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Ridgewater College President Douglas Allen, center back, speaks to a group Friday morning alongside the site where new program space will be constructed. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

Ridgewater College starts work on $17.8M expansion, remodeling

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WILLMAR -- A dozen technical programs at Ridgewater College in Willmar will have new or remodeled facilities in the coming years.

College officials held the official groundbreaking Friday morning for a multi-year expansion, remodeling and demolition project.

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The $17.8 million construction plan will be done in two phases. The groundbreaking kicked off the first, $3.5 million portion of the project. Work on that phase is expected to be done in October 2010.

The school received bonding money from the 2008 Legislature for the first phase. School officials expect to receive the remaining $14.5 million from the 2010 Legislature.

The funding will allow the college to tear down some buildings that date back to the 1950s, when an Air Force Base was located there. The school opened in the early 1960s.

The 1950s buildings were not designed to be part of a school and are inadequate for the school's needs.

"We really are taking a step forward in providing our students and faculty with spaces designed for teaching and learning," said Ridgewater President Douglas Allen.

In all, the college plans to demolish 23,000 square feet of outdated buildings; remodel 77,000 square feet of existing space; and build 9,500 square feet of new facilities.

The project will improve facilities for 12 programs that account for 56 percent of all students enrolled in technical programs on the Willmar campus. The programs affected include agriculture, continuing education, carpentry, electronics and electrician.

The first phase of the project will add new space for the insurance claim representative program and for customized training programs. Reconstruction of the ventilation systems serving the cosmetology area, demolition of 1950s buildings and remodeling for the electrician program are also included.

The second phase of the project will give Ridgewater a more cohesive layout.

The campus used to be two separate schools, a community college and a technical college. The state merged the two in the 1990s, but there is still some duplicated space. Two administration buildings sit side by side.

In the second phase the college will renovate space for agriculture and veterinary technology programs, redesign the student services areas and create a new campus entrance with a reconfigured drive and parking lot. The second phase also includes demolition of buildings that are old or in poor condition.

Allen said he appreciated the support for the project from local legislators, including former Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, and current Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar.

School officials are confident the Legislature will provide the funding needed to complete the work, because lawmakers wouldn't have funded the first phase if they didn't intend to finish the project, Allen said.

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