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Willmar School Board continues to discuss facilities, possibly seeking voter OK in 2015

WILLMAR — It could be early next year before Willmar School District voters get a chance to pass judgment on a facilities improvement plan.

The Willmar School Board met Monday to continue its study of how to best meet the district’s facility needs for the next decade. Board members said during the meeting that they won’t be seeking a vote on the plan in the November election.

The board is developing a plan to add a fifth-grade wing to Willmar Middle School and to add new science classrooms for grades 6-8 there. The lunch room would also be expanded. The additional space at the Middle School would help relieve overcrowded conditions for grades 6-8 as well as make room for fifth-graders. Moving the fifth grade should ease crowding and ease a time crunch in lunch periods at the district’s two elementary schools.

The plan for the facilities will also include remodeling in all the buildings to accommodate modern teaching methods, doing needed maintenance work at all the district’s buildings and adding more space for physical education and performing arts.

The board decided to meet again at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 11 and left architect Paul Youngquist with a set of questions to be answered.

Youngquist’s current plan for the Middle School, located at 209 Willmar Ave. S.E., includes adding the new science rooms on the northern end of the building and adding a fifth-grade wing along the east side. A new gymnasium would be added to the southeastern corner.

The board scrapped discussion of an entire new school in favor of the more modest proposal of adding a wing to an existing building.

Other plans include a new gymnasium on the Senior High School, located at 2701 30th St. N.E., and possibly a balcony to add more seating to the school’s theater/auditorium.

Changes at Kennedy and Roosevelt elementary schools will include remodeling classroom space to allow room for gathering spaces for each grade where classrooms can work together on projects. Kennedy is located at 824 Seventh St. S.W. and Roosevelt is at 1800 19th Ave. S.W.

Youngquist, of Rego + Youngquist Inc. of St. Louis Park, provided some rough estimates of the cost, though those could change if the plans are changed further during discussions.

The current estimate for a fifth-grade addition is $16 million. Deferred maintenance needs total about $9.5 million, including more than $3 million to replace the roof at the Senior High. The proposed budget includes $400,000 each for remodeling and modernization needs in the district’s four largest buildings.

Adding the science classrooms is estimated to cost $3.8 million. Athletic improvements at Willmar Senior High would cost $5.3 million for a new gym and an addition $2.2 million if a gymnastics facility is added. If a balcony is added, that would cost about $2 million more, and it would require the installation of an elevator.

Board members discussed whether the fifth-grade addition needed a dedicated science classroom, too. Middle School Principal Mark Miley said that he sees that “momentum is building on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).”

It could be more difficult to add science space later if it’s not included in the addition, he said.

Board members continued to have questions about some other aspects of the plan.

A field house at the high school had been discussed earlier in the process, and board member Jackie Saulsbury said there is a Vision 2040 committee discussing a field house and working on raising money for one.

Board Chairman Mike Carlson said the district will likely need to move ahead with its own plans before the committee was ready.

“How long would we have to wait for funding,” he asked. “It could be years; the timing’s not great for educational needs.” While some athletic facilities are needed, he added, the main priority for the board must be education.

Another issue the board will discuss next is how to handle the early childhood and adult education programs at Jefferson Learning Center. Youngquist was asked to get more information about their needs and how the district could accommodate them. The Jefferson building, at 1234 Kandiyohi Ave. S.W, is quite old, and its boilers are beyond their useful life.

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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