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Construction delays postpone opening of new Willmar elementary school

Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo The opening of Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar has been delayed.

WILLMAR — Construction delays will postpone the opening of the new Lakeland Elementary School, Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm said Monday.

Holm told the Willmar School Board about the delay at the board's meeting Monday.

The board also approved a two-year contract Monday with Education Minnesota-Willmar, which will expire June 30.

In other business, the board voted to declare a vacancy on the board due to the death of Chairman Jared Anez. Anez, 45, died unexpectedly the morning of March 14 after working out at a Willmar gym. He had been elected chairman in January and had served on the board since January 2015.

Vice Chairman Mike Reynolds opened the meeting with a moment of silence for Anez.

"He should be sitting in this chair and not me," he said in a voice thick with emotion. "I'll try to carry on some of the work I know he was passionate about. We'll have a successful school year. He will be missed."

The board took no action on naming a successor. Holm said he was still seeking information about how the board should proceed.

Lakeland Elementary had been scheduled to open in September this year. It's now expected to open in January 2018. The delay means that students will start the school year attending the district's two existing elementary schools, Roosevelt and Kennedy. Lakeland is being built to ease overcrowding at those two schools. Once Lakeland opens, the district will have three 600-student schools instead of two 900-student schools.

In a recent report to the board, construction managers said construction was 40 days behind, largely due to weather.

"Things have not gotten better," Holm said. At a meeting with construction managers about a week ago, it was clear to him that "there is no way that we're going to have staff and students in the building for the beginning of the year."

In addition to other problems, the building was slowed by a delay in selecting a site and in receiving design drawings. Some contractor errors were caught which needed to be rectified.

While the new schedule is disappointing, Holm reminded board members that the school's construction schedule for the school has been "aggressive," considering the referendum in which voters approved bonding to pay for the building was conducted in May 2015.

Holm said he has shared the information with the district's elementary staff and with the preschool staff at Jefferson Learning Center. He and administrators will be meeting this week to work on plans for the first part of the school year and the mid-year move.

Parents can expect to hear more information after some of the planning has taken place, he said.

"I wish it was better news, and I wish we had more specifics worked out," he said. "It will be a temporary time of stress during the transition, but in the end we are going to be in a much better place, having buildings that are a much more manageable size."

A goal in the planning will be to cause the least disruption to the elementary school children, he said.

In that regard, students who will be attending Lakeland can expect to start the school year with the teacher they will have at Lakeland, though they will attend Roosevelt or Kennedy at first. The whole classroom will move together to Lakeland, which should help the students through the transition, Holm said.

Holm said he expects the district will hold meetings for Lakeland parents as planning moves along.

"They may need to be patient," he said, because he wants to be able to answer most of their questions before scheduling the meetings.

The board approved the 2015-17 contract with Education Minnesota-Willmar on a unanimous vote. The union had approved the contract last week.

The new contract, which covers teacher pay from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2017, includes raises based on teachers' experience levels for the entire bargaining unit. In addition, teachers will receive raises of 2 percent in the first year of the contract and 1 percent in the second year. The entire settlement will cost the district an addition $1.43 million.

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

(320) 214-4340
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