Our View: Vote for Hermantown center a vote for health

Our View: Vote for Hermantown center a vote for health

The city of Hermantown will own the place but won’t run it. The YMCA will do that, but the facility won’t just be a Y. And Essentia Health will be there focusing on sports medicine, physical rehabilitation and wellness education, but it won’t just be a clinic, either.

“Call it a regional wellness center,” Hermantown City Administrator John Mulder said in an interview with the News Tribune editorial board.

A center that promises to become a new community focal point and gathering spot could become reality at the site of what is now the Hermantown Middle School with bonding approved this session by the Minnesota Legislature. Lawmakers can consider the allocation money well spent for a facility long needed.

“This really will be a community hub, not just for Hermantown but for southern St. Louis County,” Mulder said. “The idea is to create a place in southern St. Louis County that can help with health and wellness issues across the broad spectrum of generations. So it’s not just for children, it’s not just for middle-aged guys wearing Fitbits, and it’s not just for senior citizens. It’s for all generations.

“Residents will be able to come here to promote health,” he said.

And don’t downplay that need. St. Louis County ranks among the worst 15 percent of counties in Minnesota for health problems like diabetes and heart disease that stem from a lack of exercise. In the last five years alone, obesity in southern St. Louis County increased from 21.8 percent of residents to 24.1 percent, according to county and Essentia health survey findings.

This proposed 72,000-square-foot, two-story facility is to feature a full YMCA with exercise equipment, a zero-depth entry pool, water slides and more. The Y would run it with an annual budget of about $2.5 million and would expect it to be a break-even operation, said Chris Francis, president and CEO of the Duluth Area Family YMCA.

“The downtown Y is getting pretty full; we are needing some outlet,” Francis said. “The cornerstone of this new building is going to be the pool.”

The new Y expects about 700 visitors per day, which won’t impact the 1,000 or so users a day using the downtown Y, Francis said. It’ll employ 15 full-time workers as well as some part-timers.

Essentia would occupy 9,000 square feet of the Hermantown wellness center.

There’ll also be a cafe, teen center, senior center, public meeting rooms and more.

“We’re creating another sense of place where community can happen and where people can come together for lots of different reasons: for social interactions, for health benefits, for wellness, or even just for recreational opportunities,” Mulder said. “We hope to develop a broader sense of community health with this project.”

An estimated 25,000 square feet of the existing middle school is to be remodeled and repurposed for the project, including the gym and a wing of what now are classrooms that were built in 1992. Hermantown currently is building a new middle school, which has allowed the Hermantown school district to make the existing school available for this project. The district will retain possession of grounds around the old school.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $17 million. Essentia will contribute $2 million. The YMCA is leading a community fundraiser for another $2.5 million. The city of Hermantown and St. Louis County together will contribute $4.5 million, Hermantown’s from an expansion of the 1 percent city sales tax and tax abatement and the county’s from tax abatement over 10 years. The project won’t impact local property taxes.

State lawmakers are being asked for $8 million, less than half the total, from this year’s bonding session. The Legislature previously contributed $250,000 for designs and planning work. Lawmakers can remain committed to a project that promises to be transformational.

“It’s hard to get your head around all that this facility can do for the region,” the project’s manager, Mark McShane, told editorial board members.

“This is already spurring energy in the business sector,” said Hermantown Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Karen Pionk. “There are others already trying to position themselves to be a support service or an ancillary service. They think, ‘Wow, if there’s going to be that type of foot traffic and other activity … there are opportunities for business.’ ”

What’s the economic impact?

Construction of the $17 million, 72,000-square-foot facility would create an estimated 150 construction jobs with a $5.6 million construction payroll.

Once built, the facility would employ 27 full-time workers and 200 part-timers, totalling an estimated $2 million in payroll. The facility is expected to attract 1,000 visits per day.

Who’s behind this?

The Essentia Health Regional Wellness Center proposed for the intersection of Ugstad and Arrowhead roads at the site of what is now Hermantown Middle School is being planned through these collaborative partners:

City of Hermantown

Hermantown school district

State of Minnesota

St. Louis County

Essentia Health

Duluth Area Family YMCA

Regional Youth and Active Senior Agencies

Session in preview

Several Duluth-area projects are vying for state bonding money this legislative session. This week we took a closer look at the projects and heard from our elected leaders. The Minnesota Legislature convenes Tuesday for 10 weeks.

Sunday: Duluth’s House reps weigh in

Monday: Duluth Steam Plant conversion

Tuesday: Lake Superior Zoo improvements

Wednesday: Duluth airports’ upgrades

Thursday: UMD science building; WLSSD combined heat and power project

Today: Wellness center in Hermantown

Saturday: Glensheen Mansion

Sunday: The News Tribune and Sen. Roger Reinert weigh in

More online

To read more about the proposed wellness center in Hermantown, go to:http://www.essentiawellnesscenter.org

Article by the Duluth News Tribune