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W-DC school building project to be completed in two phases

Kylen Eggert, Blake Maruna and Ashlyn Rach stand at the milk cooler outside the serving line at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School last week. The serving line would be changing as part of the renovations coming to the school this summer. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Plans to renovate the Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School and adjoining Memorial Auditorium have changed slightly to allow the work to be completed in two phases over the next two years.

Superintendent Lee Westrum and Elementary Principal Louis Rutten updated the school board on the elementary building project at the last regular board meeting.

Westrum said work would be done in two-phases, since there is too much work to manage during one summer.

"I think what they came up with was there is so much work to be done that they didn't want to be tripping over each other," Westrum said. This change will mean staff would only have to make one move instead of multiple moves in the process of the renovation.

Architects for the project are working on specs with plans to have final bids by the end of January. At one point there were eight engineers on site evaluating the work to be done.

The phases are broken down as such:

Summer 2018

Summer 2018 work will involve the cafeteria serving lines and cafeteria bathrooms; the 1949 wing and the 1953 wing (except for the upper and lower level classrooms) along with asbestos abatement and boiler replacement.

The cafeteria project is one that will help students move through the cafeteria faster, according to elementary principal Louis Rutten. The current method feeds students through one single-file line, taking 10-12 minutes for a group to pass through. And with 450-470 students to feed, it can take some time.

"I think we can be more efficient," Rutten said.

The new plan creates two points of entry for two food locations. Don't worry about missing out on a different food as both lines are expected to serve the same food.

Bathrooms being added where the current Kids Club room is means there will actually be a bathroom near the cafeteria, rather than just those near the north entrance. And in a corridor between the bathrooms, students will be able to access hand washing areas as they come and go.

The boiler replacement will change steam heat over to hot water heat, in an effort to improve heating of the school. Asbestos removal, while it may not create major efficiencies, will create a more healthy environment.

Summer 2019

The 2019 summer projects will include the '53 upper and lower level, the '91 wing, the

auditorium, the playground and the bus pickup/drop-off area.

The bus pickup/drop-off area involves removing two structures now to the south of the school. Both are now owned by the school. One was recently a residence and the other was home to Kids Club and staff offices. Those using the Kids Club building will find a new home in the elementary school. The removal of those will help with congested parking the school now experiences.

Utilities are also planned to be updated, including a sewer utility to the school and a utility area for a sprinkler system. The green space around the school will all be watered by the new system.

Throughout the building, windows will be updated, roofing will be replaced, classrooms will be renovated and school security is planned to be improved, Rutten said. The work will be done during the summer months to avoid disrupting class and for safety.

A closer look at those projects gives a picture at how the community was heard in the listening sessions. In the sessions, the shared priorities across the community, staff, city council and school board included updates to heating and ventilation, plumbing/washroom, windows and doors, parking, security, cafeteria and the playground.

If all goes as planned with building bonds for the project, the school would have the funds by Feb. 8.

"It's exciting," Westrum said of the project. "I think it's going to be quite a transformation when we get it all done."

The move to update rather than build new came largely because of the gymnasium and auditorium on site, features that not many elementary schools can boast about, Rutten said.

District voters passed a $5.3 million building bond vote in November to improve health and safety and modernize portions of the W-DC Elementary School that have been used for decades.

The school board had already voted to put $9.45 million into the W-DC Elementary building before the Nov. 7 balloting. A portion of those dollars ($3,630,000) comes from the state's Long-Term Facilities Maintenance Fund. Ehlers Financial sold $9.45 million in general obligation facilities maintenance bonds for the district in September.

The district has an agreement with the city of Wadena to pay 29 percent of the debt service on improvements to Memorial Auditorium, which is also attached to the elementary school.

Michael Johnson

Johnson is a graduate of Verndale Public School. He earned his associate's degree from Central Lakes College with an emphasis in English and natural resources. He earned his bachelor's degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he graduated cum laude in 2008. While there, he double-majored in English and Print Journalism. He's reported for The Advocate, student newspaper of MSUM; The Barnesville Record Review in Barnesville, Minn.; Clay County Historical Society in Moorhead, Minn.; Gillette News Record in Gillette Wyo.; Underwood News in Underwood, N.D.; and The Leader-News in Washburn, N.D. and the Brainerd Dispatch in Brainerd, Minn. Johnson has worked as a reporter for the Pioneer Journal and Perham Focus since Nov. 2017.

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