A 15-member task force, aided by a consultant, will begin work this winter to gauge whether Upper Arlington should pursue a community center.

Backed by a 2018 random survey that found the majority of its 653 respondents favored "exploring the feasibility of an indoor recreation facility for all ages," Upper Arlington City Council appointed 15 residents July 8 to what since has been dubbed a Community Center Feasibility Task Force.

The group has met three times and formed subcommittees to look into how a community center would be financed; determine how the group would engage the community in discussions about such a project; and explore where a center might be built, what sorts of programs and amenities it would offer and if there are opportunities for the city to partner with private entities or individuals to make the project a reality.

Task-force members are reviewing the qualifications of consultant firms to assist the group in determining if Upper Arlington residents believe a community center is needed and if they want one.

"If the answer to either of those questions is no, then this task force's work is over," Upper Arlington City Council President Kip Greenhill said. "There's no sense in having a study of a location if the community says, 'We don't want it.' "

Marjory Pizzuti, who co-chairs the task force with Nick Lashutka, said the group began reviewing qualifications of potential consultants last week but could not say how much such a firm's services might cost.

The task force intends to recommend a consultant by Nov. 4 and City Council is expected to hire a firm by mid-November.

Although the 2018 survey found 64% of respondents were "very supportive" of exploring the feasibility of an indoor recreation facility for all ages, and another 17% were "somewhat supportive," the task force wants to engage more of the community in the debate.

Pizzuti said the consultant would help develop another survey and organize focus-group meetings to determine if a center is needed and wanted. That outreach tentatively is expected to take place between December and April.

"The firm will begin working with us by Nov. 26," Pizzuti said. "We'll get to work right away.

"First and foremost, we want to get a consensus and get feedback on those first two questions."

If the group finds there is support for the project, it will begin work to assess such issues as where a community center might be built, financing, programs and amenities and how it would be operated.

"There's a chronology, a flow, through this process," Pizzuti said.

"We want to do it right, not quick.

"We want to make sure that we're doing it right with significant input from the community going forward and making sure that we're really inclusive and transparent."

Given the lingering questions, Pizzuti said, it's "premature to map out what the process timeline will be."

But if residents indicate support for moving forward, she said, the task force likely would not make any final conclusions or recommendations until after the first or second quarter of 2020.

In the meantime, Greenhill said, council and city staff members are taking a hands-off approach so the task force can work independently.

"We want this to be an independent research project," he said.

"This is going to be heavily driven by the community. If (the task force) needs to go into late spring, so be it."

Other members of the task force include Dianne Albrecht, Kelly Boggs-Lape, Supen Bowe, Greg Comfort, Wendy Gomez, Merry Hamilton, Chuck Manofsky, Linda Mauger, Linda Moulakis, Brian Perera, Matthew Rule, Todd Walter and Bill Westbrook.

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