Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler welcomed community leaders and residents to this year's State of the Community address Thursday, March 14, by saying, "What a great atmosphere this is. Why haven't we done this before?"
Like nearly all cities, Bexley has previously hosted a state of the city address, but last week's event was full of firsts. In the past, it was held in the evening and it consisted of the mayor giving those same residents and community stakeholders a look into what was to be expected in the year ahead.
But at 8 a.m. March 14, more than 80 guests took seats at tables in Capital University's Mees Hall, where they shared breakfast and mingled before hearing from representatives from all of Bexley's key players.
Kessler said Pat Kramer, Capital University's assistant vice president of external relations, came to him with the idea after attending events in other cities that had more casual atmospheres and highlighted multiple community partners.
All were invited to the event, which had a $5 entrance fee to cover the cost of the fruit, coffee, orange juice, pastries and breakfast sandwiches that were served during the presentations.
Presenters from Capital University, Trinity Theological Seminary, Columbus School for Girls, St. Charles Preparatory School, Bexley City School District, the Bexley Public Library, Bexley Area Chamber of Commerce, the Bexley Community Foundation and the city had about five minutes each to explain 2012's accomplishments and plans for the future.
Capital University's Chief of Staff Susan Merryman discussed how growing enrollment is one of the college's main focuses, along with continuing to add to the $162 million economic impact it has on central Ohio. She also noted the college's first men's and women's lacrosse teams will begin play in 2014.
Thomas Ludwig, interim president of the Trinity Theological Seminary, said the school is celebrating its 90th year at its Main Street location. Ludwig, who was named interim president Feb. 1, said part of this year's work is about two things: leadership and partnership. While on the search for a full-time president, the board also is looking to expand the seminary through partnerships, including one with Methodist Theological School to host joint programs.
Liza Lee, head of school at Columbus School for Girls, showcased renderings of a new 400-seat theater that's in the works. "Hopefully, next year, we'll be hosting this breakfast on our stage," she said, referring to the music and speech building that's heavy on landscaped green space and earth-friendly infrastructure.
St. Charles Principal Jim Lower said the school is preparing for the curriculum switch to Common Core Standards, which all schools must have in place by the 2013-14 academic year. "To be honest with you, we look forward to those challenges," said Lower, who has the expectation that St. Charles students will rise to the challenge and adapt quickly to the new guidelines.
Wrapping up the section on education, Bexley City Schools Superintendent Michael Johnson said the district is focused on the values and best practices that make learning a "seamless experience from home to school." The district has been working on a schoolwide wireless network and a technology policy that allows students to use personal electronics in class. The district also is in the process of hiring a student to serve in an administrative support role and who can act as a liaison within the community because, as Johnson said: "What are we known for in this community? It has to be education."
Other good things
Bexley Public Library Director Rachel Rubin gave attendees a roundup of the successful last two years during which she served at the facility's helm. Those achievements include a 14 percent increase in the number of children who hold library cards, a 30 percent increase in the number of students using the Homework Help program, and a 6 percent increase in overall circulation.
Rubin said since the library's new tech center opened in December, 105 residents have attended the 11 tech classes held in the area. New for 2013 is the Creation Station area of the library, which boasts two iMacs equipped with design software.
Greg Margulies, Bexley Area Chamber of Commerce president, got the crowd laughing with his presentation, which he laid out through drawings on oversized notebook paper instead of on PowerPoint slides. The drawings represented just one area where the chamber is hoping to go digital in 2013. Its major focus in 2012 and continuing into 2013 is becoming more web-centered. In addition to a redesigned bexleyareachamber.org, Margulies said the chamber has enlisted a social media marketing committee to allow it to engage with businesses and residents outside of those who pick up its pamphlet that features a map of Bexley and a list of businesses. Along with the city, the chamber also is making progress on GoBexley.com, a visitors site that highlights Bexley attractions.
Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler gave attendees a rundown of all the events and infrastructure projects new to the city this year, but it was unveiling the never-before-seen-by-the-public results of the community rebranding project that sparked interest.
Kessler gave what he called a "sneak peak" of the seals that could represent the city, chamber of commerce, school district, library, Bexley Women's Club and the Bexley Celebrations Committee. The city's seal depicts a tree growing out of a book, representing the city's education base and the many trees that now have Bexley being considered as the first city in the country to be named an arboretum.
Kessler also hinted during his presentation at a possible City Hall site redevelopment, saying, "This might be the year, and if not, it's something we're working really hard on."
Those who missed the event can view a recording at bexley.org.