The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has scuttled pop-up events and meetings related to the exploration of an Upper Arlington community center, but a feasibility task force continues to solicit resident feedback.

Because of the pandemic and a planned March break, the Community Center Feasibility Task Force hasn't met since Feb. 19.

The group's April meeting was canceled, and the status of the May 6 meeting hasn't been determined.

In the meantime, task force co-chairwoman Margie Pizzuti said work is continuing to complete the first-phase initiative to collect input to determine if residents believe a community center is needed or wanted.

That work began last fall, and most recently has been supplemented by a survey that was mailed to 3,000 Upper Arlington homes in early March. Recipients were asked to return the surveys via mail or email by mid-April.

"We continue, in the spirit of being agile and pivoting, to seek feedback and input from the citizens of UA," Pizzuti said. "We've had a lot of input from citizens online and group meetings.

"We'll continue to do that, understanding, however, that this is not top of mind for citizens or the city of UA."

While the task force awaits survey responses, city officials also are helping to disseminate information collected through "pop-up" events the city and task force were using to spread awareness about the community-center initiative and to collect public feedback prior to the pandemic.

Emma Speight, the city's community-affairs director, said findings from the survey, earlier pop-up events and a March 4 community meeting will be presented to the task force if the May 6 meeting is held.

Speight said 16 pop-ups were held from late January through early March, including at the State of the City address, high school boys and girls basketball games, the Volunteer UA Expo and the UA Stage dinner for local senior citizens.

"It's hard to put a number on how many residents participated in these pop-ups, since they could pick and choose which parts of the activities to participate in, but it was in excess of 450 people," Speight said. "These activities were a great way to help raise awareness by taking the issue out to the community and providing quick and easy activities to gauge residents' thoughts."

In November, City Council approved a $203,500 contract with Chicago-based Williams Architects and two subconsultants to aid the task force in determining if residents want an indoor community center, what programs it would offer, where it would be located and how it would be financed.

Thus far, the consultants have analyzed indoor recreation centers throughout central Ohio and provided summaries to the task force of the types of amenities those facilities offer.

The consultants reported to the task force Feb. 19 that those facilities' average membership fees were $49 per month for individuals, $78 per month for couples and $106 per month for families.

The consultants also reported that initial polling of residents had found that most desire a community center that is centrally located, would "accommodate all residents, including different age groups and interests" and contains "flexible, affordable meeting spaces with technology and amenities."

Additionally, the consultants said surveys found residents prefer a community center that would be a redevelopment project as opposed to one that's built on existing green space, one that caters to middle and high school students and provides space for youth sports programs.

"We're continuing to have conversations with the consultants and evaluate the work we've done so far, stay connected to task force members and see where we go from here," Pizzuti said. "We don't have a stake in the ground or an end date for moving forward."

If the consultants and task force determine residents want a community center, they'll begin to solicit information on location, what programs it should offer and how it would be funded.

The consultants' contract runs through Dec. 31, Speight said.

"We believe it will be possible for the consultant to complete its work within this timeframe, but if necessary the contract could be amended to extend the time period," she said. "There is also 'force majeure' language in the contract that provides for extensions should either party be unable to perform due to 'acts of God.'

"At this time, the consultant is confident their work can continue."

Even before the pandemic, Pizzuti said, the task force expected to work into the fall.

She said the forced break from meetings "gives us an opportunity for more feedback."

City Manager Steve Schoeny said the pandemic is affecting the community and residents in many ways, and officials are "carefully considering" when and how to adjust approaches for various special projects.

"For example, the timeline for the statistically valid survey was extended into mid-April, recognizing that the mailing reached households just prior to the impacts of COVID-19 making themselves known in Ohio, and the online version that will be open to all residents will be available mid-April through early May," he said. "The work of the consultants and the task force is somewhat fluid and can be adjusted as necessary. However, at this time we believe it's still possible for the process to proceed with minimal delay.

"That said, the study will be conducted with a keen awareness of and sensitivity to the challenges that have already occurred or may arise as the pandemic continues to evolve."

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