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Building addition focused on children at Assembly of God Church in Willmar, Minn.

Workers from Landwehr Construction in St. Cloud on Thursday erect the concrete walls of the addition to the Willmar Assembly of God Church using a large crane. The Tree House will provide needed space for the youth-focused programs of the church. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)1 / 2
The Rev. Keith Kerstetter, senior pastor at the Willmar Assembly of God, talks about the new construction. Kerstetter says the church didn't want its ministry to be dictated by its facilities and undertook the fundraising for the Tree House addition. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Construction is under way at the Assembly of God Church in Willmar of an education wing called the Tree House addition that's designed with children through sixth grade in mind.

The church was running out of space for its nursery, preschool, elementary and Sunday morning and Wednesday night programs and church officials realized something had to be done, explained Keith Kerstetter, senior pastor.

"We looked at a lot of alternatives, and even though the economy wasn't cooperating, and it didn't seem like a great time to be asking people to dig deeper, we just felt like something needed to happen,'' Kerstetter said.

"It's frustrating when your facilities dictate our ministry, and we didn't want that to be the deciding factor of what we were going to do,'' he said.

The building taking shape is called the Tree House addition because a tree house is a place designed just for kids to have an adventure "and we want our kids to have an adventure with Jesus. We want it to be a fun place, a meaningful place, a significant place, a safe place,'' Kerstetter said.

Funds have been pledged for the $2 million, 23,991-square-foot project. Construction began in December and work will proceed as cash is provided. So far, about 25 percent of the money pledged has come in in the first three months, said Kerstetter.

The addition is a former potato factory, built five years ago in St. Paul. The concrete panels and other parts of the building were taken apart, numbered, trucked to Willmar and are being reassembled by a crew from Landwehr Construction of St. Cloud.

The main hallway entrance will have a lift that will look like a tree and tree house to get up to the second floor. The facility will include kids' sanctuary, preschool area and toddler town area and extended nursery area. The building will also be available for community use.

Kerstetter said the church is gaining incredibly necessary space for young people.

"We try to put a lot of resource into kids and youth because we recognize and believe it's easier to build a kid than it is to fix an adult, so let's try to build from the ground up and get it as right as we can the first time,'' he said.

Also, the church wants to leave a legacy of what's important to the next generation.

"What we want the next generation to know is that they were important to us, that we love kids, that all kids need to be pointed to the truth, all kids need to be pointed to Christ. That's what we want to do.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150