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Remodeled Student Center opens at Ridgewater

The remodeled Student Center is now open at Ridgewater College. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — Students and staff at Ridgewater College have quickly made themselves comfortable in the remodeled Student Center on the Willmar campus.

The remodeled building, formerly Building A, opened on Monday and is receiving high marks.

College President Douglas Allen said he’s pleased with the work done on the building, the largest space to be remodeled in a $14 million project on the Willmar campus.

In addition to gutting and remodeling the Student Center, the agriculture and veterinary technology areas were remodeled earlier. The next step will be remodeling the administration and demolishing one wing. By this fall, new landscaping and a revamped driveway should be finished.

The Student Center had not been remodeled since it opened several decades ago.

Allen said he liked hearing students walk into the building this week and say, “Wow.”

The building houses all student needs in one building. The main floor has offices for admissions, testing, financial aid, counseling and career services, along with the business office. The bookstore has moved to the building, too, and is located just inside the main entrance.

A new central staircase leads visitors to the second floor cafeteria, lounge area and classrooms.

“I really like the staircase going up to the second floor,” Allen said. “Rather than having the floors so completely separate, I like that you can walk straight in and go up the stairs.” Before, the stairways were at the edges of the building, while the wide new staircase is in the center near the main entrance.

 “It doesn’t look like the same space,” said Liz VanDerBill, the college’s marketing director. “It looks much more upscale.”

Everything has been redone in the building — walls moved, floors and ceilings revamped, and windows replaced. The color scheme is in muted browns and reds, colors meant to stand the test of time.

The new lighting on the second floor is sensitive to the light from the windows, VanDerBill said. On a bright, sunny day, some of the lights will switch off automatically in favor of the natural light.

Tables and chairs are scattered around the dining room, and a series of large booths next to the wall of windows was popular from the outset. At one end, there’s a television that can be used to play video games and another for watching movies.

The cafeteria, called the Fresh Seasons Café, includes a coffee bar. It offers fresh burritos, burgers, sandwiches, pizza and salads along with a chef’s special each day. On Friday, the chef offered a meal of seared Atlantic cod with tarragon, tomatoes, arugula and brown rice for $6.50.

Allen said the new cafeteria layout should be a popular feature, along with the new bookstore and the upstairs booths.

“I guess what’s most gratifying to me is the response of people working in the new spaces, faculty in ag and vet tech, the students,” he said.

Students on a mid-morning break Friday were taking advantage of the new amenities. Several were lined up to order breakfast sandwiches in the cafeteria. Two young women were shooting pool.

In one booth, several Ridgewater staff members gathered during their morning break. Usually, they walk, but Thursday afternoon and Friday morning they had decided to enjoy the “new” building.

“It’s very pretty,” said Deb Rodelius, who works in the customized training area. “We like it a lot.”

Vet tech students Jennifer Jacques of Glencoe and Brittany Mattocks of Miltona said they have been coming up to the dining room/lounge every day. Like many others, they use a booth when they can.

“It’s more personal,” Mattocks said as she lounged on one side of the booth. “Everyone can still probably hear you, but it still feels private.”

Jacques said she remembered seeing the building before remodeling when she toured the campus. “It’s much nicer, more modern,” she said. “I thought the old place was drearier.”

The bookstore is a favorite part for her, Jacques said.

“This is a nice place to hang out; it’s relaxing,” said Jamie Engfer of Hutchinson. He was sitting in another booth with some auto body classmates.

Engfer said the food he’d tried had been pretty good, and it was nice to be able to get food on campus rather than drive home or drive somewhere else.

Allen said the project will be finished next fall, but the college’s maintenance needs won’t be over. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system has requested maintenance funding from the Legislature. Among Ridgewater’s requests are roof work on the Hutchinson campus and heating system improvements in Willmar.

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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