Raytown schools open wellness center for employees and community

The entryway into the Raytown School District Wellness Center displays photos through the years in the city. The center has opened to the public as a part of the Raytown School District’s efforts to better support the community.
The entryway into the Raytown School District Wellness Center displays photos through the years in the city. The center has opened to the public as a part of the Raytown School District’s efforts to better support the community. jledford@kcstar.com

The sound of a jackhammer drowned the hip-hop blaring from speakers overhead as crews worked feverishly in early January to put finishing touches on the swimming pool area at the new Raytown School District Wellness Center.

This is no ordinary school district wellness center.

It’s not a space set aside in the district’s administration building, like the wellness center for employees in Independence schools or the one that opened several years ago for Park Hill district employees.

Raytown’s center is massive — 45,000 square feet of vibrant colors, rows of workout equipment, a professional catering operation, meeting rooms and a fully equipped clinic including a doctor, two nurses and a stocked pharmacy. And it’s free for district employees, retirees and their families, plus, for a fee, anyone who lives or works in Raytown.

“We didn’t model this after any other place,” said Travis Hux, superintendent of support services for the district. “We worked with what we had.”

The former Raytown YMCA near the intersection of Raytown Road and Missouri 350 has a whole new look, a new purpose and soon a new owner.

Raytown school officials plan to buy the place. For now they are leasing from owner Chris Payne for $30,000 a month, a steal they say, given that Payne has agreed to return $15,000 of every payment once the district buys the facility.

On top of that, Payne and his company, Monopoly Acquisitions LLC, have spent $3 million to renovate the old Y, which had sat empty since it closed three years ago.

The idea to remake the facility into a wellness center came out of a lunch meeting two years ago between Payne and Raytown school superintendent Allan Markley.

“We were just talking about what the community needs,” said Payne, whose company owns a hefty amount of real estate in Raytown, including several strip shopping centers. “Then one of us said what we need is a community center.”

The two set out to make that happen with the old Y at the center of the plan.

“It’s a partnership between my company and the school district,” Payne said.

It’s clear something new is happening inside the facility, which on the outside proudly displays new Raytown School District signage and giant emblems of the Raytown High School Bluejays and the Raytown South Cardinals.

“There is a lot of school pride in here,” Hux said.

Through the front doors, surrounding the information desk, visitors are greeted by blown-up black-and-white photos of students, teachers, staff and district events. Then comes the “Welcome to Raytown Wellness” greeting from a member of the trained fitness center staff, most of whom the school district hired away from gyms in the Kansas City area.

The district expanded the workout area by transforming what used to be the Y’s basketball court into a weight equipment space.

“We already have plenty of basketball courts. We didn’t need another court,” Hux said.

Community rooms were added, and a catering kitchen that will allow residents — for a rental fee — to host community events. During the week, food will be prepared in the kitchen for district education centers that don’t have kitchens.

Suspended above the weight room is a running track — 18 laps equal a mile. On the second level, fitness trainers work with members mapping out personalized workout programs.

Hux showed off every room of the facility — the aerobics room, the spinning room, the four exam rooms in the clinic, which, unlike the rest of the center, is only open to district employees.

When Hux first visited the building, the pool area was the most neglected.

“The roof was shot, and so when it rained, water just poured down from the ceiling and along both sides of this pool room,” Hux said.

Now the area, including an official lap pool and 82-degree warming pool, has been completely refinished.

It’s where Raytown swim teams will practice and host swim meets. New starting blocks and an electronic scoreboard were installed. Ever since the Y closed, the teams have had no home and have practiced at a pool in Lee’s Summit.

Since the center opened in late December, it’s been getting a lot of traffic, with attendance growing from about 80 visitors a day to 165 a day in just a week.

Several days a week, about noon, the district’s superintendent can be seen there working out through his lunch break. Last Wednesday, Markley walked in wearing sweats and holding a water bottle and headed for a cycle machine.

The center is about “long-term thinking and the long-term health of our employees,” Markley said. “If I have healthier employees, that means they are in the classroom teaching our kids as opposed to substitutes, and you can’t measure that in dollars and cents.”

It’s the same concept that has school districts across the country opening wellness centers for their employees. Most of them will include a clinic, some workout equipment — stationary bikes and treadmills — and an aerobics area.

Independence schools opened a 9,000-square-foot wellness center and clinic three years ago, and school officials said it has saved the district more than $1 million in health care costs. Workers’ compensation claims and costs have dropped tremendously.

Markley said Raytown expects its clinic to save the district about $2.6 million in insurance premiums and workers’ compensation costs. And they expect a 30 percent reduction in compensation claims.

As for the cost of operating the fitness center and pool, Hux said there is no plan for the district to make a profit on the place but rather to break even — with user fees, catering charges and community room rentals.

Markley said he thinks the idea of a public school district operating a freestanding wellness and community center is “innovative” because it not only means a healthier staff, but it also helps the district build a stronger bond with its community.

“For example, 75 percent of the kids in our district live in poverty and don’t have access to swim lessons. Now they do,” Markley said.

Markley said he and his district executive team will present details of the private-public partnership that led to the community wellness and fitness center to education conferences later this year.

“We hope to become a national example,” he said.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc

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