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Planned Arrowhead Wellness Center to benefit from state help

When Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk first was asked to support a health and wellness center for southern St. Louis County, he checked his calendar.

“It was after the first of the year,” said Bakk, DFL-Cook. “We were late to the dance.”

The legislative tour of potential bonding projects had passed through in September 2013. Still, Bakk, Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, and bonding committee chairman Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, rallied behind what already was a cohesive idea that’s been brewing since the 1970s but more recently was reinvigorated by a steering committee of people from Hermantown and surrounding townships.

Thus, the Arrowhead Regional Health and Wellness Center was seeded $250,000 in the $1 billion state bonding bill. On Wednesday, the committee and legislators came together at the Richard Hansen Public Works and Transportation Complex on Midway Road to celebrate the start of something they hope will be big.

“This is a monumental day,” said Hermantown resident Lana Birkeland, a steering committee member.

Murphy described the potential center best when she repeated an idea she first heard from a Hermantown resident many years ago: “A recreation place with club meeting space, gardening advice space and a swimming pool … What a concept. What an idea.”

That the time now is right after years of wishful thinking owes itself to the collaboration already in place. Hermantown is the committee’s point for communication, but it’s the involvement of townships — Fredenberg, Independence, Gnesen, Brevator, Normanna, Solway, North Star, Alborn, Canosia, Rice Lake, Grand Lake and Midway — that inspired Bakk to quickly get behind the concept.

“The volunteers started something independent of city action,” Hermantown Mayor Wayne Boucher said. “This is bigger than Hermantown.”

The facility would be operated by the Duluth YMCA as a branch of that facility. Murphy said the YMCA’s involvement was “a key component.”

“We’ve got a similar model in Cook County,” said Chris Francis, CEO of the Duluth Area Family YMCA. “The county owns it, but the YMCA manages and has control over membership and programming.”

Now comes the hard part. The next bonding cycle is in two years, in 2016, and backers of the Arrowhead Regional Health and Wellness Center won’t be able to count on inclusion in another bonding cycle without more work. They’ll need to show legislators a fully realized facility plan with additional money already in place.

“The state isn’t in the business of building buildings,” Bakk said.

Rather, the committee will need to find a suitable, central location, likely in Hermantown, and grow from there.

“I can envision my family there,” St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber said. “St. Louis County is looking forward to this project.”