On many days, Jason Whitaker can be found at the gym after work as a groundsman for the Independence School District.

On many days, Jason Whitaker can be found at the gym after work as a groundsman for the Independence School District.

The only difference is that he does not have to go far. The gym is in the Wellness Center on the bottom floor of the Independence central office, 201 N. Forest Ave.

“I have been coming here since it opened,” he said. “It is close to home, and I can stay in tip top condition. It is wonderful that my employer has provided a way like this to better yourself.”

The Wellness Center opened in late August and offers staff members of the district the opportunity to be a member of a gym, but without the hefty prices that are often associated with a gym membership. Jill Monroe, Wellness Center coordinator, said the purpose of the center is to provide employees and their families the facilities and resources to improve their overall health.

In addition to staff members, the center is open to their spouses, dependants older than 18 and retirees of the Independence School District.

“The district saw a need to provide our employees an avenue to improve their health,” she said. “Surveys and insurance claims indicated there was a lack of availability of this type of service to our employees.”

Walking into the Wellness Center, it looks just like any other fitness room or gym. It is separated into two key areas – cardiovascular and total body circuit. The cardiovascular area has treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical machines and a rower. The total body circuit area has plate-loaded equipment, dumbbells, bands, balls, free weights and cable machines. A separate room allows for classes such as yoga.

A majority of funding for the Wellness Center comes from Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The district received $360,000 over a three-year period to renovate the space, purchase equipment and provide programming. However, employees do have to pay a small monthly membership fee of $12, which covers a portion of the salaries and benefits for the Wellness Center staff. Currently, there are more than 400 members.

“The ISD Wellness Center is just one tool to a comprehensive wellness program. Starting in January a new Health Promotion program will be implemented that includes health screenings, health speakers, health classes and support programs,” Monroe said. “The long-term goals are to show a return on investment, to decrease the health care costs for the district, decrease absenteeism and increase the productivity within the district. A goal is to also make the Comprehensive Wellness Program, including the wellness center award winning and known throughout the country as one of the best company-wide wellness program.”

Monroe said the reaction to the Wellness Center has been positive. She said there is a “wow” factor when people see it for the first time.

“Those that come in to see and use the center really enjoy the equipment, staff and atmosphere,” she said. “The district feels that if employees and their families are healthier, they will do a better job supporting children with their education.  The district also strives to be an employer of choice.  This is an example of another amenity the district has in an attempt to meet this goal.”