Since 2015, voters in west central Minnesota have approved more than $230 million in school construction projects.

New buildings, additions and remodeling are under construction or have been finished in the Willmar, New London-Spicer, Litchfield, MACCRAY, Paynesville Area, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and other districts.

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The projects have brought with them economic activity during construction, and should have long-term effects on the school districts and their communities.

Patronizing businesses throughout the district

One such project is under construction in Clara City for MACCRAY Public Schools.

MACCRAY senior Noah Strassberg, right, listens to welders from Spartan Steel of St. Bonifacius explain their work. Noah, who is interested in becoming a welder, was able to do a job shadow at the school construction site in Clara City in August 2021. Contributed
MACCRAY senior Noah Strassberg, right, listens to welders from Spartan Steel of St. Bonifacius explain their work. Noah, who is interested in becoming a welder, was able to do a job shadow at the school construction site in Clara City in August 2021. Contributed
The district is building a preK-5 elementary school on the high school campus in Clara City. The existing secondary school will get an auditorium, two new gyms and a career technology center. It will be remodeled to develop a middle school for grades 6-8.

Chad Forkrud, president of Citizens Alliance Bank of Clara City, said the MACCRAY project has generated lots of activity in Clara City since it started.

“It brings traffic to town,” he said. “I would say a new school is good for all the towns.” MACCRAY, a consolidation of the former Maynard, Clara City and Raymond schools, will close older elementary schools in Maynard and Raymond when the project is complete.

MACCRAY Superintendent Sherri Broderius said people working on the project have patronized businesses throughout the district, not just in Clara City.

“I hear a lot about great meals being eaten,” she said. One worker rented an apartment in one of the communities for the duration of the project.

In August, a foreman spent the weekend in the area, attending the Maynard Rodeo and the Raymond Harvest Festival, she said.

She doesn’t have a way to gauge the financial impact, she said, “but when I see them in town doing business, I’m happy.”

MACCRAY Schools Superintendent Sherri Broderius
MACCRAY Schools Superintendent Sherri Broderius
Broderius said local companies have done subcontracting on the project, and some companies have employees who live in the district. Appliances for the school’s family and consumer sciences classroom kitchen were ordered from Sweep Hardware in Clara City.

Broderius said she enjoyed introducing an electrical foreman, a MACCRAY graduate, to the staff the first day they were back.

The project has provided a chance for students to learn about potential careers, too.

A girl interested in being an architect and a boy interested in welding were able to job-shadow professionals working on the building. The pros spent time with the students, answering questions and letting them observe.

The long-term impact for the community will be big, Broderius said.

With more gym space, the school will be able to host sports tournaments. “We’ll have enough space so our families don’t always have to drive,” she said.

The school will have an auditorium, and “we’re hoping that brings everybody together to enjoy concerts, Veterans Day programs, plays.”

Students will be able to perform on a stage instead of a gym floor, “to be able to have the right acoustics, quality microphones, so people can hear what the kids are doing,” she said.

Forward-thinking vision for future students, residents

Paynesville Area Schools opened a remodeling and expansion project at the beginning of the school year.

Paynesville Area Schools Superintendent Janell Bullard
Paynesville Area Schools Superintendent Janell Bullard
Superintendent Janell Bullard, who joined the district last summer, said she couldn’t take credit for the project. However, she appreciates “the forward-thinking vision, and I know it can meet the needs of the community in the future and right now.”

The project includes a community center, which gives the school and the community more room for athletic tournaments and community events. There’s a new wrestling room, a walking track and an expanded fitness center with some on-demand space for the public.

An updated career and technical education area integrates current technology in welding, carpentry and automotive areas. The school has a room equipped for teaching a certified nursing assistant course.

A coffee shop will be run by students, who will staff the shop, order supplies and fill orders.

“It gives kids the opportunity to understand marketing and the finance of business,” Bullard said.

Work on indoor air quality will continue this year at Paynesville Area Elementary School.

Investments now pay dividends down the road

Aaron Backman, executive director of the Willmar/Kandiyohi County Economic Development
Aaron Backman, executive director of the Willmar/Kandiyohi County Economic Development
Investments in schools can pay dividends for a school district and the community, said Aaron Backman, executive director of the Willmar/Kandiyohi County Economic Development.

If local contractors are involved in the work, the money they and their employees are paid circulates several times throughout the community.

“I pass by Lakeland Elementary every day, and I think to myself how fortunate we are to have a brand-new facility like that,” he said. Lakeland opened several years ago, the major project in Willmar’s $53 million building program approved in 2015.

The project developers he works with don’t have that many questions about schools and community amenities, he said, but the employees a new business can bring to town are very interested in schools, medical facilities and basic community services.

Ken Warner, Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Willmar, Minnesota
Submitted photo
Ken Warner, Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Willmar, Minnesota Submitted photo
“When we’re out trying to recruit businesses, one of the first questions is ‘how is your school system,’ ... most people want to see new and improved,” said Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I think it’s always a positive sign for a community when they see action, construction going on,” Warner said. “Even if it’s remodeling, it’s progress.”

This story was originally published in the West Central Tribune's IMPACT edition on Oct. 23, 2021. More stories in this section can be found at https://issuu.com/westcentraltribune/docs/impact_2021