Westerville City Council voted Sept. 18 to approve additional spending for the city's community center expansion and award the bid to a Heath business.

Westerville staff members have been planning since 2014 for the $20 million renovation and expansion of the city's community center, adding such cutting-edge amenities as an eSports room, an "adventure fitness" space and a Food Network-style demonstration kitchen, as well as renovating existing spaces and providing a new senior-center area.

In April, council approved $20 million in bonds that were set to pay for the project.

But at the Westerville City Council work session Sept. 11, parks and recreation director Randy Auler reported that all five bids received for the project were higher than $20 million, forcing the city to find about $1.7 million in additional funding.

The city could simply bid the project again and hope that a lower price would be submitted. But because of the scope of the project, Auler said it likely would cost companies $20,000 or more to complete the bid process, and the prices could be higher in a second round of bidding.

"We don't see the market changing for construction," he said Sept. 11. "Columbus and central Ohio is really booming right now, in terms of construction. There are a lot of projects, and there is a shortage of labor with these skilled trades."

In order to afford pieces of the project that Auler said were essential, he and finance director LeeAnn Shortland said the city needed to find $1,690,000 past the existing $20 million in bonds.

Shortland said she found $468,440 from an account called the Older Adult Feature Fund. She said another $500,000 could be available by deferring a park-related payment that already has been appropriated to the parks and recreation department.

She said nearly all the remaining $721,560 could be disappropriated from other funds and reappropriated to the city's capital improvements fund in order to make up the difference. Council approved the movement of funds and awarded the project to Robertson Construction Services, Inc. And while some council members had concerns, both issues passed 6-1.

Councilwoman Valerie Cumming thanked Shortland and staff members for providing "guidance and information" and said that while she "expressed some concerns" about the changes, she came to realize it was the best way to move forward.

"I understand the bid is higher than anticipated for several reasons outside of our control," she said. "When I saw we were over ... my initial reaction was to go back to the original bid and cut ... but that's neither legal nor practical."

Councilman Tim Davey, however, voted against both the appropriations ordinance and the bid. He criticized the city's strategy of issuing the bonds first, and said Westerville was "stuck" and "in a weak negotiating position."

"The way this project has been managed has been very disappointing," he said.

Council Chair Mike Heyeck disagreed strongly with Davey's assertions.

"When you're a family trying to afford things, you move things around to try to accommodate," he said. "We're accommodating something that we spent at least two years to do."

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