Westerville's community leaders gathered for their annual State of the Community address Feb. 24 to discuss accomplishments of 2014 and look ahead through the remainder of 2015.

Westerville's community leaders gathered for their annual State of the Community address Feb. 24 to discuss accomplishments of 2014 and look ahead through the remainder of 2015.

In scripted presentations, leaders from the city of Westerville, the Westerville school district, Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, Westerville Public Library and Otterbein University gave their thoughts.

City of Westerville

City Manager Dave Collinsworth's presentation focused largely on the city's two largest wins of 2014.

He thanked residents for approving the 20-year extension of the PROS Tax, which will fund parks and recreation construction projects through 2040.

"With this key funding source once again secured, planning can now begin to expand the Westerville Community Center and enhance other vital recreational assets in the community," he said.

But perhaps the biggest news of the past year was the announcement of the development of Westar Place, which will include an eight-story Renaissance Hotel and Conference Center and should bring corporate offices to the area. The 62-acre Westar Place tract lies south of Polaris Parkway, between Cleveland Avenue and Africa Road.

"Once fully developed, the site is expected to attract 3,000 jobs to the Westerville community, providing an important tax base for local services and schools," Collinsworth said.

Westerville City Schools

Westerville City School District Board of Education President Tracy Davidson began her portion of the presentation by highlighting the district's best areas from last year's State Report Card.

"Westerville students once again attained high levels of academic achievement," she said. "During the 2013-2014 school year, we earned straight A's in the Progress category, which means that on average, our students in grades 4-8 are gaining significantly more than a year's worth of growth each school year in math and reading. The same holds true for gifted students, students with disabilities and pupils achieving in the lowest 20 percent of all students."

Davidson also said she is proud of the district's Pathways Program, which works to develop specific skills in health, manufacturing or business fields in younger students, putting them on an earlier path to career experience.

But Davidson also touched on some of the district's shortcomings.

"Ohio's Superintendent of Public Instruction acknowledged that districts were likely to see lower grades on this (2015) Report Card because the bar has been raised," she said. "That was true for us on the Gap-Closing component. While our actual performance on this measure was comparable to the prior year, the state moved the finish line, so our grade dropped. We're working to address this issue."

Chamber of Commerce

Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce Chairman Bob Gibson emphasized the chamber's effect on job growth in Westerville.

"The chamber-member businesses employ an estimated 12,300 employees with 66 percent of the businesses residing in the city of Westerville," he said. "The balance of members is within the school district and Polaris area. Business is very much a driving factor of thriving communities and Westerville is no different with approximately 68 percent of the income in our city coming from the businesses in the city and employees within those businesses."

To continue that progress, Gibson said the chamber is committed to starting contact with future employees at a younger age.

"The challenge is making sure we have students and candidates that are equipped with the skill sets to match the jobs of today's businesses," he said. "We have and will continue an open dialogue with Westerville City Schools, Otterbein University and Columbus State University."

Westerville Public Library

Westerville Public Library Adult Services Manager Nieca Nowels had plenty of recognition to share for the library in 2014. The Library Journal once again named Westerville a five-star library, which didn't come as a surprise for Nowels.

"The library consistently ranks in the top 1 percent among all public libraries in the United States with a district population of 85,000," she said.

But staff members at the library, 126 S. State St., aren't content and are working on improvements in 2015.

"In partnership with the city of Westerville, plans are underway to add between 45 to 60 new parking spaces," Nowels said. "In addition, we will be repaving the library's parking lot and entryway. There are also plans to replace the library's 1955 HVAC system, which will help to make the library much more energy efficient."

Otterbein University

The emphasis of Otterbein University President Kathy Krendl's presentation was on the university's new fundraising campaign.

"For the first time in almost two decades, Otterbein has announced a comprehensive campaign, the largest campaign in this university's history," she said. "Our goal is to secure $50 million to ensure that Otterbein stands strong among the great institutions of our country."

Krendl called the campaign, themed Where We Stand Matters, "a call to action and a reminder where Otterbein stands."

The campaign has several priorities, she said, including affordable schooling, campus renewal and "building a model community."