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RCW ... Halls of change

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Tori Gunderson works on a portion of the murals at the Renville County West school in Renville. Gunderson is adding a field mouse to a prairie scene in one of the school hallways. Every hallway and stairwell will have a fresh coat of paint when school opens this fall, courtesy of art teacher Tammy Isfeld and her crew of student workers. (Tribune photos by Ron Adams)3 / 3

When children in grades K-12 arrive at the Renville County West school in September, they'll find a school that looks quite a bit different.

In the small gym, there's an ornate gold and blue arch over the stage. It's always been there but was unnoticed when it was painted stark white.

In the upper hallways, peaceful designs in cream, aqua, green and deep red have covered years of old paint.

In the cafeteria, a prairie river scene will greet the breakfast and lunchtime crowds.

And in the area where small children will go to school, monarch butterflies in all stages of development fly by on the walls. There's a frog hanging out by the boys' bathroom and a huge dragon fly whose eyes are also emergency spotlights.

Every hallway and stairwell will have a fresh coat of paint, courtesy of art teacher Tammy Isfeld and her crew of student workers.

The funding for Isfeld and her workers has come from a federal economic stimulus grant designed to put teens and young adults to work.

The district has hired other young people to help move elementary equipment to the Renville school and get the building organized for grades K-12. The district is closing its elementary school in Sacred Heart and moving all students into the Renville building.

In all, more than 40 young people were hired by RCW using the stimulus money, which came from a grant from Central Minnesota Jobs and Training. The young people had to meet income or other guidelines to be classified as "at risk."

During a tour of the school mural project, Isfeld said she developed a plan for the entire project, using colors that blend with the character of a prairie school built in the early 1920s.

In the river scene on one wall of the cafeteria, "everything has to do with nature you'd find in this area," she said. "The pillars will be like looking through binoculars." The three large pillars will be close-ups of what someone might see looking into reeds, water or trees.

The students working on the murals are a combination of art students and some who have had just basic art courses in school. She has enjoyed watching all the students' technique and confidence grow through the summer, she said.

"I tell them, 'It's just paint; if you make a mistake we'll paint over it,'" she said.

The project was aided by a donation of 82 gallons of paint from the Valspar Corp. Laura Ashley line. More than 150 gallons of the same brand of paint were purchased from Renville Hardware.

The Wooster Brush Co. of Wooster, Ohio, donated 300 good quality brushes for the project.

Isfeld said she received both donations after sending e-mails seeking help with the project. "I said we were trying to make it look not so worn," she said. "There wasn't even a grant I had to fill out; they just said how much do you need."

Some of the walls and stairwells hadn't been painted for a long time, and many areas required more paint than she anticipated, she said. The first coat often just soaked right in.

In the gym, she pointed to the arch above the stage. "Nobody ever noticed how beautiful this is," she said. "It was all white."

Now the arch is blue and gold, the school colors, with accents of deep red and green, and its ornate design of leaves and vines pops out. The paint blends perfectly with the deep blue stage curtains, which Isfeld said will be packed up in spots where it's drooping.

Isfeld said she has talked with her painters about the importance of preserving the school. "I'm kind of a stickler," she said. "This is beautiful woodwork; I don't want to see any paint on it when we're done."

School officials said they are fortunate to have someone like Isfeld who will work all summer on such a project. It wouldn't have happened without her, .

"Paint does a lot," . "It's a new era; it's a nice fresh start."

There will be challenges in putting all the students in a building that really isn't big enough for all them, Wilson said.

"We've made do with what we have," he said. "We're still making changes to make everyone fit."

Dale Negen, the district's activities director and technology coordinator, said the district found as many ways as possible to hire young people this summer. Without the stimulus money available this year, RCW would have had trouble getting the moving done, and the painting wouldn't have been done.

"I would never have imagined we would have had every hall painted," Negen said. "(Isfeld) is an asset to our district."

The administrators also complimented the district's custodians, who are doing their usual summer maintenance work around the painting, roof repair and the installation of a sprinkler system in the school.

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

(320) 214-4340