WILLMAR -- The former Washington Learning Center is about to undergo a remake into a maintenance and storage facility for the building's new owner, Affiliated Community Medical Centers.
ACMC hasn't yet moved into the building, which adjoins the west side of the Willmar clinic's main site.
Crews have been busy removing asbestos, which has been found mostly in pipe insulation in the walls and ceiling, as well as in some floor tiles, said Terry Tone, administrator of ACMC.
"We're not totally complete yet," he said. "We keep running into more of it."
But if all goes according to plan, the former school will become a maintenance and storage center for the multi-specialty health network.
"By the first of the year we'd be able to occupy," Tone said.
The school building went up for sale this past year after the Willmar School District restructured and closed the building, which had housed community education and recreation offices for the past decade.
The sale to ACMC, for $300,000, was finalized in April.
There's still one formality for ACMC: a rezoning of the property from government/institutional to limited business. A public hearing on the rezoning application is scheduled for tonight before the Willmar City Council. The Willmar Planning Commission has already recommended approval.
Most of the surrounding property is zoned for general business except to the west and northwest, which is a one- and two-family residential zone.
Acquiring the former school will enable ACMC to consolidate many of the behind-the-scenes services that support its network of 11 clinics in southwestern Minnesota, Tone said.
For the past few years, for example, laundry services and supplies have been housed in space behind the Willmar Floor to Ceiling Store, he said. "It would be nice to have it closer."
The site also would enable conveniences such as a loading dock for shipping and receiving, a maintenance shop and garage.
Traffic and activity are expected to be minimal, Tone said. "We wouldn't have a lot of people there. It wouldn't be a disruption to the neighbors... It would not be for patients or operational staff."
Once some of the maintenance functions are moved to the former school, it also would free up some space in the main ACMC clinic for clinical services, he said.
ACMC had eyed the building for several years but it wasn't until this past year that it became available to a willing buyer.
The asbestos removal has been taking somewhat longer than planned, but Tone said it would have to have been done whether the school building was remodeled or demolished for parking.
Either way, acquiring the property "was worth doing," he said.