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Willmar, Minn., Islamic Society backed away from school purchase because of cost

WILLMAR -- Cost was the reason the Islamic Society of Willmar decided not to purchase the Garfield School building and property, a representative of the society said Friday.

Mohamed Hassan said remodeling the building for use as a mosque and religious education center would have been too costly.

The Islamic Society continues to look for property that will be more suited to its needs, Hassan said.

The society currently has a mosque and education center at 410 Becker Ave. S.W. in downtown Willmar, but the local Muslim community has outgrown it.

The society made an offer to purchase the Garfield building at 512 Eighth St. S.W. and the northern half of its property in August. The district made a counteroffer later in August that addressed removing technology equipment from Garfield and setting a timetable to ease the transition of school operations out of Garfield.

The financial details of the offer and counteroffer were not made public during negotiations.

Had the Islamic Society purchased Garfield, a rezoning would have been needed to clear the way for a mosque.

At a recent community meeting, Willmar City Administrator Charlene Stevens said that zoning issues for a mosque would be handled the same way as for a church.

Houses of worship are allowed in most zoning classifications in the city. "We don't do anything different for any one culture versus another," she said. "We follow the same rules."

The city would look at issues like traffic flow, parking and noise issues, and the type of religion would not be an issue, she said.

Garfield is one of two school buildings the school district is interested in selling.

Garfield has housed the Area Learning Center, the district's alternative high school, for more than 15 years. The former Lincoln Elementary School at 511 Julii St. S.E. has been closed for several years, since a school district reorganization.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard has said he is willing to sell either building and move the ALC into the one remaining.

The school district and the city of Willmar have discussed the sale of the southern half of the Garfield property, which functions as a city park. No sale has been completed.

The Garfield building is in the 500 block of Eighth Street Southwest and the property extends into the 600 block, where the park land is located.

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