With price projections coming in higher than expected, the city may choose to phase in improvements to Highlands Park.

With price projections coming in higher than expected, the city may choose to phase in improvements to Highlands Park.

Initial estimates for improving the park and aquatic center presented to Westerville City Council in September ranged between $6.8-million and $7.3-million.

Outgoing Recreation and Parks Department director Jody Stowers presented a plan to city council at its Feb. 16 meeting that would spread the improvements over three phases with a total estimated cost of $10.3-million.

The cost difference came because the city began looking at improving the park and aquatic center in 2004, and the numbers being used when choosing a plan for the center were old, Stowers said.

"Things are more expensive than they used to be," she said. "The scope has not changed."

Doing the work in segments would prevent the city from having to cut any of the elements of aquatic center that were developed through community input, Stowers said. Those elements include a lazy river, splash pads, a leisure pool, a lap pool and bathhouses.

"There were no large chunks of money we could take out of the aquatic center," Stowers told council.

If the city chooses to phase in the work, the first segment would include revamping the aquatic center, enhancing the existing wetlands, modifying the existing eastern parking lot and creating a new driveway with a roundabout and parking spaces at the front of the park, where the city plans to place a single entrance.

Some of the planned wetlands improvements would be done in later phases, Stowers said.

Phase I would cost the city an estimated $7.3-million, she said.

Phase II, with an estimated cost of $1.1-million, would include creating a north parking lot with landscaping, creating a Spring Road entrance, adding a soccer field, undertaking more wetlands enhancements and resurfacing the southern parking lot.

The remainder of the park's master plan would be undertaken in Phase III, Stowers said, including reconfiguring the ballfields, adding sports courts, expanding the path system, enhancing the wetlands and creating a nature play are. Phase III would carry an estimated $1.9-million price tag.

Under the planned timeline, Phase I improvements would go before the Westerville Planning Commission Feb. 24. The first reading of bids would go to city council June 1, with a July 6 date set for awarding bids.

July 31 would be a "Last Splash" event, with the annual doggy swim scheduled for Aug. 1. Construction on the aquatic center would begin Aug. 2, with a grand opening for the new center set for May 30, 2011.

Phase II improvements would begin after the pool closes in September 2011 and would be completed before the pool reopens in May 2012.

Stowers said Phase III improvements were not included in the department's five-year improvements plan because other parks and recreation department projects take precedence.

"We do have higher priorities in our parks and recreation plan," she said.

Some council members expressed concern about spreading out the project and were hopeful that lower-than-anticipated bids will allow the city to complete more of the project in the first phase.

"I'm hoping the numbers come in lower," council Chairman Mike Heyek said. "We're not really going to know what this thing is going to cost until we get the bids in. I'm just worried about parsing it and trying to fit it in."