Hilliard in 2021: City eyes post-pandemic plans

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group
Hilliard Recreation and Parks director Ed Merritt stands outside of the Hilliard Community Center  on Dec. 18 with staff members program manager Beth Simon, left, recreation aide Lindsey Dembowski, recreation supervisor Geoff Dew, recreation supervisor Amy Van Huffel, recreation supervisor Haley Bush, recreation supervisor Kristan Turner, program manager Megan Goudy and recreation supervisor Darcy Baxter. A feasibility study is being conducted to gauge interest for a new center.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic presented local governments with new challenges in 2020 – some of which will remain in 2021, according to Hilliard city leaders. 

But Hilliard’s leaders are looking beyond the pandemic and plan to begin initiatives that will shape the city’s future deep into the decade. 

“At the start of 2021, one of our priorities will be the continued response (and) recovery from COVID-19,” City Manager Michelle Crandall said. 

The mission is a “moving target” with some uncertainty attached to it, she said, including what additional state and federal funds might be available to local governments. 

“(We) will continue to work to identify ways to support the community while promoting the health and safety of our residents and staff,” Crandall said. 

But long-range planning also will be a major initiative in 2021, she said. 

That includes working with residents to develop an updated community plan as well as a recreation-and-parks master plan. 

“These are major initiatives that will set the tone, identify priorities and guide the city in the coming decade," Crandall siad. "There will be significant opportunities for community involvement in these processes." 

Examining city facilities 

Among those opportunities is a feasibility study for a new community center and Phyllis A. Ernst Senior Center that could even include a replacement for the Hilliard Family Aquatic Center, all in Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park. 

The feasibility study, to be conducted by Ballard*King and Associates for $34,000, would include gathering public comment to determine what kind of recreational facilities the community desires and to determine if there is a willingness to fund it, possibly through a one-half of 1% increase in the city’s existing 2% income-tax rate, Recreation and Parks Director Ed Merritt said. 

“There are a lot of options,” including location and cost, Merritt said. 

The city could build new facilities elsewhere, possibly at a 125-acre site east of Alton Darby Creek Road and south of Scioto Darby Creek Road, adjacent to Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park and the Hilliard Ohio Soccer Association complex, Merritt said. 

Hilliard purchased the land, known as the Jerman property and named for the family that once owned it, for $4.41 million as part of a real-estate deal City Council approved in November. 

It also is possible the city could demolish the existing community center, senior center and aquatic center and rebuild on the current site, Merritt said. 

With three current high schools and possibly a fourth in the future, it is possible the city could partner with the school district for a natatorium, Merritt said. 

The community center and senior center were built in the early 1970s and connected via an expansion project in the 1990s, Merritt said. The Hilliard Family Aquatic Center opened in the mid-1970s and also has been expanded and upgraded. 

“But there is an ongoing cost to maintain it and there will be future costs to upgrade the facility,” Merritt said. 

The cost to build new facilities would depend on the size, scope and amenities and would be identified in the feasibility study, Merritt said. 

Possible tax increase 

Hilliard levies a 2% income tax but many residents work in other cities with a 2.5% income tax. In addition, Hilliard’s senior-citizen population does not pay city income taxes, so for those residents, a hike in Hilliard’s income-tax rate, if a ballot measure is approved, would represent a change, Merritt said. 

“The construction period would present a challenge,” he said. “There are a lot of question marks (but) it’s a discussion we will begin (in 2021).” 

Another priority in 2021 is to reopen the existing facilities as society emerges from the pandemic. 

“The pandemic continues to be a question mark, but we will be approaching 2021 with optimism, particularly hoping that by summer, things will return to normalcy to allow us to offer the kinds of signature events and aquatics facilities our community has grown to expect from the city,” Merritt said. 

Construction projects 

Other projects planned include construction of a new playground at Conklin Park, restrooms at Weaver Park and the second phase of a disc golf course at Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park. 

Several construction projects also will begin in 2021, including the design and construction of the lower Hayden Run trunk sewer and lift station. 

“This project is a key to the economic development for the city because the trunk line will serve the Amazon data center planned for the Grener site,” City Engineer Clark Rausch said. 

In November, City Council agreed to sell 104 acres known as the Grener tract, south of Hayden Run Road between Cosgray and Leppert roads, to Amazon Web Services for $14.76 million. 

Work also will begin on the construction of a single-lane roundabout at Scioto Darby and Walcutt roads. The project will cost Hilliard about 20% less than expected, said Letty Schamp, the city’s deputy engineer. 

The city engineer’s estimate for the project was $1.92 million, but Delaware-based Trucco Construction Co. Inc. submitted the low bid of $1.54 million, Schamp said. 

“This project makes a much-needed capacity improvement on the southeast side of Hilliard and installs an important pathway link connecting Hilliard neighborhoods to neighborhood-serving commercial developments,” Schamp said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekCorvo