Willmar School District to survey voters as next step to referendum
WILLMAR — The Willmar School District will be conducting an in-depth survey of its residents this fall.
The Willmar School Board had a special meeting to discuss facilities Monday afternoon.
Board members asked Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard to move ahead with a telephone survey conducted by a consultant who has done similar work for other school districts, including Alexandria.
The results of the survey will help the board make final decisions before moving ahead with a bond referendum. The survey is expected to take about two months from its start until results are delivered to the board.
The board has been studying the district’s facilities needs for longer than a year. It could be spring 2015 before voters are asked to decide on a final plan.
Board members began by discussing the need to find more room for elementary and middle school students and to address some major building maintenance needs. They appointed a task force to spend more than four months studying the district’s needs.
The board received the task force’s report early this year and has been discussing ways to move forward since.
The most recent plan from the board carries a price tag of about $40 million. It includes adding a fifth-grade wing to the east side of Willmar Middle School and modern science classrooms to the north side of that school located at 209 Willmar Ave. S.E.
Moving fifth-graders to middle school will ease crowding in the elementary schools, and adding science rooms will relieve crowding in the existing middle school.
The plan would take care of major deferred maintenance needs across the district and remodeling to accommodate modern instruction needs.
Another need has been more space for physical education classes and athletics. The plan includes adding gym space at the Middle School and at Willmar Senior High.
The athletics needs were discussed Monday afternoon at another meeting attended by members of the facilities task force and members of a Vision 2040 committee studying the need for a field house at the high school site, located on the northeast edge of Willmar at 2701 30th St. N.E.
Members of the Vision 2040 committee said they have envisioned a field house with space for six basketball courts, a track, meeting rooms and a children’s play area.
There was some discussion of how to pay for a field house, which would add as much as $7 million more to the overall price of the building project.
The district’s architect Paul Youngquist said the facility they had proposed to him would have about 157,000 square feet. He sketched floor plans of several other high school field houses he’s designed in Minnesota which were all about 50,000 square feet.
Youngquist said some communities bring in funding from other sources, too, including city government.
Kjergaard said the city would need to commit to the funding before the bond referendum took place.
Several school officials, including Kjergaard, said they would like to see a field house on the Senior High campus, but they were concerned that the voters would not approve it. They offered the possibility that the ballot could have two questions — one for the overall project and another for a field house.
Senior High Principal Paul Schmitz said the new gym space in the board’s plan is for academics as well as to give high school teams more room to practice. “We can’t wait for a field house,” he said. “We need to act for our academic needs.”
Board members echoed that sentiment at their own meeting.
Board member Mike Reynolds said the board had moved away from the idea of a field house so that it could move forward with more urgent academic and maintenance needs.
“I can’t support a field house right now,” he said. “I want a field house so bad, but it’s needs and wants right now.”
Board Chairman Mike Carlson added, “We don’t want to be delaying education needs” for a field house plan.