A tour of Sartell’s dream school

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by Dave DeMars


The first tour of the new Sartell high school started in the parking lot of Oak Ridge Elementary School and lasted about an hour. To prepare for any future tours, be sure to bring your curiosity, a sense of wonderment and a sharp imagination.

Right now the school is a world of girders and beams, conduit and concrete and metal studs that give a vague outline of what it will be when it is finished. But it was well worth the time and energy.

Principal Brenda Steve guided one of three groups of about a dozen or so people around the outside campus area and through the partially constructed building that is scheduled to be finished in time for the 2019 fall opening.

“This is on time and on budget, so we should be moving in sometime in July,” Steve announced as she led us down the path toward Sartell’s version of the Taj Mahal.

The outside

Our tour path took us past partially finished softball and baseball fields. Slabs of concrete with conduit and pipe jutting into the air awaited the construction of walls for dugouts and warm-up areas. The field itself was green and lush and already seemed ready for the first game despite the recent heavy rains.

The base of the field was designed to drain heavy rain water away from the field and into drainage swales. The runoff will be reclaimed and treated so it can be re-used for irrigation when needed, Steve explained. Along with the baseball and softball fields were large expanses of open green areas. Buildings will be constructed for mowers and maintenance equipment, as well, because there will be lots of fields that will need mowing, Steve said.

“These are fields that we can use for everything – softball, football, lacrosse, baseball, softball if we choose to,” Steve said, “but what I am most excited about is being able to use this for our phy(s) ed green space.”

The area is accessible from several directions, Steve explained. The area is easily reached from the locker-room areas. That is a change from the situation at the present high school where fields are somewhat removed from the school. Fields at the new school will allow for better supervision.

One member of the tour group asked what will become of the old high school once the new building is finished?

Steve explained it would be shut down for a year to allow for upgrades and modifications and then reopened in the fall of 2020 for use as a middle school.

Activity and programs

As we reached a back activity entrance of the building, Steve explained entrances will be locked during school hours, and teachers and coaches will need to have access cards for those entrances. During the evenings when athletes are arriving to compete, the entrance will be open. A parking lot on this side of the building will give athletes a place to park and access the building.

Just inside the activity entrance is the pool. It’s larger than the pool in the present high school. The seating for fans has been roughed in and work continues on the pool. Across a hallway is an auxiliary gymnasium that will house a basketball area or two volleyball courts.

The main gym is much larger with three basketball areas with seating for 2,000 fans who will enter through the main doors of the high school.

“It’s a bigger space with more space between our courts than in the present school,” Steve said. “Curtains will divide the different playing areas, but we will be able to accommodate multiple courts with multiple needs.”

The space in the main gym will have suspended wrestling mats that will be lowered when needed so they will not need to roll the mats up after each use.

Steve led us down the long hallway that leads to what will eventually be a commons area. She described a series of murals that will decorate the hallway and pointed out various areas for offices, locker rooms, a lab that will house health classrooms and certified nursing assistant labs.

“We hope to produce some CNAs out of our high school, and we are partnering with some organizations right now to make that happen, so we are thrilled about that,” Steve said.

The CNA program is relatively new, but Steve said right now there is a shortage of CNAs and many students can’t get in to nursing programs without a CNA license. So the school will be helping to fill a need in the community.

One area will serve as a training room and bio-medical area.

“We have a program right now where we partner with the Orthopedic Sports Center and we have physicians and therapists who come and work with our kids who want to be physical therapists,” Steve said.

An adjacent area will house the fitness-training and weight room.

We headed down a hallway that eventually brought us to the commons and the ticketing area for entrance into sporting events in the main gymnasium. Immediately off the commons is the culinary area. It houses several kitchen areas. One is a general culinary area and the other will be set up to resemble a restaurant.

“Our students will be able to cook and serve the public or students or staff out of that space,” Steve said. “They will get some real-life experience out of that, as well.”

The commons is a multi-use area with a variety of venues occupying the space. Primarily it’s an eating area that is much bigger than the present school. The commons houses the concession stand for sporting events, a school store, a student-run coffee shop and book cases.

Book cases will be placed strategically throughout the building in various areas without having a designated “library” as was common in schools in the past.

“We decided to disperse our books throughout the building,” Steve said. “If a student wants a book, they swipe their ID, they take their book, they put it under the beeper dealy and then they have the book. They check it back in in the same way. They don’t have to go into a space that might be closed after hours. It’s similar to what they have done at the community center.”

The idea was to have books all around students and books in the classroom, which is why the new approach is being used.

Learning neighborhoods

There will be lots of glass walls allowing for observation of what is going on in the culinary areas and other areas. That will take some training and getting used to, Steve said, but it has worked in other systems, so she is optimistic it will work in Sartell.

Down the hallway just off the commons are the black-box areas. These are performance areas that can be used as classrooms, also referred to as learning studios. The focus in school is to encourage collaborative learning, hence the design of multi-use rooms and areas to allow for as much exploration of ideas and problems as possible.

“We can use this for lots of different things,” Steve said, “for performances, for classes, a great space for astronomy because it will be totally dark.”

Steve pointed out that the various learning neighborhoods – tech ed, art, music, phy (s) ed, the office, science, English, math, foreign languages – all will be accessible and easily reached in a minute or two.

“Everything is really contained and together,” said Steve, as she led us up a set of stairs to the upper level where science classes will be held.

Various areas were explained as being classrooms. Each is outfitted with lots of white boards for students to design and work out problems. Kids will even be able to write on the glass walls that allow for observation of classroom activity.

The Cloud Lab area will be set up for everything related to computers and digital. It will host web page design and cyber security, which are just two of the offerings in that area.

The learning neighborhoods are pretty much mirrors of one another with areas for small- and medium-group collaboration, labs for experimentation, regular learning studios and presentation areas. Steve estimates the average class size will be about 26. The present high school has about 1,200 students. She expects that number will grow to about 1,300 by the time the new school opens.

photo by Dave DeMars
Looking from the parking lot of Oak Ridge Elementary School, the new high school is in the background. A tour group is returning from the one-hour tour of the new school. In the foreground is a swale with rain water drained from the softball field.

photo by Dave DeMars
Shown is the baseball field looking toward the back of the new high school. In the foreground is a pavilion that will hold the bleachers for four different activity fields, as well as an open space in the center to meet friends.

photo by Dave DeMars
Principal Brenda Steve explains some of the features of the new school to members of her tour group. She is standing at one end of the commons. Directly behind Steve is the culinary arts area.

photo by Dave DeMars
Brenda Steve talks to her tour group as they stand in the main entry to the new high school. The entry leads directly to the commons.

photo by Dave DeMars
This shows a test area of flooring in the commons area. It will be resurfaced another three times before it is ready for use. Straight ahead is an exit area for some outdoor activities. To the left and ahead is art and technology areas. The upper levels will be used for courses such as science, math, English and computers.

Author: Dave DeMars

Born and raised in Wisconsin – a “Happy Days” high school experience. Attended UW-River Falls and followed their motto – “Where the free spirit prevails.” Four years in the Army Security Agency (Spies), 31 years teaching English and directing plays. Other jobs – gandy dancer, counselor at mental institution, snowmaker, apple picker, concrete finishing, janitor, furniture mover, appliance sales, insurance sales, media sales, real estate, and writer. I am skeptical to a fault and like all human being I am more oxymoron than I am anything else. I blog at http://www.curmudgeonstwist.net/

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