Westerville News & Public Opinion

Opinions sought on new parks plan


Westerville Parks and Recreation Department officials want to know what changes residents would like to see in the parks system in the future.

The department is under taking its strategic planning process, something it does every 10 years.

"Without a plan you get lost," said Parks and Recreation Director Randy Auler. "We're here to serve the citizens, and we need to understand what their perceptions are and their needs and desires."

The department began the planning process in September, talking to people at 4th Friday celebrations, teen nights and other public events and talking to student councils from the three local high schools, Auler said.

So far, representatives of the parks and recreation department have talked to about 800 people about the park system and programs, Auler said. Now, the department is ramping up its efforts, conducting focus groups, planning public meetings and gearing up to undertake a random-sample survey and an online survey.

"I'm hoping to reach 3,000 to 4,000 total with this process," Auler said. "The input is very important to us."

Input is important during this planning process because the last planning process occurred as the city was preparing to build the Westerville Community Center, and most of the discussion and surveys surrounded planning for that facility, Auler said.

Also, he said, residents' wants and needs always are changing, and the city needs to plan to continue to meet current needs.

Auler said the department always works with preservation, economic development and healthy lifestyles in mind, but officials want to know what the department can offer to better meet residents' needs.

"We're gearing our questions and discussions around, 'Can we get better?' " Auler said. "If you could do one thing in the next 10 years as it relates to the parks, what would it be?"

Many whom the department already has spoken to are people who are engaged in the park system and utilize facilities and participate in current programs, Auler said.

However, Auler said he wants to go beyond those people because all residents see benefit from a quality park system, because a strong park system increases property values and helps to attract and retain businesses.

"Whether you use this or not, you get value from us," Auler said. "Whether you use us or not, we value your input."