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Minnesota West drops plans to raze building

A citizens group calling itself the “Friends of the Minnesota West Granite Falls campus” organized to speak against a $3.35 million proposal to raze a building that is the newest portion of the technical and community college. Jeff Muhl (left), co-chair of the group, visits with State Rep. Mary Sawatzky, Greg Holmstrom and Mayor Dave Smiglewski of Granite Falls during a tour of the school’s facilities Tuesday. Tom Cherveny/Forum News Service

GRANITE FALLS — Minnesota West Community and Technical College will be hiring a consultant to look at its strategy to “right size’’ its campuses, according to Richard Shrubb, president.

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He said Wednesday that Minnesota West is no longer pursuing a bonding proposal that sought funds to tear down the so-called “300 building” on its campus in Granite Falls.

His comments came one day after more than 40 community residents were joined by state legislators, as well as local city and county officials, to form a “Friends of the Minnesota West Granite Falls campus.’’

The group was organized to promote the campus and especially to persuade the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System to drop the plans to raze the 300 building, which is the newest building on the campus. The group wants the school to explore new educational uses for it, or lease it to nonprofit organizations in the community.

The building is an asset to the campus and community and too important to lose, according to Jeff Muhl, who agreed to co-chair the local preservation effort with David Yeager, a former instructor.

“We have to demonstrate the asset value of the 300 building,’’ said Muhl, owner of Cutting Edge Industrial Technology in Granite Falls, when speaking at the organizational meeting.

Until recently, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System bonding proposal for the Minnesota West campuses included a request for funds to raze the 300 building. The proposal sought $3.35 million to remove the 300 building and relocate the fluid power program, which occupies a portion of the building.

The request was part of the system’s effort to reduce the costs for maintaining buildings, as more programs are offered online and there are fewer students in buildings.

Minnesota West Community and Technical College has five southwestern Minnesota campuses: Canby, Granite Falls, Jackson, Pipestone and Worthington.

Shrubb said Minnesota West is in the early stages of looking for a consultant to help it examine its buildings on all campuses and develop a plan. He said it will likely take months before a report is completed, and an actual plan might not be developed until late this year or early 2015.

He said it is possible the 300 building could be maintained but leased to a nonprofit organization, as some in the newly formed Friends group are asking, he said.

The campaign to urge Minnesota West to keep the building was organized after Yeager wrote a letter to the editor in the Granite Falls-Clarkfield Advocate-Tribune expressing his concerns about its possible loss.

His concerns struck a chord: Yellow Medicine County, the Yellow Medicine East School District, and the Economic Development Agency of the city of Granite Falls are among the entities that approved a resolution formally asking Minnesota West to reconsider its plans to raze the building, according to information presented Tuesday. Chippewa County and the city of Granite Falls will be considering the resolution at upcoming meetings.

At Tuesday’s organizational meeting, Granite Falls Mayor David Smiglewski said the campaign should focus on halting the bonding request. He likened the situation to the time when then-Gov. Arne Carlson admonished lawmakers not to lose the Minnesota Twins.

“You don’t want to lose assets,’’ said Smiglewski. He noted that the 300 building, built during the 1970s and expanded in the 1980s, is in excellent condition and easily has several decades of useful life ahead.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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