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Task force works to narrow facilities ideas for Willmar Schools

WILLMAR — Members of a facilities task force continued their efforts Monday to envision Willmar’s public schools in 2023.

The group has been meeting since September to develop a 10-year facilities plan for the district. At each meeting, the members go through a brainstorming exercise to try to hone their vision for the district’s future needs and how to address them.

Members of the group include district administrators, board members and people from the community.

Architect David Leapaldt of St. Cloud is leading the group in its discussions. He split the task force into the four groups they had at their last meeting so that they could review and comment on the plans they proposed then.

Then he shuffled the membership of the groups and had them continue their discussions.

Some issues discussed by the task force: elementary schools that are full; inadequate gym space and fine arts space at the middle and high schools; inadequate science classrooms at the middle school; and major maintenance needs at all buildings.

One proposal included building a new middle school next to Willmar Senior High along with improving athletic and fine arts facilities there, and remodeling the Willmar Middle School into another elementary school.

Another idea was to have grades K-4 at elementary schools, grades 5-7 at the Middle School and to move the eighth grade to an addition at the Senior High. The current configuration is K-5 at elementary schools, 6-8 at the Middle School and 9-12 at the Senior High. The district also has students in early childhood programs at Jefferson Learning Center and at an alternative high school in Garfield School.

Some proposals included moving Willmar Community Education and Recreation and Adult Basic Education to Roosevelt or to the Middle School, where the pool would be available for the programs.

Several groups proposed building a new Middle School near the Senior High, allowing the schools to share facilities, teachers and education specialists.

Some groups also proposed a new elementary school to replace one of the existing ones or to give the community a third elementary.

Some discussion centered on the district’s athletic facilities. Currently, the district’s football field and track are located next to Kennedy Elementary, which was once the district’s high school.

Members talked about moving the current Hodapp Field to land at the Willmar Senior High but questioned whether that move would have public support.

Another group suggested returning to a former grade configuration that placed a few grades in each building, so that students might attend four or five buildings in their school career. That idea was used in the 1990s and later abandoned in favor of more traditional elementary schools.

Leapaldt told the groups that they would continue working to develop a common decision on the next meeting, taking their ideas and trying to blend them into a workable proposal for the future. The goal is to present a proposed 10-year facilities plan to the Willmar School Board in December or January.

Leapaldt of IWW engineers and architects of St. Cloud is volunteering his time to work with the group. He led a task force through a similar exercise and 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 held 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

(320) 214-4340