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Windom considering new school, other building projects

WINDOM — A survey to gauge the public’s attitude toward a possible new elementary school, as well as a variety of other potential Independent School District 177 building projects and educational facility needs, is live.

This week, households and property owners within the Windom Area School District should have received a 15-question survey by mail or email. The independently conducted survey asks respondents whether or not — and to what financial extent — they’d support a bond referendum for various projects. It closes Jan. 19.

“I would appreciate everybody taking the time to fill out the survey so we know how they’re feeling and how they see this process going forward,” Board of Education Chair Joan Hunter said.

The survey, which is accompanied by an explanation, asks respondents if they would support replacing Winfair Elementary and building a new approximately $26.3 million facility to house pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. It also asks respondents if they’d support funding a career and technical education center estimated up to $3 million; a performing arts center estimated up to $6 million; or an expansion of the band and choir classrooms estimated up to $2.2 million.

If a household needs more surveys or digital codes, they may be requested by calling the district at (507) 831-6901 (extension 513).

The survey is the result of more than three years of research and planning.

In 2014, the district conducted facility assessments of Highland, Winfair Elementary and the middle school. A consensus study was conducted shortly thereafter, which projected the district’s enrollment will continue to climb.

From there two task forces, a 24-member facility task force and — later — a 13-member community-based task force met frequently to evaluate and discuss the district’s facility needs.

“There’s been a lot of time put into this,” said Angie Klassen, a Windom community member who has volunteered on the task forces since their inception to evaluate facilities and determine possible solutions to school overcrowding, particularly at Winfair Elementary.

Built in 1953 for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, Winfair Elementary now houses students in kindergarten through third grade and continues to operate beyond capacity, District 177 Superintendent Wayne Wormstadt said.

The middle school/high school building, which was intended for grades six through 12, now houses grades four through 12.

The district has also added a temporary classroom on to Winfair Elementary, which is a detached structure on a foundation that the district leases for overflow classrooms and its computer lab, Wormstadt said.

“We’ve also converted storage space for counselor offices and another storage area is being used for a conference room,” he said. “Everything is being used at Winfair. We’re out of space.”

In addition to space issues, a facility assessment by the district’s architect determined that building systems like plumbing, heating/ventilation and electrical are beyond their service life and have become more expensive to operate due to age. Other repairs are necessary to get the building up to code, including updates to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to Klassen, the task force unanimously agreed that a new elementary school should be built at an estimated cost of $26.3 million rather than updating the current one at an estimated $24.9 million.

“We wouldn’t be able to expand much more,” Klassen added as another reason the task force supported building anew rather than renovating.

If a new elementary school was built, the existing Winfair building could potentially be used by the Southwest West Central Cooperative for special education programs.

Other reconfigurations may also be possible if a new elementary is built.

The district’s preschool and early childhood family education, which the district currently leases for $84,000 per year for space at the Business Arts and Recreation Center (BARC), could move to a new elementary with adequate space.

Another potential for the preschool and early childhood programs would be to occupy Highland School, which is currently used by the Southwest West Central Cooperative. That option would require approximately $3 million to update the facility.

While Winfair Elementary is at the forefront, the task forces had other recommendations that involve updating the middle/high school.

Due to an increasing demand for jobs in manufacturing, agriculture, construction and health care, the task force recommended the district build an approximately $3 million career and technical education center onto the high school.

“We’re looking to expand those fields to help students determine if they’re interested in them, which is important since we are a rural community,” Klassen said.

Finally, the task forces recommended expanding the space for performing arts, which Klassen said the district has a significant participation rate.

They recommended one of two things happen: build an approximately $6 million performing arts center with 650-person seating to be used dually by the school and community or expand the band and choir classrooms for approximately $2.2 million.

Klassen said the task force's recommendations were reached independently and without school board or administration influence.

“(Board members and administration) answered any and all questions that we had, but they did not lead us to our decision,” Klassen said. “All these conclusions were from the community.”

Hunter said the board felt it important to get the community involved in the process.

“It does affect them and we wanted to make the right decision,” she said. “Sometimes, when you get a group together, new ideas come out of there.”

Wormstadt said the district determined surveying the population was the next realistic step rather than going straight to the polls.

“We want to see where the people are at and make adjustments from that information first,” he said.

Wormstadt said the the school board will review the survey results at a 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29 special meeting at Windom City Hall. No action will be taken at that time.

Hunter said if the board takes formal action and progress toward a referendum, it would likely occur at the board’s regular February meeting. If, after consideration, the board opts to continue forward with any of the identified projects, Wormstadt said the potential for a May or August bond referendum exists.

The current K-12 student population is at 1,050 students.

Alyssa Sobotka

Alyssa joined The Globe in July 2017 and covers education and crime beats. The Nebraska native earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In her own sarcastic tone, her blog, Aimlessly Navigating, recounts the reality, pitfalls and triumphs of a young 20-something navigating to maturity. Follow her on Twitter: @alyssasobotka