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Lakeland Elementary: Willmar's new school finally open

Erica Dischino / Tribune The Anez siblings -- Sullivan, from left, Sam, Savannah and Lawson -- cut the ribbon Tuesday to mark the opening day of Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar. They cut the ribbon in honor of their father, Jared Anez, Willmar School Board chairman who died unexpectedly in March 2017.1 / 4
Erica Dischino / Tribune Gretchen Baumgarn, the Lakeland Elementary School principal, holds the ribbon Tuesday for the ribbon cutting ceremony on the opening day of Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar. 2 / 4
Erica Dischino / Tribune Lakeland student Sullivan Anez holds scissors to cut the ribbon Tuesday at the ceremony held on the opening day of Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar. Anez and his siblings cut the ribbon in honor of their father, Jared Anez, Willmar School Board chairman who died unexpectedly in March 2017.3 / 4
Erica Dischino / Tribune Melissa Wilson, the Lakeland Elementary School assistant principal, holds the ribbon for the ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday, the opening day of Willmar's new elementary school.4 / 4

WILLMAR — It didn't seem to take long for students to settle in on their first school day at Lakeland Elementary School.

When school and community officials showed up for a 10:30 a.m. ribbon cutting Tuesday, the halls were quiet, and the classrooms were full. Food and Nutrition Director Annette Derouin, on her way to the cafeteria, said the first breakfast had gone well in the new building.

A group of children, each with a book in hand, followed their teacher from the second-floor media center back to their classroom. Kids were playing in the gym, because the wind chill was too cold to use the playground.

It was too chilly for an outdoor ribbon cutting, too. In the school's entrance hall, Sullivan and Lawson Anez cut the broad red ribbon, joined by their older siblings Sam and Savannah. Their father is the late Jared Anez, Willmar School Board chairman who died unexpectedly in March 2017.

Superintendent Jeff Holm welcomed the group and said, "We should acknowledge citizens of Willmar for the investment they've made in our system." An open house for the public will be held later this month.

Voters approved building the school in a May 2015 referendum. The bond OK'd by the voters also paid for other additions, maintenance and remodeling projects throughout the district.

Holm joined the district in July 2015, and he said it "would not have happened without the leadership of (retired superintendent Jerry) Kjergaard and the board at that time."

Holm thanked former and current board members and school staff members that worked on different aspects of the construction.

Board Chairman Mike Reynolds said a town like Willmar opens a new school "maybe once in a generation." He said he hopes the kids in the school on its first day would tell their children and grandchildren about the experience.

After the ribbon cutting, Kjergaard said he wanted to thank the community as well. The $52.35 million bond was approved on the first try, something that hadn't happened before in the Willmar district, he said. A little more than half the total was spent on the new building.

"I think it's a really grand-looking building; a good educational facility," he said.

Several former and current board members attended the ribbon cutting.

"It's a beautiful school, very functional," said board member Laura Warne. It's good to have the new school on the east side of the city, she added. "It complements the (YMCA)."

Former board members Liz VanDerBill and Jackie Saulsbury said they were excited to see the school open. "This is amazing," VanDerBill said.

Saulsbury said she was impressed with the traffic patterns when she dropped off her daughter for school that morning. Her daughter, in first grade, was excited to be going to the new school, she added.

Board member Linda Mathiasen said she was pleased that the district has a school that was designed for young students. Roosevelt and Kennedy elementary schools were originally designed for older students.

Mathiasen and others said they like the school's visibility from the Highway 71/23 bypass. "People driving through our community can feel welcomed and see that new families are coming to our community," she said.

The school will be available for other community activities, too. It was designed so that the academic wing of the building can be closed, allowing other events to use the commons/cafeteria area and the gym.

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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