Westerville's recreation advisory board approved plans to renovate Highlands Park and its aquatic center.

Westerville's recreation advisory board approved plans to renovate Highlands Park and its aquatic center.

The plan, approved at the board's Oct. 22 meeting, was one of three options. It calls for moving the park's entrance to the north, slightly reconfiguring some of the sports fields, adding additional parking and moving parking closer to the athletic fields.

The aquatic center would remain in the same place, if the option is approved by city council, but would be extensively renovated. The plan also would enhance the property's wetlands and integrate them into the park's recreation spaces.

Of the other two options presented to Westerville City Council and the public last month, one called for leaving the surrounding park the same and only redoing the aquatic center, and the other called for moving the aquatic center and moving all of the sports fields into the same area.

Two of the most exciting components of the plan, Westerville Parks and Recreation Department director Jody Stowers said, are the integration of the wetlands and the decision to seek certification through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, which recognizes environmentally friendly design.

"We are so excited to be able to provide a state-of-the-art park and aquatic center," Stowers said. "We're trying to embrace the wetlands that are already there and incorporate that."

She said the chosen option was favored by the recreation advisory board because it would create a big impact at the park for the least amount of money.

"It made the most improvements with the least impact," Stowers said.

The renovations are expected to cost between $6.8-million and $7.3-million and will be paid for with money from the income tax levy passed in 1998 to support the Parks Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan.

The unknown with the cost, Stowers said, are the enhancements to the aquatic center.

Built in 1973, the aquatic center's infrastructure needs to be replaced, she said. In addition, the center has an undersized bathhouse, lacks modern features and has building and medical facility deficiencies.

In redoing the aquatic center, the city will look to the public for input over the next two months to determine what features residents would like to see.

"This (plan) said this is where the aquatic center will go. It doesn't say what the amenities will be," Stowers said.

She said the city will hold an event to gather public feedback Nov. 19 and a public meeting Dec. 3 to discuss features for the aquatic center.

As with the public meeting to settle on a master plan for the park, residents' input will help to shape the final outcome for the aquatic center, Stowers said.

For example, with the parks master plan, Stowers said neighbors talked about sledding in the park in the winter, leading the city to include plans to enhance a hill for that purpose.

"Through their input, we were able to tweak the plan," she said.

After plans for the aquatic center go before the public, the recreation advisory board hopes to vote on the proposal at its Dec. 17 meeting, Stowers said. Plans would go before city council for final approval in December.

On its current schedule, Stowers said the aquatic center would open to the public as usual next summer, but would close early at the end of July to allow renovations to begin Aug. 1.

Under that schedule, she said the park would reopen on time for the 2011 season, on Memorial Day.

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com