As the city prepares to break ground on the new Seward Wellness Center this fall, the design for the facility has been finalized, and one more fundraising push is in progress to help turn the plan into reality.
“It’s exciting to be at this point where you can see the finish line, and we continue to work toward that goal,” Mayor Josh Eickmeier said July 18 as the final drawings were unveiled to the city council.
The initial layout of the building has changed since it was presented to voters last year, but all the amenities that were proposed are still included in the new design.
“When the concept that you were shown about a year ago was put to paper, with all the cost increase and all the inflation, this came in way over budget,” City Administrator Greg Butcher said. “That’s the reason we did the CMR (construction manager at risk) process was to bring some of those costs back down and value engineer it…to try to deliver the programming we said we were going to bring.”
A CMR process means the contractor will give a final, guaranteed price before construction begins. If the project comes in over that price, the contractor is responsible for the difference.
The main design change was shifting the plan from a two-story building to a one-level building, which Butcher said knocked several million dollars off the price tag in steel savings alone.
Wellness Center Executive Director Joel Brase outlined the features of the 50,380-square-foot building. He said Seward Changing the Game, the organization spearheading the effort, visited similar facilities all over the state to get ideas on what works well and what not to do.
“The committee put a lot of time and energy into this,” Brase said. “All age groups will be able to enjoy this facility and use it.”
The wellness center will be ADA compliant and suitable for those with physical challenges, as well.
The gymnasium will have two full-size competition courts and will be marked with four smaller side courts, as well as volleyball courts and pickleball lines.
A three-lane rubberized track will run around the outside of the courts, and curtains can be dropped to divide the courts. Bleachers may be placed around the outside during tournaments.
“There will also be a curtain that goes around the entire outside to protect the people walking or jogging from getting hit or a ball rolling out and stumbling over that,” Brase said.
The fitness area will house cardio equipment, free weights and lifting machines, with televisions and windows to the outside.
A studio space will be used for aerobics, spinning and other classes, with capabilities for TV-led classes and live instruction.
Members with children will have access to a childwatch center, where they can leave their kids in a supervised environment while they work out.
“Parents are not going to have to walk all the way through the building to drop their child off. It will be the first thing they get to,” Brase said.
Another space is set aside for before- and after-school care, but Brase said those students will use the whole facility, not just one room.
“We plan on being able to send them out to different activities in the building. Maybe it’s a pool day, or maybe they’re playing this game in the gym,” he said.
When the before- and after-school care room is not in use, it will serve as a concession area for tournaments.
Brase said every space in the building was intended to have multiple capabilities, including a designated multipurpose room just off the pool that can be used for meetings, trainings, birthday parties and more.
The natatorium will feature a six-lane competition-scale swimming pool with stairway entry on one side and diving boards for races on another. The pool was designed with depths up to 7 feet to allow training for lifeguards who will serve at the facility as well as at the city’s outdoor swimming pool in the summer.
Brase said swim lessons can be offered indoors, and the center can host swim team competitions.
The natatorium also has a water current channel for walking, which can be used for strength building and physical therapy, as well as lounge seating in the water and space for tube floating.
Restrooms, locker rooms, laundry, offices and mechanical spaces make up the rest of the building.
The wellness center will be built north of Seward Middle School on a parcel of land donated by the Wake family.
Brase said the committee has already planned for a possible Phase II that would include an additional gym, indoor fieldhouse with turfed field and an outdoor swimming pool.
“We are envisioning what this place could look like out there. We don’t know how fast that could happen…If tomorrow somebody gave us $10 million, what would we do next? This is what we’d do,” he said.
Seward Changing the Game continues to fundraise, as the cost of the project has increased about $3.5 million since it was initially presented.
Funding for the facility was set to come from one-third each of private pledges, grants and sales tax revenue.
“This is a historic public-private partnership in Seward, the largest ever done,” Brase said.
So far, $18 million has been secured, and the project is 84% funded with a total of $21.5 million needed to finish.
“We are extremely excited about where this project has advanced to and humbled by the generosity of local businesses and community members up to this point,” Brase said.
The additional $3.5 million is needed before the groundbreaking this fall. The total includes all furnishings and equipment, too.
Seward Changing the Game continues to seek grants that could benefit the project, and it hopes to secure another $3.5 million – for a grand total of $25 million – to set up an endowment.
“This will ensure the project is not dependent on tax dollars to maintain the facility,” Brase said.
The endowment would be used when renovations or repairs are needed, such as for a new air conditioning unit or to replace fitness equipment as it wears out.
Shane Baack, a member of Seward Changing the Game, said the project must be complete by June 2025 – a deadline set by one of the major grants it received.
“It’s absolutely critical to get the final stage completed so we can get rolling,” Baack said. “No one anticipated the inflation and the cost of construction happening the way that they did. We’re not too far off from where we wanted to be. We are 84% of the way there. That’s pretty incredible.”
So far, donors have contributed anywhere from $100 to $1 million.
“People are really excited about this. We’re hearing a lot of positives,” Baack said. “We hope after seeing this (design), it’s something we can all be proud of. A lot of people had a lot of hands in this. It’s taken a tremendous amount of work, but I think it makes our community better because of it.”
Additional information, including how to donate or how to schedule a group presentation about the wellness center, may be found at www.sewardwellnesscenter.com, by contacting Baack at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by contacting Brase at email@example.com.