Westerville is planning a $1 million expansion of its First Responders Park, but not everyone is thrilled by the plans.
City Council members July 2 saw a presentation on the proposed new park at 374 W. Main St.
The main impetus for the new park would be to incorporate a memorial for Westerville Division of Police officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli, who died in the line of duty while responding to a call Feb. 10. Their names would be placed next to that of David Theisen, a Westerville firefighter who died in 1998 while battling a fire in Crooksville.
"It goes without saying that in the aftermath of Feb. 10, we looked for a way to appropriately memorialize the loss of officers Tony Morelli and Eric Joering and began to quickly assemble a committee to begin looking at an appropriate way to do so," City Manager David Collinsworth told council.
Under the proposal, the park's physical space would be increased into the existing parking lot, eliminating more than a dozen parking spaces. It would take on a new shape and include two memorial walls meant for reflection.
Randy Auler, Westerville's parks and recreation director, said the new park is meant to be "a space for people to reflect and contemplate."
"How do we create the best First Responders Park and how do we honor the officers that have fallen in the line of duty?" he asked.
Based on "very preliminary" plans, the work to renovate the space would cost about $1 million. The city has received $500,000 from the state for the project, and the other half would come from a combination of fundraising, corporate donations and city funds.
Currently, the two focal points of the park are a sculpture, "The Crossing," that was commissioned in memory of Theisen in 2011 and a section of steel known as "C-40" from the north tower of the World Trade Center that fell during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City.
The two pieces currently stand side-by-side, but in the new plan, they would be separated -- and that's a problem for Tom Ullom.
Ullom, a retired firefighter, led the efforts to create the park in 2011, helping to secure funding and grants for the project.
He was not a part of the city's planning committee for the new design, which included representatives from fire, police and other city departments.
Although both the sculpture and the steel beam would remain in the park and only the sculpture would be slightly moved from its current position, Ullom said, the city's plan is "unfathomable." He said the sculpture should never be moved and existing walls should never be torn down.
"This is my worst nightmare," he said.
Ullom said the connection between the two items is important, and they were "placed there meaningfully" with "thought put in."
"We believe that the two iconic pieces of First Responders Park ought to remain as they are because of the history of the sacred ground they're sitting on," he said.
Current plans for the park, along with a request for comment from residents, are on the front page of the city's website, westerville.org.
Westerville's social-media accounts have posted about the plan, and the topic was discussed at the July 2 council meeting.
But Ullom said that's not enough, and he questioned the "transparency" and "rush" of the project.
He said it's important to him to have a memorial for Morelli and Joering, whom he knew from his time as a firefighter. He said his problems with the project have nothing to do with that aspect.
"Like everyone else in Westerville, I was devastated Feb. 10," he said. "The most important thing is that this isn't about honoring Eric and Tony. This is about what we could do to honor all the first responders without knocking down what we have."
The city is requesting comments on the project through Wednesday, Aug. 1. For information, visit westerville.org.
Collinsworth said the city hopes to have a biddable set of construction documents prepared by January, and to have the project bid by the first quarter of 2019.
He said the goal would be to have the park finished by August 2019, in time for a dedication event on Sept. 11.