Westerville City Council has decided to move forward with plans to renovate First Responders Park.

The city has planned a $1 million expansion of the park at 374 W. Main St. to include expanding the park’s space into the parking lot and changing the shape to include two memorial walls.

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.

Currently, the two focal points of the park are a sculpture called “The Crossing,” which 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 in 2001.

The two pieces stand side by side. In the new plan, they would be separated, leading some, including Tom Ullom, a retired firefighter who led the efforts to create the park in 201, to question the necessity of the changes.

The Westerville chapters of both the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Fraternal Order of Police pledged support for the new plans.

Council on Sept. 4 instructed staff members to "continue with the planning based on the current version" of the plan, according to city spokeswoman Christa Dickey.

"We can now continue with the development of the plan," she said. "When we're ready to go out to bid and those kinds of things, we'll follow the traditional process."

Dickey said city staff members would work through funding details and the bidding process for the required work.

She said it's uncertain when the topic would return to council but said Sept. 11, 2019, is the overarching goal for completion.

"The ultimate deadline is to have the park in place and finished by next Sept. 11, in terms of that memorial observance," she said.

aking@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAndrew

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Fire, police unions offer support for changes to Westerville's First Responders Park

Westerville's plans to renovate the city's First Responders Park have received a vote of confidence from the group the site was originally meant to represent.

The city is planning a $1 million expansion of the park at 374 W. Main St. that will include increasing the park's space into the existing parking lot and changing the shape to include two memorial walls.

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 City Council in July.

In a message to the city and other entities Aug. 31, Eric Parkins, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3480, Westerville Professional Firefighters, wrote to "clearly articulate" the labor union's support for the new plans.

"When the Memorial expansion was first proposed, we surveyed our membership to gauge their thoughts and feelings regarding the changes," Parkins' letter reads. "As you can imagine, our members offered up a wide range of diverse and thoughtful opinions. We then shared these with our city leaders, who along with the Parks and Recreation Department, have been open and fully receptive to these opinions and ideas.

"Throughout this process, we feel that our members' voices have been heard, and thoughtfully considered in the planning of these changes," wrote Parkins, a firefighter/paramedic at Station 112.

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.

Because of that separation, Tom Ullom, a retired firefighter who led the efforts to create the park in 2011, said he was unhappy with the changes. He is not part of the city's planning committee for the new design.

Westerville spokeswoman Christa Dickey said the city did not ask for the letter of support. But in an email, Collinsworth said the positive words have represented the majority of public opinion on the project.

"The letter does not surprise me based on the feedback we've been getting all along from first responders," he said. "It reinforces what we've been told about their support for the project."

In the letter, Parkins thanked the city for including firefighters in their outreach, and said the new plans have the group's "collective support."

"Throughout the planning and review processes, one crucial fact has remained evident – this is a park for ALL," the letter reads. "It belongs to each and every member of the community, and as such, this sacred space should be used to honor the lives of ALL first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice while fulfilling their duty to protect the citizens of Westerville."

The updates to the park also received the blessing of Westerville's branch of the Fraternal Order of Police. Late on the afternoon of Aug. 31, Keith Farrell, president of the branch, sent council and the city a letter of "strong support" for the changes.

"It is not just the memories of Eric and Anthony that have made this decision for us, but the memories of ALL first responders who have fallen in the line of duty," his letter reads. "To honor everyone, from firefighters to police officers to EMS and beyond in the same park, side by side would be such a profound and impactful statement to all."

City Council was scheduled to discuss the topic and determine a direction at its regular meeting Sept. 4.

For details, visit westerville.org.

aking@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAndrew