Willmar Public Schools may rent part of WEAC to court system during pandemic; waiting for state guidance on fall classes

Willmar school officials have been talking pandemic issues in recent weeks: The school district may rent out the Willmar Education and Arts Center for court proceedings, and officials are thinking ahead to the fall and awaiting state guidance.


WILLMAR — The Kandiyohi County District Court may rent large spaces in the Willmar Education and Arts Center to conduct trials during the pandemic.

The Willmar School Board at Monday’s board meeting discussed a potential rental agreement with the county.

Superintendent Jeff Holm said he was approached about using the auditorium and rehearsal hall.

"We would be using the space for off-site jury trials to allow for proper safety and social distancing for our jurors that are brought in to serve," Katie Bloch, court administrator for Kandiyohi County, said in an email.

The school district’s attorney drafted a tentative agreement that he has sent to the court officials, Holm said, and he is awaiting a response.


The board gave Holm the go-ahead to continue negotiating the agreement. The board could vote on it at its July meeting.

Holm and board members expressed some concerns to address in an agreement.

The district’s primary concern would be about safety and security, Holm said. In addition to being a performing arts center and art gallery, WEAC houses the school district’s administrative offices.

The space might be needed once or twice a month, and the district would receive advance notice, Holm said. The draft agreement included a security plan from the county and security sweeps when the building is in use.

No court proceedings would be allowed if students were present in the building. Students don’t attend classes in WEAC normally, but if the district needed to use the building to provide social distancing for its own students, the agreement would be ended, he said.

Another concern for the district — “people who have committed certain offenses can’t be on school property,” Holm said, and that is in the draft agreement.

Board member Michael O’Brien said he would want to know whether defendants would be facing misdemeanor or felony charges.

Board members asked who would be responsible for maintenance of the area.


Holm said the agreement would be a rental agreement. “We’d be responsible to prepare things and clean up after, like any other rental,” Holm said.

Board member Mary Amon asked if people from court activities would have access to the rest of the building.

A final agreement should answer many of their questions, Holm said.

In other business, Holm told board members a group of administrators and teachers have been meeting to discuss what could happen in the fall. Bus companies and other staff members were to join in this week.

“We felt it would be good to have some framework in place, so people can take July and catch their breath, so we aren’t starting from zero in August,” he said.

When schools were closed across the state in mid-March, districts had just days to plan for distance learning, Holm said. Discussing possible scenarios now could help

The Minnesota Department of Education has said it will offer guidance for the next school year the week of July 27. “They don’t know any more than the group of us what the circumstances will be around the pandemic at that time,” Holm said.

“Like most superintendents and educators, I feel I’m a little boggled by what fall might look like,” Holm said.


He has heard talk of hybrid, small class sizes with alternating schedules. “That sounds like a good idea until you think about the logistics,” like transportation costs, he said.

Willmar Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Holm is shown Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Willmar Education and Arts Center. Erica DIschino / West Central Tribune

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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