A group studying the feasibility of a community center in Upper Arlington will proceed to the next phase of its work, which will include identifying potential sites and the costs associated with operating a facility.

Last August, the 16-member Community Center Feasibility Task Force, appointed by Upper Arlington City Council, began work to determine if local residents in fact want an indoor recreation and community-gathering space.

A "statistically valid" survey conducted March 6 through April 10 went to 2,500 Upper Arlington households and produced 632 responses.

A combined 79% of respondents indicated at least some level of support for the construction of a community center if it featured amenities most important to their households and if it could be built without raising taxes.

Another combined 54% said they had at least some level of support for building a community center if it featured most of the amenities important to their households even if it did raise taxes.

That -- in addition to feedback task-force members said they collected at 12 "pop-up" information events in the community held between January and early March, as well as a March 4 community meeting -- was enough to compel the task force to press on to the second phase of its study.

During that phase, the task force will continue to look at the amenities a multigenerational indoor facility would offer, but it also will delve deeper into examining potential sites for the center and costs to build and operate it.

"Phase I really begins to answer the question of is a community center needed and desired by the community," said Margie Pizzuti, co-chair of the task force.

"If so, how do we move it forward in terms of paying for it, the development and the creation of this community center?"

Backed by $145,000 in services from consultants Williams Architects, PROS Consulting Inc. and OHM Advisors, the task force plans to continue to gather public input about a potential community-center project through another survey and a future community meeting.

The task force also will look for local sites for the facility and will continue to home in on expenses related to construction, annual operating costs and the programs residents indicate they want.

By the end of this year or early 2021, task-force members expect to bring their findings to Upper Arlington City Council, which would decide how to proceed.

That could include seeking voter approval of a ballot issue that, if passed, could provide funding for the project.

"Regardless of how funding might be structured, any proposal would come before voters at the appropriate time, upholding City Council's pledge to residents that a community center will not move forward without going to the ballot," City Manager Steve Schoeny said at his Jan. 27 State of the City Address.

As of now, no cost estimates for a community center have been provided, but the consultants reported to council June 29 that based on the amenities that survey respondents identified, they envision a facility of between 82,071 and 91,190 square feet.

Pizzuti didn't respond to inquiries last week asking if the task force has cost estimates for buildings of those sizes.

According to the survey results reported to City Council, 65% of respondents said they'd support construction of a community center that included the features most important to their household; 14% said they were somewhat supportive; 10% said they weren't supportive at all; 3% were somewhat unsupportive; and 7% were neutral.

Of all respondents, 29% said they were very supportive of constructing a community center, even if it required a tax increase; 25% were somewhat supportive; 23% were not supportive at all; 12% were neutral and 10% were somewhat unsupportive.

According to survey results thus far, 80% of respondents said they would use "exercise and fitness" amenities at a local community center; 67% said they wanted various classes to be offered; 62% desired aquatics; 50% sought miscellaneous "drop-in activities"; and 48% wanted lifelong learning classes to be offered.

Additionally, 37% sought senior activities; 35% wanted meeting and event space; 31% wanted arts and theater space; 31% wanted team sport activities; 21% sought childcare services while using the facility; and 10% said they wouldn't use the facility.

Tom Poulos, vice president of Williams Architects, told council members that based on that rudimentary information, he could envision "very preliminary" concepts for a building that would feature 14,470 square feet of swimming space, 10,600 square feet of fitness space, 13,870 square feet of "common" space, 4,500 square feet of administrative space and 3,100 square feet of outdoor programming space.

Additionally, there could be 13,700 square feet of space for senior programming.

Preliminary concepts include 3,500 square feet of "dedicated" senior space and another 10,200 square feet of space that would be "primarily senior space that could be used for other things," Schoeny said.

That compares to 9,000 square feet of programming space in the existing Upper Arlington Senior Center, which also features 2,600 square feet of common space, according to Emma Speight, the city's community affairs director.

"In February, I will be eligible to join the senior center," Schoeny said. "Yes, (a future community center) needs to be the senior center for current seniors, but it's also got to be my senior center, too.

"I want us to be looking at it as, 'How do we build a senior center that's not just to serve our seniors today?' It's got to be a senior center incorporated into this other piece that serves seniors over the next 25, 30 years."

Task force member Greg Comfort said the task force will continue to garner information from residents about the type of facility they want, its amenities and how much they might be willing to pay through possible taxes or membership fees for construction and ongoing operations.

That work, he said, will help determine if the project is feasible and will provide guidance to council members as to what, if anything, they ask of local voters.

"In order to present a complete picture to the community so they can make a decision as to whether they think this makes sense or does not, we really feel like Phase II is needed," he said.

Comfort said the second phase would be "a much deeper dive into the economics of the facility, relative to capital (costs) and relative to operations."

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