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Renovation will ‘transform’ Ridgewater: Willmar, Minn., college kicks off $14M remodeling project

David Halverson, Ridgewater College student senator, takes a swing at a wall with a sledge hammer on Friday in a building that will be remodeled as part of the overall project. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 3
During a ceremony Friday to celebrate a $14 million remodeling project at Ridgewater College in Willmar, students Cheryl Baumann, from left, Chyanne Berthiaunce and Zach Plumley check out the artist’s renderings of the renovation. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)3 / 3

WILLMAR — Ridgewater College is ready for a year of upheaval on its Willmar campus as a $14 million, 50,000-square-foot remodeling and demolition project gets underway.

College officials observed the official kickoff of the work Friday at a “Building Breaking” ceremony in one of the project areas — the now-empty Building A, which

will house student services.

College president Douglas Allen, college vice presidents and several students donned hard hats and safety glasses before swinging gold-painted sledge hammers at a wall in the former business office area.

The project has been planned since 2005 but was delayed in the Legislature twice before being included in the state bonding bill a year ago.

With a construction plan complete, the college is ready to begin its most significant remodeling project in 20 years, Allen said at the ceremony.

 “This renovation is going to transform the college, particularly for our students,” he said.

Veterinary technician and agriculture students will have improved facilities after this summer, he said. Those programs are in Building C.

A fully remodeled Building A is expected to reopen in February or March 2014. It will have a new main entrance and a central staircase leading up to the cafeteria. The campus bookstore will be off the main entrance.

Space has been found elsewhere on campus for business and counseling offices, food service and other functions that were once in the student services building.

After Building A is again open, remodeling will begin on other areas that are now housing the temporary student services offices. At the end of the project, a portion of Building H called Helland Hall will be demolished.

The whole project is scheduled to be completed by late summer 2014.

Allen thanked college staff members and area legislators who had worked on developing and supporting the project.

Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, said he often thinks of the college as a “city within a city” which will have a new front door after the renovation.

Warner said Ridgewater benefits the community in many ways, and he cited a recent study that said Ridgewater creates 1,172 jobs in the area and has a $90 million regional impact.

State Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, said the project is “a wonderful opportunity for the community and for Ridgewater.” The renovation of older buildings is needed to keep up with changes in education, too, she said. “What you did back then is different from today.”

After the ceremony, architects on the project from LHB Corp. in Minneapolis said they were glad to see it beginning.

“People won’t recognize it,” said architect Bruce Cornwall. “Hopefully, the eating experience is going to be different.” There will be a new cafeteria and kitchen, he said, and a relocated central stairway.

Sarah Phillips, who will be the architect project manager, said agriculture students will have new computer labs, and vet tech students will have a new anatomy lab.

The college’s physical plant director, Kip Oveson, said he is ready for the project to get started, too. The abatement of hazardous substances has been done in Building A, he said, so work can start there. Work will start next week in the agriculture area.

Oveson said he will be working with other college officials to make sure that “we don’t hit bumps in the road that slow things down.”

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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