Old Town Hall grounds get groomed despite stop-work order
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent July 7, 2011 5:16PM
Jim Nowacki, founding member/board member of the Miller Improvement Group, (left) and Sam Henderson, a volunteer through MIG, spread fresh soil in the area where Nowacki had old concrete removed at the old Miller Town Hall building at Grand Boulevard and Miller Avenue in Gary, Ind. Thursday July 7, 2011. Nowacki, who has been served an ordinance violation from the city for "creating a nuisance (destorying public property)", also plans to lay sod and plant flowers in the spot. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 31, 2011 10:44AM
GARY — A handful of area residents weeded, raked and shoveled to the physical limits of the law to beautify the 100-year-old Miller Town Hall Thursday.
Just days after city government gadfly Jim Nowacki received a summons to appear in City Court for doing work on the property on July 2, he and the small group planted flowers, prepared ground for sod and weeded gardens they had already planted at their own expense.
“We believe this building is our building, and it belongs to the whole community,” said Nowacki, a property owner and investor in the city who has had multiple run-ins with city government and police. “I’ve been maintaining this building, along with other volunteers, for five years.”
On the locked door of the former Town Hall is a stop-work order forbidding anyone from working on the structure. Nothing in the order prevented anyone from working on the grounds. Days earlier, Nowacki decided to begin breaking up and removing cracked pieces of pavement from the building’s edges, prompting the court order posted on the door.
Councilwoman Marilyn Krusas, D-1st, a frequent target of Nowacki’s criticisms, did not return calls seeking comment.
Robert Leonard, another frequent critic of the government, and his daughter Jacqueline Kaplan, 20, wore tie-dye shirts as they helped in the work.
“Marilyn Krusas ate our hot dogs, ate our chips and joined us here for a picnic, and then she put a stop order on the door the next day,” Leonard said. “She’s got nerve. You’d think she’d want to encourage citizens to get involved.”
“I first saw (the Town Hall) when it was in shambles about seven years ago, and now it’s beautiful,” Leonard chimed in. “It’s definitely something to be proud of.”
The building does not appear to be holding up as well as the grounds. A portion of a southeast wall is crumbling, and there are broken windows and other windows open to the elements.
“It’s very sad to see this kind of thing,” said Miller resident and Miller Garden Club member Bernie Brook, as she weeded a garden. “It’s not disobedience to cut grass, trim the hedges and plant a few trees. Somebody’s got to do it.”
Retired steelworker Bill Miller shoveled rich, black soil and edged the property before channeling John F. Kennedy in talking about improving Gary neighborhoods.
“Don’t ask ‘What can Gary do for you?’ because Gary’s broke,” he said. “Ask ‘What can you do for your neighborhood in Gary?’ ”