Students will see lots of building updates when classes resume Tuesday in Willmar School District

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WILLMAR — Willmar Public Schools buildings have buzzed with activity this summer, and kids are likely to notice changes when they come back to school today.

A printed list of projects completed this summer covers two pages. They range from new paint and drinking fountains to larger projects like classroom remodeling and a partial facelift at Kennedy Elementary School. Three buildings have new boilers as the schools exits Willmar Municipal Utilities' district heating system that will be decommissioned in 2020.

Money for the work came from a mix of funding from the 2015 bond voters approved in a referendum, the district's long-term facility maintenance fund and from other district funds, said Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Aaron Pilarski during a tour of some of the projects. The total cost was about $2 million.

In remodeling funded by the referendum, Kennedy Elementary School and Roosevelt Elementary School each have new collaborative spaces. At Kennedy, that was accomplished by gutting locker rooms still there from the building's days as a high school.

At Roosevelt, two classrooms were remodeled into one larger space. The media center was also remodeled.

The collaborative spaces were developed to echo the design of the new Lakeland Elementary School, which has a collaborative space for each grade.

Pilarski said the unused locker rooms at Kennedy were "a big black eye." With the school's media center at the other end of the building, he said, "this can be used as a gathering spot for this side."

The opening of Lakeland Elementary early this year eased overcrowding at the other two elementary schools, giving them the space to accommodate the remodeling projects.

At Willmar Senior High, referendum funding was used to clear an area with cubicles for teachers and remodel it into new classrooms. The cubicle area was originally meant to be used by teachers, but it had been used very little in recent years.

A variety of deferred maintenance projects, also part of the $52.35 million bond approved in the referendum, will continue through next summer.

One of the larger projects funded by the district's maintenance funds is the installation of new windows and updated masonry along the east side of Kennedy.

The main corridor was painted with a new red and gray theme, to make it look less like the old high school it is. The corridor has suspended ceilings and LED lighting. Locker doors have a new coat of red paint.

Pilarski said the work is part of a multi-year plan to improve energy efficiency and update the look of the building, which was built in 1958.

The hallways of Jefferson Learning Center have been painted. The wing that houses Adult Basic Education classes has a more "adult" look, he said, with deep red paint on the walls and new carpeting. The wing with early childhood classes is brighter, with geometric shapes and photographs of children on the walls.

Jefferson also has a new entrance with tiles resembling granite on the wall, along with decals of the building's name and the cardinal logo.

Willmar Middle School has renovated locker rooms and fresh paint on the corridor lockers. At the Area Learning Center, the gym and corridors have fresh paint, and gym wall pads and acoustical panels were installed.

Keeping the buildings appealing and in good repair is important to Pilarski. "It is a big thing," he said. "If people's first experience with the district is negative, they have the opportunity to go anywhere, so my goal is to make sure the facilities don't make that decision for them."