Willmar, Minn., Middle School ready to remodel aging science rooms

WILLMAR -- Hardly anything in the Willmar Middle School classrooms meets current building codes, and conducting lab experiments can be a challenge. That's why the school is moving to remodel four of the rooms over the next two summers. The remode...

Owl pellets
Olivia Welsch, 12, left, Zoe Nonweiler, 13, and Reanne Warwick, 13, students in Randy Frederickson’s seventh grade science class, carefully reveal the contents of owl pellets Tuesday in one of the Willmar Middle School science classrooms. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR - Hardly anything in the Willmar Middle School classrooms meets current building codes, and conducting lab experiments can be a challenge.

That’s why the school is moving to remodel four of the rooms over the next two summers. The remodeling project is expected to cost $360,000.

The project will give seventh- and eighth-graders updated science classrooms. Some improvements will be made to the rooms used by sixth-graders, too.

So far, school officials have about $245,000 for the project including a $65,000 donation from Jennie-O Turkey Store and $180,000 from the school district’s annual capital outlay budget.

Principal Mark Miley said they will continue to look for other sources of funding, but the current plan is to finish two rooms this summer and finish in another year.


“We’ll do whatever we have money for,” said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard. The district’s capital funding for this summer is earmarked for projects, but there’s a possibility some funding will be available in next year’s budget.

“It’s an investment into the kids,” Miley said, and the growing partnership with Jennie-O is a good part of the project. “We want them to know we are very appreciative. … We’re hoping to use their professionals to come into our classrooms and work with our kids.”

Middle School science department chairman Mike Dokkebakken outlined some of the ways the existing rooms fall short of current needs and what students will see after the work is done.

The science classrooms have not been updated since the building was built in the 1960s, he said.

They aren’t big enough for the number of students they serve, according to today’s standards, and they are cramped and ill-equipped for conducting experiments. Teachers teach the full curriculum, and kids are learning about science, but the classes have to make adjustments to deal with the rooms’ limitations.

Natural gas to the lab stations was cut off years ago because of deteriorating lines. Many of the sinks don’t work anymore, and the ones that do are small and narrow.

The old wood lab tables with the black tops were removed in recent years because they were becoming unstable, Dokkebakken said.

Counter space is inadequate and only some parts of the room can have electrical power for experiments.


The remodeling has been developed to make use of existing infrastructure where possible, he said.

By removing large storage rooms between classrooms, each room will be made six feet longer, he said, and two long permanent lab stations with stools will give each student a 2-by-3 workspace. Their workspaces now are about 2-by-2.

The lab tables will have electricity and “we will have gas again for the eighth grade,” he said. The classrooms will have hot and cold water again and safety equipment will be updated.

Some existing cabinetry will be used in the sixth-grade science rooms or repurposed in the department’s storage areas.

An important part of the work will be abatement of asbestos. In older buildings, some building materials may contain asbestos which isn’t a danger unless they are disturbed.

Kjergaard said he believes the Middle School needs “real science rooms,” and he’s glad they are ready to go with the remodeling.

Miley said the science classrooms are another sign of partnerships the school has been building in the community. Some students have also worked on science projects at the MinnWest Technology Campus this year, too.

“We hope the investment will in turn produce the students that will somebody have those jobs,” 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: or phone 320-214-4340
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