The Well

An architectural rendering of The Well, a Cleveland County project slated to open in fall 2021. Photo provided.

After several years of planning, Cleveland County is gearing up to break ground on a facility that will focus on providing local access to resources across the spectrum of health and wellness.

The county is slated to break ground on The Well — a 14,000-square foot building with outdoor green space in the heart of Norman — this July, physically kickstarting a project that’s been in the county’s plans since late 2017.

Described as a “healthy living block,” The Well is set to open by fall 2021, at which point it should include a two-story building with classrooms, kitchen space, an 800-square-foot clinic and walkable space outside.

The facility — to be located across the train tracks from the Cleveland County Courthouse and in the space that used to be home to Food and Shelter and a parking lot — is a result of a partnership between Cleveland County and the Cleveland County Health Department, and will also be home to the Norman Farm Market by 2022.

While the concept behind The Well was initially focused on growing the Norman Farm Market and expanding access to fresh food, plans for the facility’s amenities have grown from there, said District 2 County Commissioner Darry Stacy.

“Our goal is to make this a destination, truly a place that people want to come to when they visit Cleveland County — it won’t only serve our residents, but it’ll serve those from outside of our county and our state as they visit us,” Stacy said.

The facility is part of Cleveland County’s master plan, a vision that was approved in fall 2017 and covers a number of projects adjacent to downtown Norman, including a parking garage and courthouse expansion.

The Well will be supported by a number of funding avenues. The county is looking at requesting funds from the Center City TIF, applying for new market tax credits for the area The Well is being built in and receiving some funding from community partners for the facility, Stacy said.

Since The Well is also partially funded by ad valorem tax money that’s been earmarked for public health, organizers wanted to ensure that the facility would actually serve public needs, said Tara Douglas, director of community engagement for The Well.

So Douglas and The Well’s executive director Melody Bays traveled to similar facilities in other parts of the country and met with Cleveland County stakeholders, hoping to both observe what other communities were doing to meet wellness needs and hear from their own community about what gaps needed to be filled locally. In talks with community leaders, Douglas and Bays heard that the county needed a facility that would break down financial barriers to wellness and healthy living.

“We knew that we needed to serve the whole county, and when we talked to community folks and partners, they said ‘free and/or low cost’ — that was really needed,” Bays said.

The resulting plan for The Well was a vision for a space that can host cooking and gardening demonstrations, low-cost fitness classes, workforce development events and physical and mental health care resources. Through a partnership with Norman Regional Health System, The Well will be home to a clinic space, where health providers of different disciplines will rotate out to provide low-cost care.

“One day it might be a dietician providing services, the next day it could be free or low-cost preventative health screenings like blood pressure checks or diabetes screenings,” Douglas said. “The next day it might be a caseworker or mental health provider, just all being low cost, making sure that finances aren’t ever a barrier to be able to access our facility.”

The Well’s organizers are also hoping that partnerships with the Moore Norman Technology Center, Mid-America Technology Center and local schools and libraries could bring in workforce development programming like resume workshops or tutoring nights. The Cleveland County Health Department, as The Well’s largest partner, will be providing classes and demonstrations as well, Douglas said.

The facility currently has verbal partnership commitments from over 40 local organizations that could provide everything from financial support to programming in the space, Douglas said.

While organizers originally wanted to add virtual access to some of The Well’s offerings, Bays said that the COVID-19 pandemic has now made virtual accessibility a true necessity at the facility. As The Well gets closer to becoming a reality and as the county develops its website, the site will be equipped to livestream or virtually host some of The Well’s amenities.

“It was always kind of an optional thing that we wanted to include — now, the COVID pandemic has really taught us that that’s not an option,” Bays said. “There are large demographics of people who are home and need to be home, and those people should not have to sacrifice their health and wellbeing in an effort to keep themselves safe from the virus.”

Though Bays and Douglas traveled to other cities to see what elements of other facilities could be incorporated into The Well, Bays said when complete, the Cleveland County facility will be a unique offering in the region.

“Within the United States, we couldn’t find anything that really matched this,” Bays said. “It might be out there, maybe it’s just not heavily publicized, but we Googled a lot of things, we traveled to a lot of places, and especially locally and regionally, we couldn’t find anything similar to this concept.”

Bays said she’s hopeful that The Well will jumpstart some investment in the area and attract other health and wellness resources. The facility fits right into the master plan’s goal of making Norman’s Center City, a targeted area of development for the city, a more walkable and accessible area, Stacy said.

“I think long term, this is exactly what’s needed to revive and create a dynamic, growing area in downtown Center City,” Stacy said.

More information and updates about The Well are available at thewellok.org.

Emma Keith

366-3537

Follow me @emma_ckeith

ekeith@normantranscript.com

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Emma Keith covers the coronavirus pandemic and education for The Norman Transcript, with a focus on Norman Public Schools and The University of Oklahoma. She is a 2019 OU graduate.