and switches and installed smoke detectors inside the home.
   Carpenters from Hobart Local 1005 fashioned a scalloped fascia to replace a section that had rotted away on the garage and prepared the main bathroom floor for tiling. The home's bath also received a new toilet, tiled floor and radiator cover.
    Mann, who was widowed in 1993 and has since suffered pneumonia and a broken knee, said she couldn't believe the amount of work that was being done on her home."I'm really overwhelmed," she said. "To see all this really gives you faith in human nature."


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