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Winona State to float new classroom boat

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WINONA, Minn. (AP) — Winona State University is launching a boat that will serve as a floating classroom for students.

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It's the second such effort for Winona State, which operated a floating houseboat in the 2000s before the Coast Guard ruled it out of code.

The university announced this week that that it's secured enough funding to begin work on the Dr. Calvin R. Fremling Floating Interpretive Center and Classroom. Winona State will use the 49-passenger boat primarily for field-based biology classes, as well as general environment and science classes.

Fremling was a longtime professor of biology at Winona State and renowned Mississippi River expert who died in 2010 at age 80.

"I know that Cal would be absolutely overwhelmed," said his widow, Arlayne. "Because of his love of the river, students and research. He just loved to be a part of student life."

Jim Schmidt, Winona State's outgoing vice president for advancement, said the university has raised $550,000 for the boat and is creating an endowment to cover operating costs.

"People in the Winona community and our alumni have been extraordinarily generous," Schmidt said. "A lot of money came from people who wanted to pay tribute to Cal Fremling's work."

Winona State hopes to have the boat in the water and ready for use by spring 2014, the Winona Daily News reported.

SkipperLiner out of La Crosse, Wis., is working on the design for the boat, which will be accessible for disabled students and staff, Schmidt said. The university also plans to work with Visit Winona and other local groups to create classes and events for the boat.

The boat isn't the university's first attempt at providing education on the river. It acquired a houseboat in the early 2000s for use as a floating classroom. But when the interstate bridge was closed in 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard came to Winona to inspect the ferries transporting people across the river and discovered the boat was out of code, and Winona State sold it.

Since then, the school has been working to get a boat back on the river — one that's Coast Guard-approved, Schmidt said.

"It was a very successful venture," Schmidt said. "We've had a five-year, pent-up demand to buy another boat."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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