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Common views as task force weighs up school facilities

WILLMAR — A task force studying Willmar Public Schools facilities has found some common views as members discuss ways to deal with the district’s crowded and aging buildings.

For one thing, no one on the task force thinks that nothing should be done. Everyone on the task force has talked about the need for improved physical education, athletics and fine arts facilities.

The group will meet again Dec. 16 to develop a final recommendation, which will be delivered to the Willmar School Board in January.

Another common view is that the district needs to address some deferred maintenance needs at all of its buildings. Those needs include roofs, windows, parking lots, plumbing, electrical, and heating and ventilation systems.

Most task force members also believe there is a need for new construction of some sort, but ideas vary on what type of building. New construction would likely result in some reconfiguration of the grades in the school district.

The School Board appointed the task force to study maintenance needs and enrollment projections along with the needs of 21st century learning.

The board was spurred on by growing enrollment in its elementary schools. Both Kennedy and Roosevelt elementary schools are among the largest in the state. Each has more than 900 students in grades K-5.

The district reconfigured grades and closed two small aging elementary schools in 2009. The closed buildings have since been sold.

At the time, projections indicated that the district’s enrollment may fall another 200 students before leveling off at 3,900 to 4,000 students. Instead, enrollment has increased about 200 students in the last few years.

The task force has come up with several plans which will be discussed at the next meeting.

Architects David Leapaldt and Paul Youngquist will spend the next two weeks placing dollar estimates on some of the group’s ideas.

Leapaldt said he hopes the group can narrow its recommendation to the School Board to two plans at its Dec. 16 meeting.

Two of the plans include building a new school to house early childhood programs and early elementary grades. That would leave Kennedy and Roosevelt with more room for upper elementary grades. The plans also discuss remodeling at the Middle School and adding a field house and improving fine arts facilities at the Senior High.

In these plans, some of the other small, aging buildings could be closed, as the reconfiguration could leave room in other buildings for those services.

Closing the older buildings could greatly reduce the district’s deferred maintenance needs.

Another plan included building a new Middle School instead, but construction would be more expensive for a middle school, because of the specialized rooms not needed in an elementary school, like science labs and industrial arts classrooms.

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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