School remodeling work will wrap up Willmar's referendum projects


WILLMAR — The Willmar Public Schools' building program is moving into its final stages.

With the opening of the new Lakeland Elementary School this month, the district has completed the three major projects approved in a 2015 bond referendum. Lots of maintenance projects have been finished, including new roofs, boilers and safety improvements.

Still to be done is some planned remodeling at Kennedy and Roosevelt elementary schools and at Willmar Senior High School.

Superintendent Jeff Holm provided an update on remaining projects at a School Board workshop session this week.

Lakeland Elementary has been operating well, Holm said. A number of small problems have been found, and they are being remedied. Some work for the new building, like seeding grass on two soccer fields, has to wait until spring.

The entire building is under warranty for a year, he added.

The district has budgeted about $335,000 for remodeling in each of the three sites to be remodeled, Holm said.

He described what would be done at each site:

• Roosevelt Elementary — The outdated media center will be redone, with new paint, carpeting and movable furniture. A wall in the middle of the school office will be taken out to provide more efficient space. A wall will be removed between two classrooms to create a collaborative space, similar to collaborative learning areas at Lakeland.

• Kennedy Elementary — An area south of the large gym will be remodeled into a collaborative space. The space is currently unused, a mixture of old locker rooms and storage.

• Senior High — A hardly used area of the second floor is to be remodeled from teachers' cubicles into a large classroom and some smaller rooms to handle growing enrollment.

Architects are doing initial planning and research on the buildings before the district advertises for bids, Holm said. He expects to award contracts in the spring. Some work could begin before school ends if it wouldn't be disruptive to classes, but the bulk of it will be done in summer.

So far, the $52.35 million building program has been under budget, but the remodeling is last.

"I'm always concerned about budgets with remodeling," Holm said, and the district has already found out that some of its original remodeling ideas would be too costly.

In addition to the construction of a new elementary school, the district built science classroom additions at Willmar Middle School and a physical education/athletic addition at Willmar Senior High. Updates were made to the Senior High auditorium, now called the Brau Performing Arts Center.

About $9 million has been spent on big ticket maintenance items like roofs and boilers.

Also at the meeting this week, board members discussed a comparison of school board salaries around the state. The salary for Willmar board members has been $3,600 a year for about 20 years.

Board members have not decided whether to increase their salaries yet. They asked for comparisons and other information and expect to discuss it again at their Feb. 12 board meeting.

"You do make quite a commitment as a member of a school board," Holm told the board members. "It's quite a responsibility."