Due to environmental issues, the city of Bexley's plans to develop athletics fields in the Ferndale Place/Mayfield Place neighborhood in southwest Bexley this fall might be delayed for several months or postponed indefinitely.

The development's future hinges on what Bexley City Council members decide after their summer recess. Council will be off throughout July and reconvene Aug. 8.

At council's June 27 meeting, Mayor Ben Kessler reported bids for the project had come in higher than expected because of work that must be completed to remediate contamination from a former landfill on the site.

Developing the athletics fields initially was projected to cost $196,722 in 2015. That figure was revised later in the year to $227,552 after additional irrigation costs were factored in.

However, a recent environmental study found elevated lead and arsenic levels in the area, raising cost projections to $551,502.

The project was to be paid for with $100,000 from the city's recreation fund, an $81,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and an $81,000 grant from the Bexley Community Foundation. But there is now a budget shortfall of $289,502.

Kessler presented council with these options:

* Option 1 -- The city could allot funds from the recreation fund or use East Main Street tax-increment financing to cover the shortfall.

* Option 2 -- The city could remediate the environmental contamination but not install the athletics fields, thereby decreasing the cost of the project to $431,952. It would still include the installation of trails, walking paths and lighting to connect to adjacent Schneider Park.

* Option 3 -- The city could neither develop the athletics fields nor remediate the environmental contamination and instead install a fence to restrict access to the site at a cost of $45,000.

Kessler said his recommendation is that council vote to move forward with developing the athletics fields and environmental remediation. He suggested council introduce an ordinance to allot money from the city's recreation fund to cover the shortfall.

After council reconvenes, an ordinance to allot money from the recreation fund could undergo a standard three-reading process, Kessler said. He said if the process were to extend into September, that could force the city to re-bid the project because the current bid expires Sept. 1, and construction could be delayed from this fall to spring 2018.

"With a three-reading process, we may be able to start (construction) in the fall of 2017," Kessler said. "We just don't know that with 100 percent certainty."

Council President Tim Madison said he understands the need for additional athletics fields in the city because he has coached soccer, but the project has become cost-prohibitive.

"To me, this is not a project worth $551,000," he said.

"I think it's well-known that there are other environmental issues in the Mayfield-Ferndale area and I don't think that we should make a decision on this until that whole environmental potential problem is really known and we have a long-term solution," he said.

Other council members said plans for the athletics fields should proceed despite the cost, since the development could be a major step forward in the city's efforts to revitalize the Ferndale Place/Mayfield Place neighborhood.

"This is so much more than soccer fields for me. This is an opportunity for this council to be agents of change," said Councilwoman Lori Ann Feibel, who led the steering committee that oversaw city's Southwest Bexley Master Plan Update throughout the past year.

"I think someday -- and I think it's going to take a long time -- companies and businesses are going to say, 'Hey, there's something going on in Bexley in that area and I want to bring my company here. I want to develop this area because Bexley loves this area; Bexley comes to this area. We're going to help make this change,' " she said.

Councilwoman Deneese Owen, chairwoman of council's finance committee, asked Kessler and Recreation Director Michael Price to explore all potential outside funding sources before council decides whether to allot money to fund the athletics fields.

Madison also asked Kessler to invite an environmental attorney to answer council members' questions at the Aug. 8 meeting, set for 6 p.m. at Bexley City Hall, 2242 E. Main St.

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