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Floating classroom to return to Mississippi River

  • Article by: NATHAN HANSEN
  • Associated Press
  • April 12, 2014 - 12:05 AM

WINONA, Minn. — A boat bearing the namesake of one of the Mississippi River's most revered students will soon arrive in Winona to teach new generations of learners.

The structural work on the Cal Fremling, Winona State University's $1.4 million floating classroom, is nearly complete and builders at SkipperLiner in La Crosse, Wis., are confident the boat will be ready for its Winona debut in June.

Construction on the 49-passenger boat began in October, said SkipperLiner vice president of sales and marketing Gary Smith during a recent tour of the construction. Work began with raw sheets of heavy steel, and now 85 percent of the work on the more than 60-ton boat has been finished, he said, including painting WSU's colors and the name Cal Fremling.

"It's a big boat," Smith told the Winona Daily News (http://bit.ly/1qhsvFJ). "It's pretty much ready to go. Soon we'll be able to get her out in the water and crack a bottle of champagne over the hull."

Interior work is still ongoing. The boat will have standard WSU classroom features like wireless internet, flat-panel monitors and cameras for recording and streaming instruction. WSU's director of learning spaces, Thomas Hill, said there will also be an external camera feed and external fixtures for hands-on learning.

The boat is designed to operate a good distance both north and south of Winona on the Mississippi, and Hill said the technology and systems have been designed to be as flexible as possible to serve a variety of classes. Gary Evans, WSU's interim vice president for university advancement, said the Cal Fremling also will be available for use by the community for education and events.

The original and popular WSU floating classroom was decommissioned more than a decade ago after code violations were discovered. Since, Evans said, the university had been looking for options to return education to the river. With backing and financial support from Jeb Griffith and his family, fundraising and planning began in earnest and the Cal Fremling project was announced last summer.

Fundraising has covered two-thirds of the $1.4 million cost, with the WSU Foundation providing a bridge loan for the rest until additional donations have been received.

Cal Fremling, a longtime biology professor at WSU and renowned Mississippi River expert who died in 2010, had been a big supporter of the original floating classroom. Combined with his history at WSU and legacy on the river made naming the new floating classroom after him a natural decision, Evans said.

"He was not just a great scientist," Evans said. "Cal Fremling was a part of Winona and what he meant to the river. Nobody else was more deserving of this honor."

Smith said the Cal Fremling, when finished, will be inspected and water-tested a final time by the U.S. Coast Guard. Plans have the Cal Fremling arriving in Winona on June 6, with a christening and celebration scheduled for that afternoon.

"This is pretty amazing," Evans said as he looked to the Cal Fremling during the tour. "I'm anxious to see it in Winona. And I am anxious to see it on the river."

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by Winona Daily News

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