Litchfield Wellness/Recreation Center

A drawing by Oertel Architects in 2019 offered a first look at how a wellness/recreation center could be laid out. This initial plan was used to illustrate the city’s ideas when the Minnesota House of Representatives Bonding Committee visited Litchfield in October of 2019.

The push for action on a wellness and recreation center in Litchfield got a little more insistent during last week’s Litchfield City Council meeting.

During a more-than-six-minute statement, Council member John Carlson recounted some of the history behind the wellness center, then urged his fellow council members to get to work on the facility.

“I think it’s time now that we unite, look at this project as a plus, not a negative, and run with it,” Carlson said. “The opportunity to achieve good, or even great, physical and mental health is not — and I repeat, not — a want. It’s a need. We have a great opportunity here.”

That great opportunity, Carlson said, comes from the fact that the Minnesota Legislature passed two bills – one that provided a $5 million grant to the city to fund construction of a wellness center, the other permitting the city to enact a half-cent sales tax that could bring in up to $7 million to fund the facility.

“They’re both earmarked to pay for the construction of a wellness-recreation center,” Carlson said. “That’s what we’ve got. We’ve got this opportunity there for that amount of money.”

The city should consider partnering with Litchfield Public Schools on a facility that could improve the city in many ways, he said.

And for Carlson, the need for a wellness center is clear, based on recent news reports.

He mentioned a recent survey by Meeker-McLeod-Sibley Community Health Services that found Meeker County residents are “very concerned about our health.”

That survey found that 75% of all adults in the county are overweight, significantly higher than the statewide average of 65%. A majority of survey respondents (58 percent) said they had access to opportunities for physical fitness, though that was significantly less than McLeod County (79%) and statewide (87%).

Carlson also mentioned neighboring cities, like Hutchinson and Willmar, that have used local sales taxes to finance things like a second sheet of ice for hockey and figure skating, new swimming pool and other areas that encourage activity.

“In my mind, we’ve already got about $12 million, five of it’s a gift from the state of Minnesota,” Carlson said. “And then we could also talk to other entities (for financial support).”

If the right plan is put together, Carlson said, private donors are likely to support the wellness center, as well.

“Many of our community’s facilities were built in the ‘60s,” he said. “Now we have a chance to upgrade them to the 2020 version.”

Cities throughout the region have built recreation facilities, and they’ve done it in a variety of different ways, “and I’d love to get to work on that and see if we can get it done,” he concluded.

State Rep. Dean Urdahl, who was in the audience, encouraged the creation of a group that included representatives of the city, school district to create a plan.

“Once that is completed, it would be time to involve the architects and engineers, and at that point, you’ve got until the next election to pass a local option sales tax,” Urdahl said. With a plan developed, the city could show the public what the local option sales tax (should be) and campaign to pass it. And I would lend my efforts to try and help you in trying to formulate that campaign.

“You need to be united as Councilor Carlson said. Detractors will make this a very difficult endeavor,” Urdahl said. “It’s time to lead. This has been kicked down the road for almost 20 years, and if you’re going to do it, this is the time. You have a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity, right now, to do this.”