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Task force to push for new school middle school building

Willmar Public Schools Facilities Task Force members consider their final recommendations Monday during a meeting at WEAC. Standing is consultant Paul Youngquist as he discusses the costs of various options. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — A task force studying the Willmar School District’s facilities will recommend building a new middle school near the district’s high school.

The task force’s final recommendation will be delivered to the Willmar School Board at its Jan. 13 meeting.

A second minority recommendation will also be included. That will lay out a plan for building a new school for early childhood programs through grade 2.

Architect David Leapaldt, who led the discussions, said he thought the group “had more people agreeing than disagreeing” at the end of its final meeting.

Both plans include doing maintenance work that has been deferred because the district hasn’t had the funds and remodeling to update and improve the learning environment in each building. Another common component was a field house at the site of Willmar Senior High to improve athletic facilities.

The task force was appointed by the School Board and began meeting in September. The group was asked to design a 10-year facility plan for the district. With the exception of its 19-year-old high school, the district’s current school buildings are crowded and aging.

More cafeteria and physical education/gym space is needed, the Middle School needs science rooms, and all of the buildings need deferred maintenance work.

The group has gone through a series of exercises to narrow down choices When Leapaldt and architect Paul Youngquist provided some rough estimates of what different alternatives might cost, the task force began is final deliberations Monday.

The final plan supported by most of the members involved building a new middle school at the Willmar Senior High site, possibly linked by a field house. The grade configuration would be left up to the School Board, pending more study.

Part of the group favored a new building for grads 7-8, while others wanted to see a new 6-8 school.

Some were concerned that a three-grade school would add more building capacity than the district needs, while a two-grade school would be about right.

The plan would include reconfiguring grades at other schools to alleviate overcrowding and to make adjustments to improve the learning environment.

People on the task force said they thought a new middle school building would be more palatable to the public, because every student would use it. A new elementary would only serve about one-third of the students.

Also, adding capacity at the middle school level would prepare the district to face the large numbers of elementary students as they move to higher grades.

The minority plan, brought up by retired High School Principal Rob Anderson, was to build an early childhood through grade 2 school.

“What brought me here is elementary,” Anderson said. “I would see a tremendous advantage for the kids” with a new lower elementary school. He said it would allow for more collaboration between early childhood and elementary programs. He suggested keeping both elementary schools open with grades 3-5, keeping the middle school open with the addition of new science classrooms.

Once Anderson laid out his plan, several task force members said they liked it, so Leapaldt asked Anderson and the others to develop a “minority report” for the School Board.

Youngquist spelled out some estimated costs Monday. He split them into categories of enrollment, building maintenance and student achievement.

To handle space needed for enrollment, either new building suggested by the group could cost about $35 million.

Deferred maintenance needs total an estimated $7.9 million, including about $3 million for replacing the high school roof.

Remodeling costs to update the schools to improve educational facilities were estimated at about $750,000 per building.

The cost of a field house was estimated at $12 million, but task force members said they thought the district might be able to work with the city of Willmar or Kandiyohi County to build that.

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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