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Willmar School Board discusses new building, but makes no decision

WILLMAR — Voters in the Willmar School District will probably be asked to decide later this year whether to build a new school and make needed improvements in other buildings.

The Willmar School Board discussed options at a workshop meeting Monday but no decisions have been made.

Some board members seemed to favor building a new middle school for the district but wanted more information before deciding how to proceed.

The board will likely meet later this month to hear more about how different building proposals would affect instructional, financial and staffing needs. No date was set for that meeting Monday evening.

Board members looked at a variety of options during a discussion with architect Paul Youngquist. Youngquist had looked at preliminary cost estimates for some recommendations from a task force that met last fall to discuss the district’s facility needs.

The district is about to finish paying off the bonds from building Willmar Senior High 20 years ago. That could lessen the impact on taxpayers, Youngquist said.

The final recommendation from a majority of the task force had been to build a new middle school for grades 7 and 8 near Willmar Senior High at the northeastern edge of Willmar and use the existing middle school for grades 5-6, which would ease crowding in the elementary buildings. The task force also recommended building a field house and improving arts facilities at the Senior High and completing top priority maintenance projects in other buildings.

A minority of the task force had recommended a new school that would house all the district’s students from preschool to grade 1, keeping grades 2-5 in the elementary schools.

Board members turned away from that option in their discussion of the number of moves students make from one building to another. “Transition when you’re younger is probably the hardest,” said board member Liz VanDerBill.

Board member Nathan Streed said he liked the idea of having a middle school/high school campus. So did board member Mike Reynolds, who said he’d favor a 6-8 middle school like the district has now, with the middle school remodeled into a third K-5 elementary school.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said one of his concerns with the plan is that all of the district’s elementary students would go to school in buildings not designed as K-5 schools.

Board members said moving students from Kennedy and Roosevelt schools to a third elementary school would give the schools more flexibility in using the space they have.

Before making a final decision the district may conduct a poll of its residents.

“I think it’s in the district’s interest to spend the money,” Streed said. He said the board may not like all the answers it gets, but it would be good to have the information.

“I agree,” said board member Laura Warne. “Then we know what the challenges are.”

Youngquist’s cost estimates were based on estimates of how many square feet would be needed in a new building and industry norms for cost per square foot.

An elementary building would be less expensive than a middle school would be, because a middle school would need specialized classrooms for science, industrial technology, and family and consumer sciences.

One of the largest non-construction costs in his list was $3.4 million for a new high school roof. The school is the district’s largest building and the entire roof needs to be replaced because of age.

A new building, depending on the type of building could cost from $25 million to $45 million, according to Youngquist’s preliminary estimates. A field house and a performing arts facility could cost from $13 million to $15 million.

Youngquist said the district can find other ways to pay for some of the needed building maintenance without having to use long-term bonds.

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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