MICHIGAN CITY — “A dream come true.”
Those were the words Kris Pate, executive director for United Way of La Porte County, used to describe the new STAR (Shared Technology And Resources) Center at 422 Franklin St.
On May 1, United Way of La Porte County, Unity Foundation of La Porte County, Healthy Communities of La Porte County and La Porte County Drug Free Partnership moved into their 7,000-square-foot newly renovated second-floor space.
Maggie Spartz, president of the Unity Foundation, was all smiles while leading The News-Dispatch on a tour of the new space and attributed the “And” in Shared Technology And Resource to “all the things that are going to happen because we are all together.”
She emphasized how the STAR Center is allowing the four not-for-profits to “really be good stewards of our community’s finances.”
The STAR Center was filled with plenty of sunshine, filtering through plentiful windows in the offices lining the perimeter of the shared space. This was an intentional upgrade on the older building, accomplished by Michiana Construction, to “let more nature in,” Spartz explained.
She said the not-for-profits read research on what makes an office space most effective; the number one request by workers was more natural light.
Second most important in the survey was high-speed Wi-Fi. Thanks to Northern Indiana Public Service Company, the STAR Center rooms have been fitted with the latest technology for webinars, conferring and ideation, Spartz continued. And, the higher speed Internet at STAR means more efficiency in time saved for the current and future residents.
The space has two document processing centers with two copy machines, a coffee maker and a postage meter, saving the groups money as they won’t need to provide their own. In the STAR Center there’s a common reception area, two meeting rooms and four unisex bathrooms. A large central space with six cubicles allows room for growth, especially suitable for interns, whom all four groups utilize, as well as a “collaboratory” area for pop-up meetings and information-sharing sessions.
While showing one of the two meeting rooms at the STAR Center, Spartz said, “We need to be a community that continuously learns and that’s what we want this space to be.”
Throughout the STAR Center are 14 fine art pieces donated by the former LAKE Fine Arts (previously Thanhardt-Burger) in La Porte.
Maggie mentioned that while the first floor of the building is pegged for retail space, the remaining footage of the second floor and the third floor are reserved for residential spaces.
She explained that the concept for the STAR Center began in 2012 when United Way was looking to move from La Porte to Michigan City. The Unity Foundation, like other not-for-profits, was hard hit from the recession and looking for rent relief itself.
The Northern Indiana Education Foundation (NIEF) had rehabbed the building they own at the corner of 4th and Franklin streets; it is now home to The News-Dispatch, Darling Boutique, Timothy Jeffery Salon and Fiddlehead Restaurant. And, they hoped to make the STAR Center in the building a reality too.
“The late Dr. Robert McBride was a visionary for the project,” Spartz said.
“It was his dream to convert the building,” explained Mary Laramore, executive director of the NIEF.
It’s certainly rewarding “fulfilling a key dream and directive of our founder,” she said.
Two other volunteers, Andy Neal, a United Way board member, and Jim Jessup, who is on the Unity Foundation board, were also key players in making the STAR Center happen.