Melissa Kossler Dutton

On the last day of the 2011-2012 school year, a special group hug occurred at Etna Road Elementary School in Whitehall.

Students, teachers, parents and alumni gathered around the building and held hands. They were saying goodbye to the building that was later demolished as part of the Whitehall City Schools' construction plan. That fall the district opened a new Etna Road Elementary, located on the same lot as the original building.

Jessi Conley Werther attended the event with her two children. Werther and her kids attended the school.

"It wasn't just a building," said Werther, who picked her daughter up from middle school so the youngster could participate. "It just made sense. There's that closeness."

Werther sees Whitehall's sentimentality for its old school buildings as a good example of the East Side suburb's sense of community. She never considered raising her family anywhere but Whitehall.

"It's nice to have that connection with people," she said.

The city has plenty to offer families, added Gail Martineau, community affairs coordinator. ?"Whitehall is a really close-knit community and is a great place to raise and bring children," Martineau said. "There definitely are some hidden gems for families here."

Werther's family finds plenty of indoor and outdoor fun in Whitehall and its neighboring communities. They enjoy bowling at Holiday Lanes. The kids usually participate in the bowling alley's summer program where they can bowl for only the price of shoe rental.

They also like to visit Whitehall Community Park. They take advantage of the park's sledding hill during the winter. In the warmer months, older children can be spotted using the park's disc golf course, Martineau said.

The Werthers also like to watch trains and explore the creek at John Bishop Park.

Other fun options include Four Seasons Golf & Fitness Center. The facility, which includes an indoor driving range, mini golf course, fitness programs, personal training and martial arts classes, welcomes families.

The Whitehall branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library has a robust schedule of kid- and family-oriented events. The library is in the midst of building a bigger facility in Whitehall.

When hunger strikes, Werther suggests trying Tee Jaye's Country Place. The Columbus-based chain serves breakfast all day. If you're really hungry, she recommends tackling The Barnyard Buster - two biscuits, two eggs, country fries with sausage and gravy.

Another good option for breakfast is the counter at Jolly Pirate Donuts. The staff happily serves up coffee or hot chocolate with the donut of your choosing. And Resch's Bakery remains a favorite with families all over central Ohio for their cakes, cookies and donuts, prepared fresh all day, every day.

For good thin crust pizza, check out Ange's Pizza, which has been serving up pies since 1952.? More delicious Italian offerings can be found just outside Whitehall city limits at TAT Ristorante Di Famiglia. The family-run restaurant is known for its homemade dishes like lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs. Daft Burger is another local fave for delicious burgers and all the works.

Other nearby attractions include the Kingdom of Bounce, where kids can burn off energy and parents can enjoy free wi-fi, and Big Walnut Park, a Columbus city park with an off-leash dog area, playground and lighted walking trails.