Westerville in 2021: City eyes fiber-optics expansion, community center's completion

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group
Mike Phillips, recreation and operations superintendent for
Westerville Parks & Recreation, said the warm-water therapy pool and a connecting party room should be open to the public by the end of January, pending relaxed coronavirus restrictions.

Possible expansion of the city’s fiber-optics system, economic development and redevelopment and welcoming residents back to the renovated and expanded community center are on tap in Westerville this year.

City Manager David Collinsworth said one of the things the city is going to take a hard look at is expansion of Westerville’s fiber-optics system, potentially doing a residentially based pilot project. 

“It’s an area that we’re not sure we want to dabble in,” he said. “But we don’t know enough to say no yet. We’re trying to figure out what that might look like, how would it work, what are the economics behind it and what type of business model is needed in order to do a fiber-to-the-home type of initiative."

He said it could build on the city’s fiber investment.

The entire south-side wing of the Westerville Community Center is expected to be open to the public by the end of January, pending relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.

Christa Dickey, Westerville community-affairs director, said if the city extends fiber optics to homes, it would be added to the utilities – electric, water and sewer and yard waste – that the city already manages. 

Related to those utilities, she said, rates won’t increase this year, thanks to City Council adopting the recommendation of city staff.

“When we did the utility-bill holiday in April (2020), there was some speculation that we would make up for it later and increase rates,” Collinsworth said. “That’s not our plan.”

He said there some rate increases were proposed for 2021, but staff recommended holding off.

“We felt we could manage without those increases for now,” Collinsworth said. “They weren’t dramatic increases. It’s one more little thing we could continue the theme of trying to help residents as much as possible on the financial front.”

He said it’s important the public know Westerville is well positioned financially to get through the pandemic. 

“We have some pretty rigorous financial-reserve policies for operating funds,” he said. “We’re pretty disciplined in how we follow those policies that gives us a cushion for times like this. We’re able to sustain our services.”

Development

Collinsworth said economic development will be an ongoing goal and objective.

“We’ll continue to look at how we can improve and advance development in the Westar development,” he said. “That area continues to see positive growth. That includes the Westar Place acreage that we own. We have three major parcels left to sell as part of that.”

He said the city also is expected to start looking for redevelopment opportunities. 

“We do have a number of areas where folks are looking at 3, 4 acres here or there where people want to come in and do some projects,” Collinsworth said. “We have one on Old County Line Road, a little east of the bike path, and one on South State Street, south of the post office.”

He said continuing the concept of Uptown also is an economic-development goal.

“We’re looking at a designated outdoor (refreshment) area, or DORA,” Collinsworth said. “That’s something I think we’re going to continue to pursue in 2021 in working with the business community with Uptown Westerville on advancing that concept.” 

Recreational therapy

Mike Phillips, recreation and operations superintendent for Westerville Parks & Recreation, said his department is excited to “unleash the beast” that’s the expanded and renovated Westerville Community Center, 350 N. Cleveland Ave., sometime this year.

“In January or February, when this (pandemic) lifts, or June or July, my hope is we’ll have a big party and celebrate COVID being behind us,” he said.

Phillips said the warm-water therapy pool and a connecting party room will be open to the public by the end of January, pending coronavirus restrictions.

“We’re almost ready to open it up to the public,” he said. “It’s a cool, new space we’re anxious to open as soon as we can. By the end of January, there’s nothing restricting us, from a facility standpoint, to keep from opening.” 

The warm-water therapy pool for older adults, senior swimmers and rehabilitation is kept at a temperature between 90 and 92 degrees, said Mike Phillips, recreation and operations superintendent for Westerville Parks & Recreation.

He said the warm-water therapy pool is for older adults and senior swimming and rehabilitation. 

“We’ll be really utilizing this space to its full advantage,” he said. 

Phillips said the temperature of the therapy pool would be 90 to 92 degrees, whereas the lap swimming pool's is 83 degrees, and the leisure pool's is 86 degrees.

He said the most popular birthday party at the community center is the pool party. 

“Kids can have their cake here (in the party room) and swim,” he said. "They can have this space for the duration of their party.”

Once those two spaces go online, Phillips said, everything will be open and the entire community center will be ready to unveil.

The south wing of the Westerville Community Center includes the new warm-water therapy pool, an area for older adults, an arts-and-crafts room, a billiards room and a Food Network-style demonstration kitchen that will be available to users of all ages.

Because of the coronavirus surge, Dickey said, the city is ramping up its virtual recreation center. 

“It’s the position we’re in right now,” she said. “We need to take a lot of those programs that would be in person and put in that virtual rec space and try to get through the next couple of months.”

She said classes in January are postponed and the hope is to have in-person classes in February.

“We’d still like people to consider a pass, maybe as a gift for the new year,” she said. “The pass can be prorated. The fitness space is open; the gym space has some availability.”

Collinsworth said the south “senior” wing is open, but programming has been curtailed.

“There’s a lot of self-selection going on in terms of people wanting to be in a congregate space,” he said. “You’re seeing it’s not just the senior side, but that’s on the fitness side, as well. We don’t have the numbers of people in that facility. The great irony is we had this limited fitness space before that the new facility had rectified. And yet we only have maybe a third of the patrons taking advantage. But that’s COVID.”

He said the diminished participation levels have had a profound effect on revenues for that facility. 

“That took a good hit in 2020,” he said, “In ‘21, we will have that same condition until midyear, I’m guessing.”

He said the city also would continue working on major goals set by City Council in 2018. Those include a safe initiative, including training first responders in various areas, such as recognizing the signs of domestic violence; sustainability through such programs as the home-composting pilot program; mobility, including a microtransit component that was launched in 2020 as a two-year pilot program via the COTA-plus program; and attainable housing. 

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla