Construction begins  on new Essentia  Wellness Center

Construction of the wellness center began this summer. The opening will be a year from this fall.


After years of planning, construction began this summer on a regional health and wellness center in Hermantown.

The $26 million Essentia Wellness Center, located at the intersection of Ugstad and Arrowhead Roads, will include three key elements – a YMCA, a childcare center run by the YMCA and co-located healthcare services provided by Essentia Health. Financial support runs deep and includes many partners. Beyond Essentia Health’s contribution of $2 million, the state of Minnesota budgeted $8 million in its 2016 bonding bill, and the city of Hermantown, St. Louis County and capital campaign contributions will add the remaining $16 million. 

“I think partnering is the way of the future for the YMCA and for communities,” said Sara Cole, Duluth YMCA President and CEO. “It’s wonderful that somebody can get physical therapy from Essentia, then walk out and get on the treadmill or go in the therapy pool.”

The YMCA already works with Essentia on wellness initiatives, and the partnership, which includes Hermantown and multiple communities, represents a broad coalition that is stepping forward to address multiple health trends that are heading in the wrong direction. They include a high rate of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, anxiety, stress, depression and the use of tobacco and alcohol by county residents. St. Louis County currently ranks poorly – 80th out of 87 Minnesota counties – in these health trends.

The sponsors describe their relationship as “Better Together – A Campaign to Strengthen Our Community.”

Beyond providing healthcare in a clinical setting, Essentia will be offering wellness classes such as stress management, healthy cooking and diabetes prevention. Meanwhile, the YMCA will go beyond offering exercise in a gymnastic setting. The group will connect people through outdoor experiences, swim lessons and leadership opportunities.

“More and more, physicians are starting to see preventative care as an element of wellness – a key piece of what keeps us healthy longer,” Cole said.

Addressing a critical need throughout the country, the YMCA at the Essentia Wellness Center will include a full-day licensed childcare center along with enrichment opportunities for older children.

Small beginnings

The need for such a center was identified by a study conducted in the 1980s, according to Cole. It found that residents of Hermantown, which is spread across 34 square miles, wanted a community center. Nearly four decades later, the project is taking shape.

“Hopefully, this will feel like a welcoming, warm place where folks feel like they can have a birthday party, take a class, play cards, meet with people, get healthcare services and it will feel like the heart of the city,” Cole said.

Although the center will be located in Hermantown, it has received broad support from surrounding communities including Canosia, Northland, Grand Lake, Midway, Industrial, Fredenberg, New Independence, Normanna, Gnesen, Alborn, North Star, Brevator, Solway, Lakewood, Proctor and Rice Lake. The goal, say project promoters, is to serve all of southern St. Louis County.

How will that work with the Duluth YMCA just a few miles away? Cole believes current members may use more than one facility.

“We could see some folks using both spaces – maybe use downtown as a weekday YMCA and Hermantown as a weekend space,” she said. She thinks the new branch could take on an identity that’s somewhat different than Duluth – one that will take on the flavor of its surrounding communities.

“I’d really like to see this as a space where people come together – with all dimensions of diversity – every age, every race, every socioeconomic status, every ethnicity and fully accessible to everyone – everyone coming together and feeling welcome. We’ll continue to offer robust financial aid so nobody is deterred because of financing. I genuinely hope to serve everybody,” she said.

A work in progress

Even as steel begins to grow from the ground, supporters of the project continue their effort to raise money for its completion. Cole said the capital campaign is going well.

“We’re trying to raise the final $3 million now,” she said. 

The work to obtain major gifts from businesses and individuals is co-led by Jim Wheeler, the YMCA’s champion, and Rod Saline, representing Hermantown. It is currently in process. A broader community fundraising campaign will begin next Spring.

Once up and running, the facilities will provide about 200 jobs with a $2 million annual payroll. But it will offer more than jobs at Essentia and the YMCA, Cole said.

“It will help Hermantown attract talented workers to many industries because it’s a community asset,” she said. 

A similar effort in Cook County has exceeded expectations. The Grand Marais facility, which opened in 2013, currently has 1,700 members in a community of 1,350 people.

The opening date in is expected to be in the Fall of 2019.  McGough and LHB are the lead contractors. The city of Hermantown will own the building and will have Essentia and the YMCA operate the facility through leases.