Westerville's community leaders highlighted the accomplishments of the past year and outlined goals for 2014 during the annual State of the Community address.
In a scripted telecast, representatives from the city of Westerville, the Westerville City School District, Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, Westerville Public Library and Otterbein University addressed residents Feb. 25.
City of Westerville
Westerville earned more awards to hang on the walls of the Municipal Building in 2013.
The city was named the best suburban city in America by Movoto Real Estate, adding to past rankings of being named among Forbes Magazine's "America's Friendliest Towns" and twice appearing in Money Magazine's "Best Places to Live."
In 2013, the Westerville Department of Parks and Recreation earned its fourth Gold Medal from the National Recreation and Parks Association, maintained its triple-A credit rating and again earned financial recognitions from the Ohio Auditor's Office and the Government Finance Officers Association.
While the city is proud of its honors, City Manager Dave Collinsworth said, city leaders know improvements always can be made.
"We are diligent to never rest on our laurels, and because of that, our story is one of progress," Collinsworth said. "As we look to the future, we constantly seek new and better ways to serve our community, to empower and invest in local entrepreneurship and innovation, and to maintain an active and constructive dialogue with all who call Westerville home."
In 2013, the city made strides toward improvements by expanding and renovating its service center and broke ground on an update and expansion to its water treatment facility.
The city also prepared to purchase the 67-acre Altair tract, south of Polaris Parkway between Cleveland Avenue and Africa Road, so its economic development team could work with developers on creating retail space and a hotel and conference facility on the site.
The city took steps toward constructing the Worthington Road connector, which will extend Worthington Road from Polaris Parkway to County Line Road west of Alum Creek.
The city entered into a joint economic development zone with Blendon Township, creating a partnership with the township that will help enhance economic development and create infrastructure improvements to the city's south.
In 2013, the city wrapped up roadway and landscaping improvements along South State Street, and those improvements will expand to the north and along Schrock Road in 2014, Collinsworth said.
"We see progress on our roadways, sidewalks and gateways as we work to ensure that all areas of our community are well maintained and, when needed, restored to meet our exceptional standards of excellence and beauty," he said.
Finally, Collinsworth said, the city is working to create a comprehensive plan to evaluate where the city is and to outline its goals for the future.
"As we chart the path ahead, it is important for the city to take stock of where we are, and to engage in a conversation about where we want to go," Collinsworth said.
The Westerville City School District saw more academic success in 2013, earning mostly As and Bs on its State Report Card, said Board of Education President Nancy Nestor-Baker.
The measures are significant, Nestor-Baker said, because the high marks mean the district's students are achieving more than the state expects.
"Westerville students, in general, are gaining significantly more than one year's growth in one year's time.
"Our Performance Index score remains high, which means a significant number of our students are scoring at the accelerated or advanced levels on state assessments," Nestor-Baker said. "Ohio is setting the bar higher and expecting more from its schools. We welcome these higher standards and the opportunities they bring."
In 2013, the district created a strategic plan, and now the district's leaders will follow through on that plan, working to develop a curriculum centered on educating the "21st-century student," Nestor-Baker said.
To do that, the district will strengthen its middle- and high-school programs, Nestor-Baker said.
The district's leadership also recently introduced a new technology initiative, seeking to provide one electronic device, such as a tablet or notebook computer, per every two students over the next three years, while creating a curriculum that fully integrates the use of that technology, Nestor-Baker said.
"As the world around us continues to change, it's clear that we must graduate students who are able to pursue their post-secondary education plans and compete for the jobs of the future," she said. "The new strategic plan will push our district to become better and produce graduates who are capable of competing globally and becoming contributing members of society."
As it celebrates its academic success and charts a course to further that, the district also is enjoying a strong financial position, Nestor-Baker said.
The district's budget this year is lower than last year's budget, Nestor-Baker said, and is the lowest budget in four years. The current five-year financial forecast shows the district will remain financially solvent through fiscal year 2018, she said -- three years longer than the district said it would have a positive cash balance when voters approved the last operating levy, in March 2012.
Chamber of Commerce
The Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce last year furthered one of its main goals of creating networking opportunities for its members, said Jean Halpin, chairwoman of the chamber's board of trustees.
The chamber hosted 34 networking events, along with the 40th annual Westerville Music & Arts Festival, and marked its 45th anniversary, Halpin said.
The chamber also held two candidate forums to help residents in choosing its newest City Council members and Board of Education members, hosted a talk by Gov. John Kasich and twice hosted U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Genoa Township).
All of those events help its members focus on and become more a part of the Westerville community, Halpin said.
"We believe it is important that we keep a pulse on the business community in an effort to retain business in this part of the region," she said.
"From the perspective of the member businesses, they are afforded programs and events to meet new, potential clients and reconnect with those they've met, to entertain clients and to bring a sense of belonging, which results in the great energy felt among members doing business with each other."
Moving forward, the chamber plans to work with the Westerville and Columbus school districts and Otterbein University to see what its members can do to better prepare students to enter central Ohio's job market, Halpin said.
"No matter the industry, having a qualified workforce is essential," Halpin said. "There are certain industries -- for example, healthcare, technology, and science -- that are experiencing needs that we have already started to address within the chamber."
Westerville Public Library
The past year marked a record year for the Westerville Public Library, with more people than ever before walking through the doors, checking out materials, visiting the website and participating in library programs, library Adult Services Manager Nieca Nowels said.
In all, 2,000 people a day on average passed through the library's doors, and they checked out 2.1 million items throughout the year, Nowels said. In addition, 57,000 people participated in library programs, and 1.9 million people visited the library's website, she said.
The library also celebrated success as it once again received a five-star rating from the Library Journal, Nowels said. It was one of only 92 libraries nationwide to receive the honor.
The library prepared to continue to expand its services and better serve the community as renovated many areas, Nowels said. The library made over the youth, adult and teen areas, and the Technology Center, she said, and the Homework Help Center was expanded and renovated.
Otterbein University saw its program offerings grow in 2013, and more plans for growth are underway, university President Kathy Krendl said.
The university added a zoo and conservation science program, partnered with Ohio University's Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine to launch an osteopathic medicine program, which will begin next fall, and announced a new systems engineering major, which will begin enrolling students in fall 2015, Krendl said.
The university also expanded its partnership with Columbus State Community College to offer more students a clear path from a two-year associate's degree to a four-year bachelor's degree, Krendl said.
The university's graduate program, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, marked a milestone as well last year, Krendl said.
"Last spring, the first class of Doctor of Nursing Practice students received their degrees, marking the first time Otterbein has granted doctoral degrees since 1896," she said.
With its student-centered mentality, Otterbein earned national recognition for its programs and school culture, Krendl said.
"Our emphasis on support structures, faculty mentoring, and an intimate, student-centered learning environment all help us to keep students and their success as our primary focus," Krendl said.
Otterbein's students played an important role in the Westerville community in the last year, she said, working through the university's Center for Community Engagement to provide more than 70,000 volunteer hours to community organizations.
"Otterbein students contribute in positive ways to serving these organizations and individuals," Krendl said. "This process continues as part of their Otterbein experience over their four years here, and many students become regular volunteers at organizations that capture their imagination."