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Task force looks to find ways for school district to address outdated, crowded buildings

A facilities task force has been meeting this fall to discuss and develop a recommendation for the Willmar School Board on how to address its aging and crowded schools. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Willmar’s school facilities are aging and crowded, leaving officials with some tough decisions to make.

A facilities task force has been meeting this fall to discuss those issues and develop a recommendation for the Willmar School Board.

At a meeting Monday night, task force members worked in small groups to envision the district’s buildings 10 years into the future. The task force started meeting in September and expects to wrap up its work in December.

The ideas Monday offered a variety of solutions to the overcrowded elementary schools, inadequate cafeteria and physical education space and need to accommodate new technology.

Over the next meetings, the group will try to narrow its ideas into a plan for the board to consider.

The ideas discussed this week may or may not be in the final recommendation. The brainstorming sessions also have not yet addressed potential costs.

Several groups suggested the idea of building a new Middle School next to Willmar Senior High at the northeast edge of Willmar and remodeling the current building on Willmar Avenue into another elementary school.

Middle School Principal Mark Miley, a task force member, said middle school students are bused to the high school most days for after-school activities.

The groups differed on whether the middle school building would be a third elementary or take the place of a closed Kennedy Elementary.

One idea was to remodel both existing elementary schools — Kennedy on Seventh Street Southwest and Roosevelt on 19th Avenue Southwest — and the middle school building, making three elementary schools as close to equal as possible.

One group suggested closing Kennedy and building an athletic facility in its place, to keep the football field and other activities closer to the middle of town.

Providing bus transportation all over the community was an idea. The district now provides transportation only for students who live more than 2 miles away from school.

Ideas for the high school included remodeling to add a gym and to improve arts facilities. The group offered fewer ideas for that school, which is 20 years old and is the district’s newest building.

One idea for the middle school was to close the swimming pool and convert that space into a second gym.

Architect David Leapaldt told the groups that their next meeting would pick up where they left off this week, taking their ideas and trying to blend them into a workable plan for the future.

Leapaldt of IIW engineers and architects of St. Cloud is volunteering his time to work with the group. He led a task force through a similar exercise did similar work for the district six years ago.

Also working with the group is Paul Youngquist, a partner at Architects Rego + Youngquist of St. Louis Park.

Future meetings will be on Nov. 4, Dec. 2 and Dec. 16. All meetings begin at 4 p.m. and are held in the rehearsal hall of the Willmar Education and Arts Center, 611 Fifth St. S.W.

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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