Groundbreaking kicks off construction on wellness center


Oct. 31 was a momentous day for Seward as a groundbreaking ceremony signaled the start of construction on the Seward Wellness Center.

A large crowd came to witness the ceremonial first dirt moving, despite temperatures in the low 30s and a blustery wind.

“That is a testament to how important this project is for the community and all the support there is and excitement there is for this project,” Mayor Josh Eickmeier said.

The ceremony was held on the site of the new facility, north of Waverly Road across from Seward Middle School.

Representatives of Seward Changing the Game, the fundraising organization for the center, the City of Seward, the Wake family who’s developing the property, Seward Public Schools, Sampson Construction, BVH Architecture and major donors were part of the event.

“We were happy to see so many people who had been involved in the project, whether through Seward Changing the Game, volunteers on various boards, or people who had donated to the project,” City Administrator Greg Butcher said.

Max Wake, whose family donated the land for the wellness center, shared the history of the land and why the center will be built along Eaton Drummer Boulevard, named for a European bull who used to reside on the farmstead.

Those turning over the first shovels full of dirt included Eickmeier, Butcher and Wake, Wellness Center Executive Director Joel Brase, Seward Changing the Game President Shane Baack, Changing the Game member and State Sen. Jana Hughes, Seward Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Josh Fields, Seward City Council President Karl Miller, major donors Becky Vahle of Cattle Bank and Trust and John Hughes of Hughes Brothers Inc., Jake Kulhanek of Sampson Construction and Adam Sitzmann of BVH Architecture.

“This was the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people,” Butcher said.

The concept of a wellness center has been in the works for nearly two decades, with different groups proposing different iterations in different locations over the years.

Butcher commended Seward Changing the Game and the city council for finally bringing the project to life through a partnership with Seward Public Schools.

“You’ve got to get the right amount of people to put in the right amount of energy, ask the right questions, and ask the hard questions,” he said.

He attributed much of the vision to Shane Baack, who has pushed forward on several iterations of the project.

“For him, it’s just a labor of love. He’s been involved in it far before I was here,” Butcher said. “Anything I’ve ever done, whether it was visiting a YMCA or looking at other places, he was always right there with me volunteering his time.”

Voters passed a half-cent sales tax in May 2022, with the additional tax revenue to fund a third of the wellness center’s construction.

The rest is being paid for by grants and private donations.

Eickmeier said it took a dedicated team to get the project where it is today, whether they worked on passing the vote, gathering pledges or writing grant applications.

“This has been a long time coming. Shane’s done a great job of keeping the project alive and garnering support, and Sen. Hughes taking the lead on the fundraising as well. Without that, I don’t know that it ever gets to the finish line,” Eickmeier said.

Construction is set to be completed by spring 2025.

Wellness Center Executive Director Joel Brase said grading and dirt work will finish soon and work on the foundation will begin this winter, weather permitting.

“Once it gets to the spring, we’re going to start seeing some pieces of the building going up,” he said. “It was an exciting benchmark to get to this point. It was fun and exciting to be part of something historic like that.”

Butcher said the completion of the wellness center will mark the start of the city’s expansion to the north, which is part of the city’s comprehensive plan.

Eickmeier said the center fills a need in the community and will allow residents to stay active year-round when being active outdoors isn’t always easy.

“It’s one of the last amenities that a community our size doesn’t have but would definitely enhance the overall quality of life,” he said.