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Wesleyan takes lead on wellness center

Brenna Martin, a freshman Dakota Wesleyan University track and field thrower from Onida, practices Monday at the Christen Family Recreation/Wellness Center at DWU in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

Dakota Wesleyan University President Amy Novak said a new wellness center in Mitchell continues to be a top priority.

How quickly a project can start, she said, is dependent on where the passions of the school's donors lie. She said the project is still in the planning stages, and "there's not firm commitments at this point."

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"We know for us to continue to be competitive, we absolutely need better facilities," she said. "Not just for athletics, but we have a lot of our own students and faculty who aren't necessarily involved in athletics, but just believe in the value of wellness. There's really limited facilities for that in the Mitchell community."

Mitchell Mayor Ken Tracy and the City Council have recently been discussing the possibility of a new wellness center in Mitchell, which has been an ongoing topic in town for years. Dakota Wesleyan, the city of Mitchell and Avera Queen of Peace Health Services have all shown interest in a new wellness center. Talks involving the three entities date to at least 2007.

"I think there are a lot of people that want to make it happen," Avera Queen of Peace CEO Tom Clark said. "The right players are at the table. In a deal like this, there are a lot of moving parts and it takes a while to discuss all that and put something together that everybody can live with."

Through recent discussions, Mitchell Mayor Ken Tracy sees Dakota Wesleyan taking the lead on the project.

"I think everyone sees benefit in working together, and because of that we're going to continue to talk and see where it leads us," Tracy said. "I think the university is in a better position right now as far as their fundraising. They are anxious to get started sometime this year on construction. Whether or not the city can jump into something that quickly remains to be seen."

Novak said DWU's board of trustees has expressed its top priority is a new wellness center, but explained the school has to rely on donors for most of its projects.

Last August, the campus had its public opening of the Glenda K. Corrigan Health Sciences Center, a 48,000-square-foot building that cost $11.5 million, paid for primarily by donors.

"In the previous case, we had donors very interested and saw the value in investing in health care education and science education," Novak said. "We now have to determine whether we have donors who are potentially interested in supporting wellness and athletics and recreation.

"So, the board has certainly given the direction that they see this as a priority. How that fundamentally manifests itself with our donor base has yet to be determined."

In April 2012, DWU Athletic Director Curt Hart said the university was moving forward with fundraising for an $8 million to $10 million facility that would be 80,000 to 90,000 square feet. It was planned to have a 200-meter indoor track as one of its main features with a wrestling room and basketball courts.

At the time, Hart said the school was hoping to break ground on the wellness center in the fall of 2013. Hart said fundraising for the project "never materialized" and the school is "looking to build the facility with the same parameters."

"We're continuing to try and partner with people to move forward with it," he said. "We're willing to touch base with anyone interested."

Since taking over the athletic department in 2008, Hart has said one of his top goals is to upgrade the athletic facilities. Novak acknowledged the university's current wellness center, the Christen Family Recreation/Wellness Center, is "maxed out" and "limited."

Novak said she has no timetable for the project. She was also unclear about where in town the school wants the wellness center to be built.

"Proximal to our campus is ideal," she said. "I'm not sure where, whether it's connected to our current wellness center or somewhere near our campus. But certainly if we're doing the bulk of our fundraising, it makes sense to have it proximal to where our student-athletes and our general population could be using it."