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Conservation group to persuade GEO Group to donate church property

Protected by plywood sheets former St. SavSerbian Orthodox Church Hobart has been purchased by GEO Group. | Karen Caffarini~for Sun-Times

Protected by plywood sheets, the former St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Hobart has been purchased by GEO Group. | Karen Caffarini~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 22, 2014 6:38AM



A local conservation group is looking to persuade GEO Group to donate the former St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church property for a nature preserve.

LaPorte resident Terry McCloskey, past Indiana Division president of the Izaak Walton League, sent a letter to GEO Group and attorney John Bushemi, who is representing the company, last week.

The proposal comes a week after Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor told the for-profit prison company to look elsewhere for a spot to build an immigrant detention center. Though GEO Group has not formally requested the rezoning necessary to build such a center, a report issued by the company stated its intention to build a detention center on the property, which is located on 49th Avenue.

“We wanted them to realize there is more opposition to the project than just not building a prison,” McCloskey said. “We’re laying out an exit strategy. If they donate it, it would be the best situation because it has so much potential.”

The GEO Group did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the matter.

The 40-acre property is next to Robinson Lake and a bike trail, and lies across the street from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore property line.

The move would not need to be completely charitable as the Izaak Walton League of America, the Woodland Savanna Land Conservancy, and Friends of Robinson Lake are working together to use grants which are set to expire in the next couple of months for the purchase.

McCloskey said the parcel has been eyed as a nature preserve since the 1980s. He said Save The Dunes had lined up a purchase of the property for $440,000 in 2009, but the seller, St. Sava, rebuffed a request by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to put the purchase agreement in its name. It was later sold for $325,000 to five partners comprising Bear Country Park.

“The Hobart Marsh was created by glaciers 10,000 years ago and should belong to the people of Hobart, not a private company,” McCloskey said. “The ancient burr oaks and other flora, as well as, the fauna attracted by the ephemeral ponds make the property a crucial element in the Hobart Marsh plan.

“It could become backbone of the city’s image.”

Correspondent Karen Caffarini contributed to this report



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