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Planning under way for expansion project at Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minn.

Taylor LaVoy of Echo overhauls a tractor engine March 28 as part of the agriculture program at Ridgewater College in Willmar. The program's facilities are part of a massive remodeling project at the college. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Architects are hard at work on the design of a $13.8 million construction and remodeling project at Ridgewater College in Willmar.

Their efforts are putting the college on track to start work on the project in early spring 2013, college President Doug Allen said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The architects are meeting with small groups of staff members on campus to make sure the plan will fit the college's needs, Allen said. After the design is finished, construction documents will be prepared, and the school will advertise for bids.

Funding comes from the state bonding bill approved this year.

The project includes expansion and improvement of facilities for the agriculture and veterinary technician programs. Both programs are popular and growing, and their current space is inadequate for their needs.

The other part of the project includes remodeling administrative and student services facilities to give the college a more organized layout and a newly designed main entrance.

Work on the ag and vet tech area in Building C is expected to be done by September 2013, Allen said. Work on remodeling in Building A will probably take another year.

Building A houses counseling services and student service offices like admissions and financial aid. The cafeteria and conference center are also located there.

When all the other work is done, Building H, which houses administrative offices, will be demolished.

Allen said a challenge in the planning phase is working out the logistics of the remodeling projects.

"Building A will be so extensively remodeled that we will need to empty that building," Allen said. He hopes to find a way to avoid numerous moves for staff and classes.

It's not clear yet where offices will be moved during remodeling, he said, but he hopes to be able to spell it all out by the time the staff returns in August for the start of the fall semester.

"It's going to an interesting period in all our lives," Allen said. "We want to be as least disruptive as possible." There will be no way to avoid having parts of the campus look like a construction zone, though, he added.

The project is the second phase of a campus improvement project. The first phase was finished several years ago. In that project, the school demolished some obsolete buildings and developed a new facility for customized training and some technical programs.

The second phase was approved by the Legislature in 2010 and was lost to a line-item veto by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. In 2011, the project was on the bonding bill list during the regular session, but it was dropped during negotiations to end a state government shutdown.

The 2012 Legislature approved the bonding bill with Ridgewater included last spring, and Gov. Mark Dayton signed it into law.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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