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Details still to be decided: School Board decides that middle school expansion will be building plan

Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — The Willmar School Board is closer to a proposed building plan for the district.

Board members agreed on Monday to move forward with developing a plan to move fifth-graders to a new wing at Willmar Middle School. The board held a special meeting to discuss facilities before its regular board meeting Monday.

The plan would include remodeling and maintenance work at the district’s other buildings and adding gym space and an auditorium balcony at Willmar Senior High.

Details of how the new wing would be added are still to be decided, and other improvements are planned, too.

Architect Paul Youngquist had presented a drawing that showed the fifth-grade wing on the east side of the building with eight new science classrooms to the north and a new gym on the west.

The cafeteria would be expanded into an adjacent courtyard that is currently unused.

The preliminary price tag for the middle school expansion and other projects is $39 million, which is $10 million to $24 million less than other options that have been discussed.

Some board members suggested moving the fifth-grade wing to another area. They were concerned about fifth-graders being so far from the cafeteria and gym and about the need to have fifth-graders walking through the halls with older students.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said he has worked in districts with grades 5-8 in one school. The fifth-grade would have a separate wing, which is common in that type of school, he said. “There will be times when they’re going to be in the same hallways,” he added, but they would have little interaction with older kids.

The choice of a basic plan was a breakthrough for the board, which has discussed several plans since receiving a report from a citizen task force several months ago.

Other ideas have included building a new elementary school or building a new middle school and remodeling the middle school to be an elementary building.

Youngquist said he met with a group of administrators to talk about the district’s needs for its buildings.

The number one priority was to maximize educational benefits for students. Youngquist has said that the district’s elementary schools are full, and that the middle school is overcrowded.

After more than a decade of declining enrollment, Willmar’s schools have seen a leveling of enrollment followed by a slight increase.

Other priorities listed: to add adequate space without overbuilding, to minimize transitions from one school to another, to keep a handle on transportation costs and to accommodate athletic activities and performing arts.

If the final plan is approved by the voters, the district would have two K-4 elementary buildings, a 5-8 middle school and a 9-12 high school.

Removing a grade from each elementary school should ease crowding in the schools’ small cafeterias, Youngquist said.

Still to be decided would be the future and location of early childhood programs, which are crowded at Jefferson Learning Center.

Board member Mike Reynolds said he felt the plan would address educational needs for some time to come and would be a good reflection of the district’s overall needs.

Board members left Youngquist with a to-do list for the next facilities meeting, which hasn’t been scheduled yet.

They wanted to know more about how the plan would affect lunch times in the elementary and middle schools. They wanted to see other options for the additions to the middle school and the impact on traffic flow around the school. Youngquist will also be studying how the plan could address the needs of early childhood programs.

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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