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School officials vote in favor of expansion at Roosevelt Elementery School

Students wait for rides Tuesday outside Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar at the end of the school day. Willmar school officials voted to spend $1.5 million on a building addition at the school in an effort to reorganize the district's K-8 buildings and its early childhood and community education programs. Classes will moved from Washington Learning Center and Lincoln Elemetery School. Both buildings will close their doors. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- It might seem counterintuitive for the Willmar School District to spend $1.5 million on a building addition while cutting $2.7 million from the district's operating budget.

School Board Chairman Brad Schmidt addressed that issue Monday shortly before the board voted unanimously to move ahead with building seven new kindergarten classrooms at Roosevelt Elementary School.

"This could be at least a 10-year solution" to the district's space and budget needs, he said.

The addition at Roosevelt clears the way for the reorganization of the district's K-8 buildings and its early childhood and community education programs.

The School Board has looked for ways to save money by operating fewer buildings.

However, the district was six classrooms short of having enough space to move all the elementary students into two buildings.

The first plan the board looked at in January was to keep Jefferson open as a kindergarten center, but the staff disapproved of the idea.

"What this means -- we're able to meet the needs of the district long term," said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard. The plan for Roosevelt grew from discussions held with staff around the district, he added.

"The previous proposal was going to have a less than desirable configuration," Schmidt said. "It seemed to be a somewhat temporary solution."

The better solution of expanding at Roosevelt will cost the district $1.5 million in its capital budget, Schmidt acknowledged. The district accounts for the capital budget separately from the general fund. At its Monday meeting the board voted to cut $2.7 million from the general fund.

The money for the addition will come from capital funds from 2008-09 and from 2009-10. The district will also use any proceeds from the sale of the Washington building. The general fund reserve would be used after other funding sources are exhausted.

Board member Mike Carlson said the new addition will have a payback time of about 10 years. Many parents have told him they like the idea of the K-5 schools, he added.

"We have to be thinking beyond right now," Carlson said.

The district's architect, David Leapaldt of GLT Architects of St. Cloud, had provided six different proposals for the addition. Some of them were impractical because an 8-inch water main and a 12-ton fire road encircle the building for fire safety. An addition that interfered with that perimeter would add the cost of relocating the water main and the road.

The option that was chosen will add seven rooms in a new wing behind the center of the building. The addition places kindergarten students in their own wing not far from the gym and lunchroom. A hallway across from the school office will lead to the kindergarten wing.

The board approved a review and comment document to be sent to the state Department of Education and approved a contract with Leapaldt to design the building.

Board members asked who would oversee the construction and be sure it was built according to the specifications. The district spent about $1 million in recent years to repair mistakes made in the construction of Willmar Senior High.

"Somebody along the way has to be in charge who knows what's going on," said board member Wayne Lenzmeier.

Leapaldt said he often recommends that his clients contract with a roofing expert to be on site while a roof is installed.

In other business Monday, the board:

? Heard a report from Kjergaard about federal stimulus money the district might receive. He said little is known yet about how much money might come to the district or how it might be used. Most of the money has "spider webs attached to it," and the district will thus be able to use it only for certain purposes.

? Approved two school calendars for the 2009-10 school year, one with a start day of Sept. 8 and one with a start date of Aug. 31. The board will decide which calendar to use after the Legislature decides whether to allow schools to start before Labor Day this year.

? Accepted the retirements of 14 staff members, bringing the total retirements coming at the end of the school year to 15. One dozen of the retirees are elementary teachers.