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City, school conduct regular review of Community Ed & Rec

Erica Dischino / Tribune The Willmar Community Ed and Rec department helps hold the fourth through sixth grade Girls Volleyball League, which held practice Thursday at Kennedy Elementary School.1 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Fourth grade student Brielle Ogdahl passes the ball during volleyball practice for the fourth through sixth grade Girls Volleyball League, one of the many programs held through Willmar Community Ed and Rec, Thursday at Kennedy Elementary School.2 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Fourth grade student Kyah Butterfield passes the ball during volleyball practice for the fourth through sixth grade Girls Volleyball League, one of the many programs held through Willmar Community Ed and Rec, Thursday at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar.3 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Fourth grade student Brielle Ogdahl practices her “block” while the rest of the team watches while waiting for their turn Thursday at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar. The Girls Volleyball League, which is available to fourth through sixth grade girls, is one of the many programs hosted through Willmar Community Ed and Rec. 4 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Young athletes pass volleyballs back and forth during a practice for the fourth through sixth grade Girls Volleyball League, one of the many programs held through Willmar Community Ed and Rec, Thursday at Kennedy Elementary School. 5 / 6
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Leo Louwagie, left, and Jens Skalbeck participate a Willmar Community Education and Recreation tennis camp at Willmar Middle School in this July 2016 file photo. 6 / 6

WILLMAR — Every three years the city of Willmar and Willmar Public Schools review the merger of the city's leisure services and the school's community education programs, which formed Willmar Community Education and Recreation in 2000.

"That time frame happens in October this year, which is why we are having this discussion now," said Steve Brisendine, the director of Willmar Community Education and Recreation. Brisendine gave a presentation on the merger during the Oct. 2 meeting of the Willmar City Council.

Willmar Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Holm gave a similar report Monday to the Willmar School Board.

Brisendine feels the review, which is ongoing between the city and school district, gives both parties a chance to look into how the merger is working, and what, if any, changes should be made. This is especially timely now, as Brisendine announced he plans to retire in June 2018 and a replacement will need to be found.

"If indeed this is still the right thing to do, regarding these two programs and if this merger still fits these entities," Brisendine said.

Both parties evoked the 12-month exit clause in the joint powers agreement when they began to review the merger in July, just in case the decision is made to disband the joint powers. The agreement states if either party is thinking of leaving the joint powers, the party must give 12 months' notice. There have been no decisions made yet about the future of Willmar Community Education and Recreation.

Both the city and school have a long history of providing recreation and community education programs. The city has had a recreation department since at least the early 1940s, Brisendine said, and oversaw many programs including youth and adult sports, arts and crafts and park games and programs. The school's community education department started in 1975 and programming included early education, adult basic education and youth and adult enrichment.

The merger between the two parties brought all the programming and services under one roof.

"A one-stop shop for consumers, with thoughts to reduce the duplication of programming and providing a collaborative approach in regards to programming and use of facilities," Brisendine said.

Brisendine said he believes the merger was the right thing to do at the time and has worked well for the past 17 years. However, more and more responsibilities have fallen on the director, making it difficult to give every aspect of the job the diligence it deserves.

"It is not the easiest job on any given day. There are a lot of things that need attention," Brisendine said.

When the city and school seek his replacement, he recommends looking at both internal and external candidates. The review of the merger also gives them a chance to look closely at the director's responsibilities and see if changes need to be made.

"There are things you might have to look at in the future, to streamline the amount of work this position does," Brisendine said.

Willmar City Councilor Julie Asmus, who sits on the board of the Willmar Community Center, would like to see more coordination with Willmar Community Education and Recreation when it comes to that facility, and perhaps a full-time city staff person.

"I feel there has been some disconnect," Asmus said. "We need to work on improving that and having more visibility with the Community Center."

Brisendine said he agrees with Asmus that the Community Center could probably benefit from more city attention. However, he feels the city has been doing what it can as times change.

Programming and events there are increasing and diversifying, and Brisendine said decisions would need to be made about how the Community Center will look and operate in the future.

"Everything has an evolution to it, and I think that is where we are at with that facility," Brisendine said.

While there are matters to look at when it comes to Willmar Community Education and Recreation and its future, for Councilor Andrew Plowman at least, who has young children, the merger has been a success.

"The process seems pretty simple and seamless. What you are doing, and what has been done is working," Plowman said. "It has been a good community service to us and our family. I imagine that is citywide."

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