I'll address each of your questions or concerns: you do want to look for a quality made ex pen to hold up to your dogs size and strength. This is one product that fits into "you get what you pay for." They also come with an additional top piece if you chose to have that also.
Great job on the scheduled routine! Keep it up! Regarding the two meals a day versus one - I prefer two meals. I think it is better healthwise and it alleviates any displacement behavior from being hungry all day.
If you chose to use pee pads, he may end up depending on them for the rest of his life. If your goal is to have him potty 100% outside, using pee pads creates an extra step - teaching him to potty on those and then go potty outdoors. If you are gone more than 5 hours a day, it's preferable to have someone come to let him outside. If not, then it may be reason enough to use the pee pads.
His endurance for walking - if there is not a medical reason stopping him from longer walks or more exercise, you will need to build up slowly to longer or more energetic type excercise. Just like us, a little training first needs to be done before we start increasing to reach our desired goals.
Is there any trainer that will come to you? I believe he would do better working on some behavior/training methods at home before working in a group environment. If you like to read, a book I highly recommend for pet owners is called "Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson. It's written for the average pet owner to understand and is filled with fantastic information from gaining leadership to basic obedience lessons.
<<If he does get into something that isn't his, i get the newspaper out and tell him no and he will leave it alone>>. This is a perfect scenario to remember when you discipline him ALWAYS follow through by showing him what is appropriate for him to be chewing or playing with. The newspaper? If you don't get it out to do the crossword puzzle then it really is of no value to you. I bet you can get the same reaction out of him with your stern, loud voice "NO!" This is an example of why I don't use many tools or equipment when training dogs - I want the OWNER to control and manage the dog, not the tool or adversive. make sense?
That's great that he comes to you when he has to go potty! Use this to your advantage to get him fully housetrained. Gingerly take him outside, stay with him, when he potty's make a 'party' out of it - show him with your voice/body language how happy you are! Play with him, give him a treat, a massage, whatever he likes. You may have to test your acting skills on being over-exuberant but it's important to express to him how RIGHT he was for pottying outside! One thing I forgot to mention that can make a big difference in stopping him from using his crate as an 'outhouse' is to feed him IN his crate. Place his food dishes way in the back so he has to eat while fully inside. You can leave the door open. The reason for this - a very high percentage of dogs will not eliminate where they eat.
If he does not have destruction tendencies while you are away, the gate option would be fine to use, leaving the crate door open. You may want to test this while you are gone for only a short time at first. Just to be sure he won't tear your kitchen cabinets out. Again, when you will be gone at least 5 hours and no one will be available to let him out, you could use the pee pads. I don't know how much room you have once his crate is in the kitchen and the pee pads, but you don't want to much room or he may potty anywhere if he has to go.
There is one other thing I would like to address - do you feel he has separation anxiety? I do not mean he cries/whines when you leave - there are three qualifiers that diagnose true separation anxiety, they are: nearly constant hysterical barking/whining/crying the majority of the time you are gone; moderately high to severe destruction behavior to the home or objects (usually the owners objects); and self mutilation and/or excessive salivating. Dogs will chew or bite on a part or parts of their body and their blanket/bed/crate is soaked from salivating. These three elements describe real separation anxiety - many times the term is used for completely different behavior problems. There are lesser forms of this type of anxiety if one of the above should be displayed, and if this is the case, most times there are other reasons than separation. The reason I ask is a kenneled or crated dog suffering from separation anxiety will suffer even further. Hence, crating is not recommended if this problem is diagnosed as the problem. I've seen a fourth element appear in some dogs with SA - and that is pottying in their crate. Comments?