Westerville News & Public Opinion

New university master plan

Otterbein targets closer links with city, Uptown

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Otterbein University leaders would like to create a more defined town-and-gown connection as they plan for the university’s future.

Otterbein President Kathy Krendl and Vice President for Business Affairs Rebecca Vazquez-Skillings presented a draft of the university’s master plan, which has been under development for the last three and a half years, to Westerville City Council during council’s Jan. 14 work session.

In addition to updating campus facilities to accommodate the growth of academic programs, the recommendations in the master plan focus on creating more of a presence for Otterbein in the community and more connectivity between the university and the city.

“We see ourselves very much as part of this community. We see Westerville as an asset,” Krendl told council.

To help better define Otterbein as a part of the community, the master plan shows “traffic-calming” features on Main Street at both West and Grove streets.

Those features would bring brick detailing into the streets, with landscaping features at the center of the intersections. Signage would be added to the intersection at West Street.

“You could travel down Cleveland Avenue, State Street, Main Street and not know you were traveling through Otterbein’s campus,” Vazquez-Skillings said of the current configuration.

The master plan also shows the university closing Grove Street between Main and Home streets to traffic, with an outdoor seating area added behind the library to serve both students and community members.

The changes along Grove Street are meant to accommodate a common desire expressed through the planning process: To create more outdoor gathering spaces like the large lawn in front of Towers Hall, at Grove Street and College Avenue.

The university also would like to make changes to the alleyway system that separates the university from Uptown Westerville. The goal is to make it more pedestrian friendly and easier to navigate, and to increase the connectivity between Uptown and campus, Vazquez-Skillings said.

Another area that could be used as an amenity by both city residents and students is Otterbein Lake, Vazquez-Skillings said.

“It serves an academic purpose, but we believe it serves a recreation and beauty purpose,” she said. “It is a beautiful property we don’t believe is being leveraged as an asset right now.”

The university would like to see a pedestrian bridge spanning the lake, which would provide connectivity between the main Otterbein campus and its properties on the west side of Alum Creek, as well as better access to the lake, Vazquez-Skillings said.

At the university’s Equine Center, 600 N. Spring Road, the university envisions a sustainable campus and potential student housing with little to no carbon footprint, which would allow students to learn about a green lifestyle while living in a green community, Krendl said.

University leaders do not yet have a solid plan for the 25 acres recently purchased at Cooper Road and Cleveland Avenue, as the property was not acquired until the university was mostly through its master-planning process, Krendl said.

City leaders have been asking for details of what could become of that property, as the private developer that owns the remainder of the 99-acre parcel has come forward with development plans.

Krendl said university leaders understand that the development of that area will have a major impact on the city, and she said university leaders would like to collaborate with city leaders in developing Otterbein’s portion.

“It will define the western entrance to the city, and I hope it will define it in a very real way,” Krendl said. “We see this as something we would like to develop in conjunction with the city.”

Some of the potential uses for the property include nontraditional student housing, such as housing for graduate students or students with families, academic space for older learners or a community arts center, Krendl said.

“We are still very much in the thinking phase,” Krendl said of the university’s plans for the property.

In the meantime, the university will focus on implementing the changes to the core campus proposed in the master plan, beginning with upgrades to the campus’ sports facility, student center and library, Vazquez-Skillings said.

The exact timing of improvements will be based on the university’s feasibility studies and fundraising for individual projects, she said.

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