The opening of Hermantown’s Essentia Wellness Center this fall is focusing on bringing people of all backgrounds to the center.
An estimated 1,000 people daily are expected to move through the doors of the center, which is slated to open to the public on Oct. 15. Its various resources will be available to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds through memberships or scholarships.
The $26 million project will serve as a community center for not only Hermantown, but also for the rest of southern St. Louis County, said Sara Cole, president and CEO of the Duluth Area Family YMCA.
A Yellow Bike Coffee cafe space, YMCA workout center, day care center, aquatic center, indoor walking track, community rooms, offices and an Essentia clinic center offering lifestyle and physical therapy services make up the approximately 72,000-square-foot facility.
John Mulder, city administrator for Hermantown who has worked on the project since 2012, said the public's want for a community gathering space influenced the wellness center's creation. "We don’t have a downtown, so where does the community come together?” Mulder said.
Membership rates mirror the YMCA's downtown Duluth location. A two-parent family would pay $84 monthly, a one-parent family would pay over $74 monthly, adult prices range from around $48-58 monthly, and youth prices are over $21 monthly.
Those working on the project considered and included people from all socioeconomic backgrounds since conversations started, Cole said.
“The folks who are around the table … really did a great job making sure that the planning committee consisted of a lot of different types of voices, from different ages, different abilities, different socioeconomic statuses, even just different ZIP codes,” Cole said.
Mulder said part of the reason the city partnered with the YMCA is because of the nonprofit's commitment to include people of all socioeconomic backgrounds in its spaces.
“This building belongs to the greater community. We want folks to obviously feel like they can just be there (at) anytime,” Cole said.
The Duluth area YMCA offers nearly half a million in scholarships annually for programs and services for people who can’t afford the normal membership price — and will continue doing so at the new center, she said.
“We don't turn anyone away for inability to pay. That's true today in all of our spaces, and it will be true up there as well,” she said.
Ensuring that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds use the center will help address health inequities in St. Louis County, Cole said.
For example, Cole said, one way to address health equality is through aquatic safety programs. Providing aquatic education is important to the YMCA, as drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental deaths in children, she said.
“Regardless of where you live, or how old you are, or how many dollars you have, or what your family looks like, or what your identity is — that you feel that you can get to the space and that this space feels welcoming and inclusive. So I really think that's the heart of health equity,” Cole said.
An 118-seat day care will offer all-day service for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, which Cole said hopefully curbs the area’s child care shortage.
There's also an aquatic center that includes a lazy river, interactive water features, therapy pool, four-lane lap pool, whirlpool, sauna and recreational pool, according to YMCA material about the center.
The center is the result of a partnership between the Duluth Area Family YMCA, Essentia Health, the city of Hermantown and Hermantown Community Schools, Cole said.
Project funding also comes from numerous entities: State bonding ($8 million), Essentia Health ($2 million), Hermantown and St. Louis County ($13 million) and a YMCA-led campaign ($3 million).
Around 300 people have already enrolled for its charter membership, and they expect it will continue growing throughout the fall, Cole said.
While Mulder said he expects the center will bring the community together and improve its overall health, it's already started doing just that. "We've gathered in the process of making a gathering place,” he said.