Where a Community Celebrates, Connects, and Thrives

Joe Duggan, Communications

April 17, 2019

The Civic Center in Wakefield, Nebraska, just recently opened, but it’s already in demand by the town’s seniors – both generations of them.

Enter the glass-and-steel structure on a weekday afternoon and you’ll hear all about local happenings from the crowd at the Gardner Senior Center, which relocated to the new space. If you happen to know the difference between a jack and an off-jack, they might even deal you a hand of pitch.

Walk through the same doors on the last Saturday night in April and you’ll see a whole other set of seniors – dancing under the mirror ball at their high school prom.

When it came time to create a new space to connect, celebrate, and thrive, Wakefield came to Olsson. You might say they dealt us in and invited us to the dance. And we couldn’t be more pleased.

The Civic Center is a great public space for any community, let alone one with fewer than 2,000 people. Wakefield Mayor Paul Eaton said the project fits the progressive attitude behind recent investments in parks, recreation, and affordable housing.

The community of 1,400 in far northeastern Nebraska has never been content to think small. In part, that’s because Wakefield is home to Michael Foods, a leading packaged food manufacturer with 700 employees and a 30-year presence in the community. In the late 1980s, Michael Foods acquired the M.G. Waldbaum Company, which started in 1950 in Wakefield and grew into one of the nation’s largest egg producers under the leadership of Milton Waldbaum and Dan Gardner.

Our history with Wakefield has mostly involved essential infrastructure projects such as a water tower, underground mains, and storm sewers. For Rodney Hanson, a site/civil industry expert with Olsson who has partnered with Wakefield in the past, it was refreshing to work on a project essential to community spirit.

“It’s nice to be involved with something that people in Wakefield will use every day,” Rodney said. “I mean, they use a water main every day, too, but this is different…more visible.”

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In 2015, local leaders saw a need for a big space with modern amenities to host community-wide events, wedding receptions, business meetings, and educational conferences. In the past, organizers turned to nearby communities to hold some of their events.

We helped gather community input and assisted Wakefield in securing a $10,000 planning grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development under a special fund for civic and community centers. And we helped the community qualify for a related $375,000 state grant, which, in turn, was supplemented by matching funds from the city.

The Gardner Foundation of Wakefield gave the project a major boost when it provided a nearly $1.1 million gift. And local philanthropists Tim and Leslie Bebee (the daughter of Dan Gardner) purchased a vacant commercial property and donated it for the civic center.

We provided other services including survey work, civil engineering, geotechnical analysis, and construction management.

The project involved a complete remodel and update of the existing building and the construction of a connected twin structure. When the $1.7 million center was complete, it featured nearly 12,300 square feet of space, including a 350-seat banquet room, a kitchen, and several smaller meeting rooms.

Now the community has a place to mark milestones, share important information, and plan the future.

City Administrator Jim Litchfield called the building a “great asset to the community.” And he said he was happy with our role in the project.

“I’ve been working with Olsson for 20-some years,” he said. “They’ve done a lot of projects for us and they get the work done for us.”

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