A near-site wellness clinic, allowing Gahanna city employees the option to receive health-care services, begins this month, and it is the top priority for Mayor Tom Kneeland in 2018.

"It can have a big impact for employee wellness -- and financially," Kneeland said. "It will be a huge win for employees and the city. I experienced a similar type of service when I worked for Whitehall."

Kneeland said Gahanna's system would be different, but the concept is the same.

"We'll still have our normal insurance for everyone," he said. "If they use the clinic, there's no copay. We will be able to get some prescriptions there. I hope it will be more of a pharmacy operation in the future and reduce our cost."

Abby Cochran, the city's director of human resources, said claims not running through health insurance would allow a rate reduction in future years that ultimately would benefit city taxpayers.

Kneeland said the health of city employees is a priority.

"There's an opportunity to deal with life-threatening issues and be more proactive," he said. "If we can reduce the number of visits to the ER, then we will immediately start winning. It won't go through our insurance. That's a big win. There's a lot of upside if we can get people to use it."

The city has partnered with ExpressMed and Mount Carmel Health System.

"This public-private partnership is a win-win for us because it allows us to lower our cost of providing health-care benefits to our staff while providing new health-care options and services to our employees," Kneeland said.

If someone gets sick during the day, instead of calling off and going home, they can go to the clinic and get what they need, according to Kneeland.

"There's an upside to keeping people healthy," he said. "We're promoting this and looking for partners and other entities to take advantage, like our school system and Jefferson (Township Fire Department)."

Under the agreement with ExpressMed and Mount Carmel, the city will pay a fixed cost for services and consequently reduce the quantity and expense of claims processed through its health insurance provider.

Workforce development

Kneeland said his second priority is workforce development.

He said it has been at the top of his list since business leaders started telling him they couldn't fill job vacancies.

"The more we've been visiting business, the more we've realized our business community was having huge problems to fill spots," Kneeland said. "There are hundreds of jobs unfilled because they can't find employees."

The city is partnering with Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools and Eastland-Fairfield Career Center to devise a plan for being a conduit in helping to promote and communicate job opportunities in the city on the private side, and match the needs with qualified people.

"I really think we're out in front of this more than any community around," Kneeland said. "Dublin did workforce development studies. We're seeing the same results they did. We're working with Jobs-Ohio to begin to address this."

Kneeland said the city is working with school district superintendent Steve Barrett and staff to revisit how they counsel students.

"Steve has gone with us on the business visits and they realize college isn't for every kid," Kneeland said. "It's matching talent and kids with the appropriate life career tracks and having an understanding of resources out there. It's not just the city and schools but the city, schools and chamber, helping identify the employment gap."

Kneeland said the schools always are looking for internship opportunities.

"It also allows the schools to see the demand and grow the talent the businesses here and central Ohio need," he said.

"We've got over 20 businesses helping develop the workforce development strategy. It goes back to the partnerships we're growing with these businesses," Kneeland said.

New west-side park

The third city priority in 2018 involves a new park for property purchased at 620 McCutcheon Road.

"Right now, the area this park will serve only has Royal Manor Elementary School," Kneeland said. "This will formalize a true park. This is something with the (CenterPoint) church as a partner, a conducive arrangement."

Underground work will begin this year as part of the three-year project.

A groundbreaking for the park is scheduled in the spring, said Niel Jurist, city public information manager.

In addition, council member Stephen Renner will serve as chairman for a park-naming committee, including four residents from Ward 1.

The committee will be charged with selecting a name for the park, Jurist said.

One of the key features of the 7.5-acre park is an inclusive and adaptive playground, providing play opportunities for children of all abilities.

It will include open green space for passive and active play, a restroom building, a picnic shelter and a loop trail.

Kneeland said the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation contributed a $100,000 grant for the park's development.

"We got some other grants to build this park," he said. "It will be a unique design, all inclusive. People think of kids playing on it. This incorporates grandma in a wheelchair, too."

Jurist said the equipment would be adaptable for physically challenged individuals.

"It will have a nice walking trail, trees and open space," Kneeland said.

"It has its own parking lot by where the playground equipment will be."