As construction on the first phase of a 111-acre sports complex moves forward, Prairie Township officials already are looking ahead to the completion of a project they see as a continuation of revitalization efforts.

The overall project is expected to take several years and at least three phases to fully complete, according to James Gant, the township's recreation director.

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The township paid Dominion Homes $600,000 in 2013 for the site at 1503 Galloway Road, just south of Hall Road, as part of a deal that included another $360,000 for the property where the Prairie Township Community Center was built at 5955 W. Broad St.

Construction on the $1.87 million first phase of the sports complex is underway.

Phase 1 includes 10 multiuse fields, two ball diamonds and a concession stand/shelter house with restrooms.

* Phase 1 funding is a mix of state and township money that includes a $490,000 grant from the 2017-18 state capital budget and a $474,315 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to build a multiuse trail around the perimeter of the property, connecting to Alton Hall School to the north and the Camp Chase Trail to the south. The township has budgeted $912,789 for its portion.

* Phase 2 is expected to cost another $1.8 million and include a second entrance, a parking area and an artificial-turf field.

Township Administrator Tracy Hatfield said officials are hoping to receive nearly $500,000 from Ohio's 2019-20 capital budget for phase 2, but that isn't confirmed yet.

* Phase 3 is expected to include an enclosed shelter house, a dog park, a skate park and basketball and volleyball courts, but there is no timeline, design or cost estimate yet for that portion of the project.

"The township is committed to doing those things. It's just going to take time. We went from no department to building a community center and having the sports complex in just a few short years," Gant said.

The artificial-turf field will be suitable for use by players with disabilities who require the use of wheelchairs and other adaptive devices.

"We want everyone to get a chance to play," Gant said.

Trustee Chairman Steve Kennedy, an avid angler himself, said he personally has helped stock the two ponds on the property, each of which is a little over an acre in size.

"I've been stocking it with fish. We've stocked it with catfish, bass, bluegills," Kennedy said.

The sports complex is considered an extension of the township community center, which opened in 2015. It has become a bit of a hub for township events, playing host to a seasonal weekly farmers market, a tree-lighting ceremony at Christmas and trick-or-treat in October, alongside such regular programs as swim lessons and summer camps.

The community center gives people "another touchpoint, another place to gather," Gant said. "It's a component of being a place where people want to raise a family.

"We're starting to see a revitalization, with businesses and residents wanting to move into the area because of what's happening here," he said. "We have members who come here and didn't know each other a year ago and now they won't miss coming to work out because they've got somebody here. They begin to feel more connected to this whole area."

About 48 percent of the center's 5,200 members are nonresidents from areas like Grandview, Grove City and London who pay higher fees to join. But even as the township draws people from surrounding communities, residents must look elsewhere for such things as youth sports leagues, which the township currently can't offer.

Gant said Prairie Township has six neighborhood parks, but none are large enough for athletics fields.

Filling a void

That's where the new sports complex comes in.

"There was a huge void, if you go around (Interstate) 270 from Hilliard to Grove City," Kennedy said. "Both communities on either side of us offer those types of things. We're in an area where there was a void of sports programs and recreational activities. We hear complaints at the meetings about a lack of recreation in the township.

"That was the main driver for the community center and now the sports complex."

Lisa Jones, a township resident for 22 years and a retired Hilliard special-education teacher, has worked part time at the community center since it opened.

"We've seen a huge difference in our teenage population who come into the center," she said. "It's a safe space for youth and teens to be -- and parents struggle to find those places -- so the ability to provide that is huge.

"I think people would be shocked at the number of new families who have moved into our area. You sit in the community center for a day and you see the young families, you see who Prairie Township is going to be in the coming years."

Next year and beyond

Some of the fields at the sports complex could open as early as this fall for toddler-age programming, but it will take about a year for the grass to grow and take root before most will be ready to use in spring 2019, Gant said.

The township currently is exploring options for managing youth sports leagues.

It could be a mix of township-run programs and others that are outsourced to youth sports organizations like Locomotive Soccer, a company the township currently partners with for indoor soccer programs, Gant said.

Jones has been a volunteer with Special Olympics for the past 20 years. She said the potential of the sports complex is "hugely important" to the area because it could draw tournaments and events from around the region.

"Anything to bring in a place for folks with any kind of disabilities and a chance for them to show their strength and their abilities -- I am on board for that," she said. "It may not be for you, specifically, but it may benefit your children or your grandchildren."

Foundation support

There is no tax levy or bond issue in place to provide funding for the sports complex, so the new Prairie Township Community Foundation is expected to be instrumental in raising money to complete the second and third segments of the project.

Trustees approved using $10,000 as seed money to get it started and named eight township residents to three-year terms on the foundation board. In addition to Jones, they are Troy Walton, Ryan Bush, Mike Corsi, Stefanie and Kenny Jackson, Alexandra Fisher and Bill Raines.

The foundation is an entity established through the Columbus Foundation, an organization that manages charitable funds, trusts and endowments for organizations throughout central Ohio.

Hatmaker said its purpose is "to help raise money to help fund major capital projects to help relieve using taxpayer dollars as the only source.

"We hope this seed money will multiply many times over," he said.

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