The city of Upper Arlington has a team of consultants lined up to help determine if residents will support an indoor community center and what it would might include, but the shape of that project likely won't be known before the final quarter of 2020.

Backed by a contract that will pay Chicago-based Williams Architects and two subconsultants a total of up to $203,500, work to begin asking residents if they want an indoor community center, what programs it would offer and how it would be financed is to begin soon.

Margie Pizzuti, co-chairperson of the Upper Arlington City Council-appointed Community Center Feasibility Task Force, said the consultants would roll out plans for how they'll gauge public sentiment about the project at the task force's next meeting, which is scheduled 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 in the lower conference room at the city's Municipal Services Center, 3600 Tremont Road.

"That's when Williams and the other subcontractors really will lay out the timetable for how we move forward," Pizzuti said. "The focus is really going to be on community engagement.

"We're going to do some intensive community engagement to see what (residents') thoughts are. We're looking to reach out to a diverse group of community stakeholders to get their feedback."

Pizzuti said input likely would be gathered by various surveys and at public meetings.

Task force meetings also are open to the public, and Pizzuti said attendees would be given the opportunity to speak at the end of each session.

Additionally, she said, task force members are open to participating in neighborhood "coffees," which often involve people holding events at their homes where residents and task force members could discuss community center issues. That strategy was used extensively by Upper Arlington Schools officials leading up to the November 2017 passage of an 8.92-mill combined levy and bond issue that provided ongoing operating funds for the district, as well as $230 million for facilities upgrades.

Those collective efforts -- as well as task force subcommittees' work with consultants to hone in on the types of programs residents might want, where it might be located and how it would be financed -- Pizzuti said, will take time.

"It's more likely the community engagement will go through about July or August," she said. "What we really need to do first is roll up our sleeves and confirm people in our community want this.

"Then, if they do, we'll get into what they want in a community center. I think this is a really important, pivotal point to bring on the expertise of the consultants to really drive the work of the task force."

City Manager Steve Schoeny said the task force's work, aided by the consultants, would set the city "down the right path to really be able to thoroughly, professionally investigate whether a community center makes sense for Upper Arlington and, if so, what are the financial terms around it."

The consulting team, which includes subconsultants PROS Consulting and OHM Advisors, has experience in Upper Arlington and other parts of central Ohio.

Williams assisted PROS with the 2018 Upper Arlington Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan.

OHM led the design process for the new Tremont Pool and Playground at Northam Park and is leading a Lane Avenue development planning study.

"Collectively, the team has more experience conducting community center studies, including the current Westerville Community Center expansion," Schoeny said.

Pizzuti said OHM likely would lead the community outreach and surveys portion of the feasibility study.

PROS, she said, will help investigate operations.

Pizzuti said the process is expected to include discussions with local athletic organizations, as recreation would be a primary function of a community center.

She added feedback also will be sought from such groups as Upper Arlington Senior Center officials and members, the Upper Arlington Civic Association, local business owners and other civic organizations.

"This is not just a recreation center," Pizzuti said. "I think what we've heard is the community wants an intergenerational space where the community can gather."

Task force member Greg Comfort said the task force and consultants will explore public-private partnerships through which businesses, organizations or individuals might help finance the building or operations of a community center.

Should the public indicate it wants a facility, he said, the groups also will have to determine where it could be built. That will be a challenge because Upper Arlington is devoid of undeveloped land on which to build new projects.

"There are a lot of community centers out there that are built on cornfields and green fields," Comfort said. "That's not our situation.

"We are going to need, most likely, some sort of redevelopment project or an infill project."

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