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West Learning Center assessed as potential location for child care facility

Former elementary school remains slated for demolition, but the District 518 Board of Education agreed to consider the matter further at an upcoming meeting.

West Learning Center on Turner Street in Worthington, on July 6, 2022.
West Learning Center on Turner Street in Worthington, on July 6, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — Though District 518 had intended to demolish the former West Elementary building, multiple groups have proposed repurposing it, and recently, ISG assessed it for the Southwest Initiative Foundation to see what it would take to turn it into a child care facility.

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Currently, the building now generally known as West Learning Center is temporarily housing the District 518 administration team, including Superintendent John Landgaard, as the administration office building undergoes a renovation and expansion.

Community Education, including the school’s early childhood education programs, will remain at West until the new Community Education building is complete, as will the Nobles County Integration Collaborative.

“We have the building fairly full again, but by the end of the year, (district employees) will all be moved out,” Landgaard said.

Load bearing

“Since 2000, the plan has always been to get rid of this building,” Landgaard said.

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He noted that it’s very common for people to have emotional attachments to old buildings, and that many people have suggested using West as some kind of community building or else retrofitting it into apartments.

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“The majority of the time it does not work out” when people buy old school buildings with the idea of using them for something else, Landgaard said, though he did note that local towns such as Reading and Rushmore had succeeded in their efforts.

However, West, which was built in the mid-1950s, with additions in the 1960s and 1980s, has some issues other old schools may not have. Landgaard was told the building had been built on top of dredge fill, and portions of the building are visibly settling, leaving floors uneven and sloped, walls showing cracks and door frames too warped to fit doors made with the usual 90 degree angles.

Door frames are pulling away from the wall due to West Learning Center's settling, as shown on July 21, 2022.
Door frames are pulling away from the wall due to West Learning Center's settling, as shown on July 21, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

“Structurally, the main support walls seem to be OK,” Landgaard said, pointing out that while District 518 has maintained the building, it was not maintained to the level needed to be used once again as a school — because the district did not intend to use it as a school again and didn’t want to throw taxpayer dollars into a facility destined for demolition.

The SWIF assessment calls the floor settling in the building “significant,” but also notes that “it does not appear the settlement is affecting any load-bearing walls,” and that cracks in the walls aren’t negatively affecting the roof or posing a danger.

“Some floor slab leveling may be required for accessibility reasons,” the report adds.

The lines of wall tile in this restroom at West Learning Center show how much the ground has settled, as does the crack in the floor tiling, shown on July 21, 2022.
The lines of wall tile in this restroom at West Learning Center show how much the ground has settled, as does the crack in the floor tiling, shown on July 21, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

Accessibility may be an issue elsewhere in the building as well, as standards of accessibility and federal requirements have changed significantly since 1954. Bathroom doors intended for elementary-aged children are a tight squeeze for an adult and certainly would not accommodate a wheelchair — but there are currently at least two accessible restrooms in the building.

Another issue with the floor is the tiling, which along with the adhesive sticking it down is “presumed to contain asbestos based on the age of the materials.” If testing confirms the presence of asbestos, it will need to be abated — and those tiles are in much of the facility.

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West did receive a new boiler some time in the late 2000s, and it is up to code as a public facility, Landgaard said. However, the SWIF report indicates “the mechanical systems will not adequately serve a daycare facility” and recommends replacing them.

Costs

SWIF’s report offers two different options for the facility: the demolition of 9,288 square feet and remodeling of 18,603 square feet, for a total cost of $6.2 to $6.5 million. Another option would be to demolish 4,665 square feet of the building and remodel 23,226, for a total cost of $7.3 to $7.6 million.

According to the IGS facility assessment, West Learning Center's floor tile and its associated adhesives are presumed to contain asbestos based on the age of the materials, but testing would be required to confirm its presence. If it is present, it would need to be abated in order to serve as a child care facility.
According to the IGS facility assessment, West Learning Center's floor tile and its associated adhesives are presumed to contain asbestos based on the age of the materials, but testing would be required to confirm its presence. If it is present, it would need to be abated in order to serve as a child care facility.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

Landgaard said he believed he’d been cited a figure of $17 to 18 million to bring the whole facility up to code, not including the cost of asbestos mitigation, but also noted that public schools may have different requirements and standards than a building owned by a nonprofit or other type of organization.

During its July meeting, the District 518 Board of Education agreed to discuss what to do with the former West Elementary building during its next meeting, which will begin at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16 in the Worthington High School band room.

ISG's assessment also included an analysis of the Ridgewood building, located at 1381 Ridgewood Drive.

Due to floors subsiding, some of the non-load-bearing walls in West Learning Center have settled, leaving oddly-shaped doorways like this one, photographed on July 21, 2022.
Due to floors subsiding, some of the non-load-bearing walls in West Learning Center have settled, leaving oddly-shaped doorways like this one, photographed on July 21, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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