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School Board may move forward on Middle School addition at Monday meeting

The Willmar School Board will consider moving ahead with an addition to the southwest corner of Willmar Middle School.

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A file photo of the Willmar Public Schools sign at the Willmar Education and Arts Center, where the administration offices are located.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Plans are taking shape once again for an addition to the southwest corner of Willmar Middle School.

The Willmar School Board is set to discuss the plan at its 4:30 p.m. meeting Monday at the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

The board is scheduled to approve moving forward with the developing construction documents at the meeting. The board will review the plan that is to be sent to the Minnesota Department of Education’s review and comment process.

Planning for the project was put on hold in spring 2020 because of the pandemic. Discussion started again in recent months.

The 42,000-square-foot addition would be a joint project with the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative, based in Marshall. The cooperative plans to seek state bonding money to help pay for its part of the project.

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The school district plans to add a gymnasium to a school with inadequate physical education space. It will also add rooms for an alternative learning center.

After a pandemic pause, Willmar and the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative are talking again about a potential Willmar Middle School addition to benefit both of them — more gym space and alternative learning classrooms for the school district and space for the cooperative to run program for high-needs special education students.

School officials have decided that middle school-aged students should not attend the Area Learning Center at Garfield School with high school students.

However, there isn’t an adequate space for those students in the district. They currently study in the basement of Jefferson Learning Center, a space Superintendent Jeff Holm has called "marginally appropriate."

The cooperative provides a variety of special education services for school districts in the area. That includes educational learning centers for high needs special education students.

The current center in Willmar is on the MinnWest Technology campus. The space was not designed for education programs, and is inadequate for the program, which has been growing.

The Middle School location would allow for shared uses in physical education, food service and custodial service.

Funding for the project is expected to come from several sources.

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The school district plans to use funding from its unreserved, undesignated general fund balance. The Department of Education has already approved the use of some pandemic relief funds for the project, too.

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Total cost is estimated to be about $16 million, including $11 million in participation bonds issued by the district.

State bonding money, if it’s approved by the Legislature, would help fund the cooperative’s portion of the project. Lease payments for the 23,640 square feet used by the cooperative will also go toward retiring the bonds.

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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