A recent commitment of up to $50,000 from the city of Upper Arlington, backed by a state grant and private donations, has the first phase of a project to enhance a local veterans memorial moving toward a 2020 groundbreaking.

Inspired, in part, by the lead-up to the city's 2018 bicentennial celebration, a group of residents, dubbed the Veterans Memorial Committee, has been working about five years to upgrade a public recognition at Mallway Park of military veterans and those who have contributed to peacekeeping efforts and natural-disaster relief.

The actual design of the Veterans Plaza project at the park at 2096 Arlington Ave. remains in the conceptual phases, with opportunities for public feedback expected to be presented over the next year.

In the meantime, project backers frequently have shared evolving, preliminary proposals with city officials, who have expressed unofficial support.

On June 24, Upper Arlington City Council ratified its endorsement of the project by unanimously approving a resolution of support and pledging up to $50,000 to the first phase.

The funding will add to a $200,000 grant coming from the state's capital-projects budget that will support the first phase.

"Council approved matching the private fundraising effort up to $50,000," said Emma Speight, Upper Arlington community affairs director. "This would bring the public/private dollars invested in the project to the minimum $100,000 required for the state grant of $200,000."

Veterans Memorial Committee member Erik Yassenoff said about $20,000 in private donations has been secured for that portion of the project.

Yassenoff said the committee also hopes to announce more than $25,000 in additional first-phase private contributions within the next two months.

"We've always targeted to have Phase I funding done by mid-November," Yassenoff said. "We're kind of shooting for around Veterans Day (Nov. 11).

"We're being very conservative in how we're planning both phases. We're going to make sure Phase I is fully funded, and any additional revenues will be moved over to Phase II."

Concept plans, which have received preliminary support from council and been shared during public forums, have been adjusted in the past year to preserve green space at the 1-acre park that neighbors Jones Middle School.

Council will approve final plans following more public discussion.

"We're kind of leaving the backside of the park untouched," said Jeff Anderson, Upper Arlington parks planning and development manager.

"We're really kind of taking the parkscape that's up on Arlington Avenue, expanding it up to the existing monuments, creating a couple of new planting areas up front and then really focusing the upgrades on the existing monuments."

Currently, Mallway Park features two stone pillars that were constructed in 1946.

Since then, small additions have been made to the memorial, including plaques remembering local men and women who served during the Korean and Vietnam wars. In 2017, the Upper Arlington Serendipity Garden Club raised more than $1,500 to have a Blue Star Memorial marker installed.

"We're taking advantage of what's there, bringing it back to maybe more what it used to look like but also making it more of a statement out there in the park," Anderson said. "Then, we're also starting to establish the transition to the rest of the park with the grove of ornamental trees, with the textured walk, the memorial feature up front -- at least in the conceptual standpoint."

The committee and city officials also are mulling the possible inclusion of a metal arch that would span the park's entryway and the possible reignition of the "Flame of Freedom," the latter of which was a gift given to the park by the American Legion in 1969 but was extinguished in the 1970s due to a national gas crisis.

"One of the things we're still working is trying to figure out exactly what the upgrades to the memorial feature is going to be," Anderson said. "That's going to take a detailed design effort. That's kind of the next step for us.

"We know we want to clean and repair the existing monument."

Yassenoff said $7,500 has been raised for the second phase of the project. That portion is estimated to cost $150,000.

He added that the committee is eyeing display panels for that portion of the project.

"Phase II, we have not put together a concept, nor a design yet," Yassenoff said. "That was done on purpose to ensure we get public input on the content of the display panels and what they will look like.

"We are going to be engaging a group of teachers from the (Upper Arlington Schools) district, as well as students. Probably early next year we'll be bringing forward a concept to the public for public comment. The desire of the display panels is to do something somber and reflective, as well as educational. We want the plaza to be an educational tool."

As he's maintained throughout the planning process, Yassenoff said the goal of the project isn't to glorify war but honor servicemen and servicewomen, as well as those who have worked on peacekeeping missions, natural-disaster recovery and those who have served the community.

"Things are going in the right direction," he said. "The plan is to continue into 2020 for the fundraising for Phase II.

"If we could have $300,000 secured by the end of November, we'll break ground around (for Phase I) around the summer of 2020. We're looking forward to making some big announcements later this year."

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