On Tuesday October 25th, Principal Jon Groth and the Porter County Career Center presented the community with a preliminary grand opening of the Valparaiso Grand Trunk Train Depot. The site is in the process of refurbishing and re-purposing the building entirely by the Career Center’s Construction Tech students. The completed project will result in classrooms and offices for the Career Center. This was the first time the Depot has been open to the public in nearly 60 years.
The depot was built in 1920 and had been Valparaiso’s primary method of long distance travel, until the depot closed in the late 1960s. From then until 2015, it rested on its original foundation near Calumet Ave and Bush St. Last year, it was moved inch by inch over the course of 60 days for a quarter mile to its new foundation at the Porter County Career Center. Here, the building is being restored and reworked into a new purpose, but still will maintain its original exterior design.
Barbra Biernat, who received the honor of cutting the grand opening ribbon, detailed the work students have accomplished thus far.
“We started on the project last year at the beginning of the school year. We started with demolition by removing the drop ceilings and all the little offices and tight hallways. There were three generations of electrical wire and we had to pull that out of the attic. We ended that year by starting the bases for the decks outside. When this year started we finished the decks and patching the floors in the inside.”
Biernat also commented that the students are enjoying the experiences provided by the Career Center and often ask to work on the project in their free time.
“We had a lot of student volunteers step up in the summer, but we resisted. We wanted to complete the decking with the rest of the students when school started.” Biernat continued, “Even just recently, we had students that asked if they could come work on this during their fall break.”
For nearly 60 years the depot had been the central hub for Valparaiso’s transportation.Many members of the community can relate a story of theirs to the train depot. Principal Jon Groth recalled how his grandfather left from the train depot to serve in both WWI and WWII. After both wars were over, he returned home through the same depot.
“Everybody in the community has a story like this. I didn’t even make the connection with my grandfather when we moved it. That wasn’t really apart of the equation. All I was thinking about was preserving this history and letting our students get some hands on education.”
Groth continued, “That’s why we’re all excited about this project. We’re using a whole bunch of our history in our present for the future.”
Congressman Pete Visclosky was also on site and spoke briefly about the importance of the project for the Career Center students.
“Who I really want to thank today are each one of the students, who have and continue to participate in this process.” Visclosky continued, “You helped all of us in the community save a little part of our history. Each of you is getting an education for a good paying job to what is going to be a growing economy in Northwest Indiana. And each one of the students has also helped improve the quality of Valparaiso as well as Northwest indiana.”
The final touch to the exterior of the building, before the grand opening, was two replica “Valparaiso” signs hung by the Construction Tech students. “Now it’s as close to as it looked like a passenger depot since the later 1960s,” commented, Jon Groth.
After the ribbon was cut the crowd was invited inside to view upcoming plans for the depot and the work that is currently in progress. Porter County Career Center’s Video instructor, Bob Phelps, provided a time lapse video of the Depot moving over the course of one day. Snacks and refreshments were provided by career center, and students were dressed in period clothing to match the aesthetic of the Depot.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” commented Biernat. “Next up is the windows. We’re looking to getting them replaced. We’ll be building some partitions inside. We’re looking at doing the flooring too. Everything else the architects designed has gone down state for approval. So we’re kind of stuck until that happens.”
For more information and updates on the Valparaiso Grand Trunk Trunk Train Depot, like their Facebook page here!
Our full gallery from the event is available here!