by CHRIS ROGERS
A couple hundred people and a jazz band crowded the foyer last Saturday as local leaders cut the ribbon on the new Wanek Center, a $20-million school-and-community gymnasium, recreation center, and library in Arcadia.
Years in the making, the expansive facility provides a space for Arcadia children, adults, and families to play, exercise, gather, and learn. The middle and high school will share the new gym and workout facilities with the public — who can buy memberships to the gym — and by the end of the month, the city of Arcadia Public Library will move into its new home at the center. School District of Arcadia Superintendent Lance Bagstad called its opening a “defining moment in our community’s history.”
“Today is a great day for Arcadia,” School Board President Paul Servais stated. “It’s a great day for our schools. It’s a great day for our community. I’m going to be honest with you, when I walked up the steps and I looked upstairs, I was like, ‘Am I still in Arcadia?’”
With soaring ceilings, glass and chrome everywhere, and amenities ranging from a batting cage to a golf simulator, the center is impressive. “I didn’t think there would be so much attention to detail,” rural Arcadia resident Brian Bautch said as he toured the space.
When student-athletes stepped onto the new basketball court, Bagstad said, “They were completely shocked when they walked in the first time — just in awe.” Bagstad continued, “It’s the wow factor.” He added that when visiting teams played in the center for the first time this winter, they said, “We wish we had something like this.”
Ashley Furniture CEO Todd Wanek said that, having travelled to wellness centers across the globe, “This is truly, truly world-class.”
A $12.5-million donation from the Ron and Joyce Wanek provided a majority of funding for the center. Ron Wanek is the founder and chairman of the board of Ashley Furniture. With that donation hanging in the balance, voters approved a referendum in 2018 for the school district to spend $4 million on the center. Ashley Furniture contributed $2 million. A variety of private donors gave another $1 million, and the city of Arcadia provided $522,000 for the library.
Making this center a reality required school, city, and business leaders to work together. They didn’t always agree. Referendum promoters told voters the library would be funded through private donations. When those donations fell short, organizers turned to the city for funding assistance — a move that irked some city leaders, especially because the city was bracing for multi-million-dollar expenditures on its levee system. However, the City Council ultimately agreed to allocate funding and donors stepped up to provide the rest.
When taxpayers and donors were asked to support this project, “You responded,” Servais said. “You helped us. You made this happen … It’s wonderful to have that kind of pride and support in our community.”
Jason Lockington played an important role, leading the fundraising campaign and working to get the various parties on board. “It didn’t just happen where everyone wants to work together,” Ron Wanek stated.
“To Jason Lockington, we’ve had a couple discussions to say it mildly,” Mayor Rob Reichwein joked. “He kept this project moving forward.”
Ron Wanek’s voice cracked as he thanked Lockington for his efforts. “Jason has worked on this 24/7 for three years, and, Tessa, you’re a saint,” he told Lockington and his wife.
After the ribbon-cutting, “Frozen” character impersonators read children’s books in the library and indoor soccer teams prepared for a match. “It’s beautiful,” Brittany Bauers said as she toured the new space.
“Our kids love the library,” Kevin Slaby told the Post. From a large walking track overlooking the basketball courts, Slaby added, “I think people will be walking around the track and watching games.”
“It’s really nice,” Arcadia High School sophomore Joe Nelson said while checking out the weight room. “I’m going to use it.”