After months of planning, Bexley is digging into one of its most anticipated projects.

The March 1 groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of Jeffrey Mansion, 165 N. Parkview Ave., drew Bexley city officials, Bexley Community Foundation representatives and dozens of community members.

The project will add 9,500 square feet of recreation and event space to the mansion and is scheduled to be completed in mid-December, Mayor Ben Kessler said.

"Jeffrey (Mansion) isn't just a community center," he said. "For the residents of all ages who enjoy its classes and programming, it's a hub of possibility supporting over 5,700 hours of recreation and learning each year. Compared to just 10 years ago, we're proudly graduating over three times more preschoolers, summer camping 2 1/2 times more kids and welcoming 1,200 more class and program participants."

In 2019, more than 15,000 people participated in programs and events at Jeffrey Mansion, according to city records, and the expansion will enable the city to keep pace with the growing demand, Bexley recreation director Michael Price said.

"We have completely outgrown our space, and the impact of that is we have programs that people get turned away because we can't add more programs," Price said. "We don't have rooms that are big enough to handle the demand. This is going to more than double our programmable space, which is going to allow us ... to expand our program offerings that we can provide to our community."

The city originally estimated the expansion project would cost $3.25 million. The project includes expanding the mansion's ground floor to create a multipurpose space for recreation programming and community use, installing an elevator and reconfiguring parking to create 20 more spaces. The project is funded through $1 million the Bexley Community Foundation has pledged, $250,000 from the state of Ohio capital budget, and the remainder from city funds, according to city records.

Although the Bexley Community Foundation had initially pledged $1 million, the organization raised the goal to $1.5 million and eventually raised more than $1.7 million, said Jeffrey Walker, chairman of its board of directors.

"The mission of the foundation is to enhance and sustain the desirability of Bexley as a place to live, learn, work and play, and I can think of no project that we have undertaken that will do that more than the Jeffrey Mansion expansion project, not only for today for ourselves, but this is a multigenerational project impacting future residents of Bexley," he said.

The new multipurpose space that the expansion will create would enable the city to recreational program offerings and provide more meeting and event space for public use, Price said.

"It will add meeting space and event space on a level that the city doesn't have," he said. "We do a lot of events on weekends in our existing space, but a lot of residents want to have an event that's bigger than our space can handle and they don't have a place to do that in Bexley. And now they will."

On Feb. 11, the city opened bids and awarded the work to Columbus-based construction company Marker Inc. for the lowest bid of $3.9 million. The three other bids came from construction companies Altman, Robertson Construction and 2K General Corp. Inc. City auditor Bill Harvey said Marker previously built the city's police headquarters at 559 N. Cassingham Road.

To bring the Jeffrey Mansion expansion within the original budget and 10% contingency, Price said, the city modified the project: not installing a new cooling tower, eliminating decorative brick pavers that were to be installed on the driveway along the north side of the building and postponing resurfacing the parking lot near the tennis courts behind the mansion.