A ground-breaking ceremony was held Thursday evening for the much-anticipated Heckart Community Center, to be located on the former Jennie Jaynes Stadium site.

The event drew well over 300 people to the 45-minute ceremony, which was held in warm, sunny weather in Sedalia.

Several waves of local dignitaries, holding shovels and wearing hard hats, posed for photos while tossing black dirt in ceremonial fashion for the crowd gathered for the occasion. The "diggers" included members of Sedalia Park Board, Sedalia City Council, Sedalia School District 200, Sedalia School Board, Sedalia Senior Center, Paric Construction (Dan Close and Brian Garvey), the Yes-Yes Committee (Steve Bloess and Kyle Herrick), SFS Architecture (Kansas City) and others.

“I love you, Amy. I respect you and I admire you. Thanks for all that you have done,” project benefactor Sue Heckart said of Parks & Rec Director Amy Epple during her comments.

“In life, we need to embrace moments that bring people together. Today is one of those moments. The Heckart Community Center has always been a dream of mine, because it is an opportunity to honor the legacy of my parents, Dell and Stella Heckart, while investing in the people of Sedalia. Our family business was built with mutual trust and respect between my family and the families we served. In that same spirit, our community deserves a place where we can come together and created shared experiences and memories.

"A community center is a representation of what our community can do together. It is made possible by your approval of the tax levy. And I thank you. I also want to thank the families who have entrusted their loved ones to my family. My gift today is your gift. Our shared commitment ensures the Heckart Community Center will create a welcoming space that enhances our lives. My mother would be proud today, because this project embraces her adage, as it allows us to care, share and love. I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Heckart concluded.

Sedalia Parks & Rec Director Amy Epple later presented Heckart with a colorful bouquet of flowers on the occasion of the ground-breaking, but also on Sue's 81st birthday.

Epple promised Sedalians would see movement on the site this weekend, meaning construction would begin right away.

“What a positive impact this will have on so many people from birth to in their 90s. Something for everyone,” Epple said after the ceremony.

She added that was pleased with the size of the crowd, estimated at over 300 people. “It's a community center. People are supposed to gather. That's what they're doing today. They are excited about this and they can't wait to go through the doors and actually enjoy it,” Epple said.

Work on the 92,000-square-foot complex by general contractor Paric Construction out of St. Louis is expected to be finished by December, 2021. Epple estimated a March 18, 2022 for a date for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $13.78 million facility. Epple promised weekly updates of the progress with photos and other details on the construction work.

Epple noted all the hard work put forth by Sedalia Park Board, staff, the City of Sedalia and members of the community.

She also noted how much of a draw the community center will be, and the economic impact it will have on Sedalia.

“Just like all of our parks, I mean, we get people from all over, that come. Either they grew up in Sedalia, or they have friends in Sedalia, or they just love this community,” Epple said.

Sedalia voters approved the 78,000-square foot community center in a special election Aug. 6 by an 80 percent margin.

The ballot measure proposed a one-eighth-cent sales tax increase for public parks and storm water control. The election also asked voters to remove the sunset clause from an existing capital improvement sales tax.

The cost of the community center would not exceed $20 million, it was reported at the time. The increase in funding will pay for the principal, but not the rest of the cost.

Sue Heckart proposed to pay the interest on bonds, with naming rights to the community center. The only stipulation was that the project be completed in time for the 20th anniversary of her mother Stella's death, March 18, 2021.

Rhiannon Foster, who is leaving the Park Board and will begin serving a two-year term on the City Council Monday night, was excited to be a part of the project.

“This is a momentous occasion,” commented Rhiannon Foster. “It's fantastic. I'm the second generation in my family to work on this,” she noted, adding that she was in school when her dad, Gregg Foster, served on the Park Board. And I'm 41,” she noted.

“It's a huge deal. This is going to change Sedalia forever. We've needed this since we were kids,” Foster said, adding that she's been hearing comments from her customers in the drive-through at Tiger Coffee. “From Benton County, Saline County, Warrensburg, and Whiteman Air Force Base. It's all good. Positives all over the place. Best day ever!” Foster said, borrowing a phrase often used by Sedalia Mayor John Kehde, who was unable to attend Thursday's ceremony due to a medical procedure that was necessary.

No details were provided on the mayor's condition, but Councilman Jeff Leeman, who spoke in Mayor Kehde's absence, assured everyone the mayor is fine and will be back on the job very soon.