INDIANAPOLIS — A historic building spree is soon to begin in Indiana after legislators set aside more than $1 billion for construction projects, including a new law enforcement training facility, a remodeled prison and a state fairgrounds pavilion.
The new state budget adopted in April by the Republican-controlled General Assembly is awash in federal coronavirus relief money, allowing the state to give sizable funding to projects that had for years been shelved and left out of spending plans.
Legislators created a $550 million fund for possible construction projects still in the planning phase. An additional $900 million of federal money was set aside for unspecified future state construction projects. Another $60 million was earmarked for the state’s recreational trails construction program.
Because the budget bill did not specify amounts, projects will tap the money on a first-come-first-served basis.
The State Budget Committee has so far authorized more than $100 million in spending on early planning and designs for nearly a dozen proposed projects.
Among the first projects underway is the replacement of a century-old swine barn at the Indiana State Fairgrounds with a new multi-use facility, renamed Fall Creek Pavilion.
State officials in June released money for the $50 million project that’s anticipated to include a restoration of the front façade of the original swine barn and total reconstruction of the rest of the structure. That includes an addition of 50,000 square feet, bringing its total size to 197,000 square feet, which will allow the facility to host large sporting events.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb broke ground at the site Friday, lauding the upgrade as a long-term revenue generator.
“What we didn’t want to do is find ourselves in a position where we were just growing government. We wanted to be able to pay off or avoid debt, avoid interest payments,” Holcomb said of the state’s investment in construction projects. “Indiana has never seen a three-, five-, 10-year horizon like we’re looking at right now.”
Fair officials said the goal is to finish the project before the start of the 2023 fair.
A new state archives building and an inn at northern Indiana’s Potato Creek State Park are also coming to fruition six years after former governor and Vice President Mike Pence failed to finance the projects as part of the state’s bicentennial celebration.
The former Republican governor’s contested plan to pay for the construction endeavors by leasing out state-owned cellphone towers through a public-private partnership were scrapped by Holcomb, Pence’s successor, shortly after taking office in 2017.
The state archives moved from the basement of the state library to an Indianapolis warehouse in 2001. The move was meant to be temporary however, given that the location is not equipped for long-term preservation of some of the state’s most important documents, including the state’s constitutions, governors’ papers, and acts of the Indiana General Assembly.
An initial $5 million approved by the state budget committee will go toward designs for the facility, which executive director Chandler Lighty said will have improved archival capabilities for materials needing “rigorous preservation.” Some records, including those with shorter retention schedules, will continue to be housed in the current warehouse building.
Any leftover funds could be used to secure a site for the new building.
Another $5 million has been released to begin conceptual and design processes for a new state park inn — the first to be built in Indiana since 1939.
The new state budget additionally set aside more than $500 million for public safety and prison projects.
Nearly a half-billion dollars is budgeted for Northwest Indiana projects. The larger project — a $400 million rebuilding of the Westville Correctional Center in LaPorte County — will demolish and rebuild nearly all of the 76-year-old prison. The facility will include new inmate housing, administration, programming and treatment facilities, according to the Indiana Department of Correction.
The budget committee has so far approved $12 million for architectural and engineering design work to begin. Construction could start as early as 2022.
A second project will see the construction of a new $25.5 million Indiana State Police Post and laboratory in Lowell. State police said constructing a post and lab inside one building at Lowell will add needed space, bolster operational functionality and improve energy efficiency.
Championed by lawmakers, however, is the allocation of $70 million to upgrade the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy’s nearly 50-year-old training facility in Plainfield.
The academy, which trains roughly 65% of the state’s officers, is still determining what improvements are most needed, executive director Tim Horty said. Once that’s decided, construction is likely to take several years to complete, but classes at the facility will continue.
“The initial expenses are to start a campus renovation, and move us towards a more modern, adult-type of learning environment, where the students are more hands-on and away from the classroom and a pen and pencil kind of examination,” Horty said.
Other big ticket capital projects eligible for state dollars include a new Evansville Police Post and Lab, a new consolidated campus for the Indiana School for the Deaf and the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and improvements to the former GM Stamping Plant in Indianapolis.