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Counteroffer coming from school board on park land at Garfield

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board has decided to send a counteroffer to the city of Willmar, which has made an offer for the southern half of the Garfield School property in southwest Willmar.

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board has decided to send a counteroffer to the city of Willmar, which has made an offer for the southern half of the Garfield School property in southwest Willmar.

The board closed its regular meeting Monday to discuss the offer. The board directed Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard to deliver the counteroffer to city officials today. The land is now used as a park.

No details of the initial offer or the counteroffer were discussed at the meeting.

The school district has also submitted a counteroffer to the Islamic Society of Willmar, which made an offer last month to purchase the northern half of the property.

The northern half includes the school building.

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The district has not released details of that offer, either.

The only information released about the counteroffer to the Islamic Society was that it sought an orderly transition for the school programs operating in the building and removal of technology equipment.

Public bodies are allowed by state law to close meetings to discuss details of property sale negotiations. The meetings are recorded, and the recordings are kept and available to the public after a sale has been completed.

A spokesman for the Islamic Society of Willmar said in August that the group wants to buy the building because its downtown mosque doesn't have enough room for the growing Somali population in Willmar. The plan would be to use the building as a place of worship and to teach religious education classes there.

The Area Learning Center, the school district's alternative high school, currently uses the Garfield building.

The ALC would be moved to the former Lincoln Elementary School in southeast Willmar if Garfield is sold. Lincoln has been heated and maintained, even though it has been empty.

Kjergaard has said in the past that he would be willing to sell either Garfield or Lincoln and use the remaining building for the ALC. He has said that he doesn't want the district to own and maintain buildings it doesn't need.

The offer on Garfield last month was the first offer received for either building.

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Lincoln has been empty for nearly two years, after a district reorganization that left two of the district's smaller buildings empty. Earlier this year, the former Washington School was sold to Affiliated Community Medical Centers.

The district had several offers on Washington before ACMC, which is located next to the building, bought it in April.

Both of the buildings are more than 80 years old. Garfield was built in 1930. It served as an elementary school for many years and has been the ALC for more than 15 years. The original section of Lincoln was built in 1924, with additions built in 1957 and 1965.

In other business, Kjergaard told the board that enrollment has dictated that the district add two teachers at each elementary school.

The board voted to cut four elementary teachers when making $1.7 million in budget cuts in spring 2010, he said.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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