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North Branch Schools

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September 27, 2020

9/3/2020 2:06:00 PM
Private partners making unique year in North Branch Schools a little easier; with space, food and expertise

North Branch School District officials have finalized a deal to lease space at the outlet mall for instructional space this school year.  The 10-month lease was approved unanimously by the six school board members Thursday last week in special session.

The school was granted a Conditional Use Permit to bring this special use to the retail site, Tuesday night last week by the city council.

North Branch Area Schools Superintendent Sara Paul told the school board having what amounts to 30,550 square feet readily available,  is an important contributor to the flexibility the district will surely need as the 2020-2021 year advances.  State Dept. of Education restrictions on in-person versus at-home learning throughout the life of the covid-19 virus,  may vary depending on the severity of the outbreak, and there’s only so much space in school buildings to respond with.

The lease puts North Branch “ahead of the curve” she said as far as options  for outreach to families who may lack resourcesn like broadband,  at home for their students.  It also provides the social distance spacing the schools themselves may not be able to accomodate.
Business Services and Finance Director Dr. Todd tetzlaff felt the negotiated lease was a “reasonable rate” and he was pleased the mall didn’t demand a full 12-month lease.  The September to June lease is $280,000 or $28,000 per month.

The mall space being leased is on the north end starting from the old GAP retail space.  It will be Internet equipped and interiors set up in a manner condusive to education.  Space will be used in daytime hours.  

Supt. Paul commented,  “...it was a lot of work to bring it from mercantile to educational use.”
The superintendent was not ready to announce any firm plans yet-- but the possibility exists that covid-19 positive learners may be able to use a designated mall space to receive personalized instruction time, have a place to pick-up or drop off materials, and check in to not fall behind.

Chair Kirby Ekstrom noted that North Branch city staff did a great amount of work in a short timeframe, on securing the space. Inspector expertise and building code considerations were facilitated, and he especially thanked Community Economic Development Director Carla Vita.

Olsen Fire Protection, a Minneapolis-based company, has donated time and resources to inspect sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, and exit lighting at the site to ensure it can support off-campus education safely.

Kevin Olsen, President, indicated in a recent interview the importance of kids being in school and his desire to help make it a reality.

“We want to be part of the solution and hopefully show the rest of the districts that if you get creative and look for solutions, there are people willing to help,” he said.

“Willing to help” was the message received by the school district from the volunteers at the Trinity Lutheran Church Outreach Team, which oversees the very successful Viking Vittles program.

Viking Vittles was started in 2019 and immediately began providing meal packs to hundreds of local families per week, until last spring when schools were ordered closed and students into remote learning. Now, several months into the pandemic response, Viking Vittles and the school district know there’s a need in the community for nutritious meals. Viking Vittles will be attending the school district’s Welcome Week activities the week of Sept. 8 to provide families information about the program, which is available to any family with a need, not just those that qualify for educational benefits. Each meal package comes with two breakfast options, two lunch options, two snacks, and a can each of fruit and vegetables.

“School districts face many hurdles this fall, and North Branch Area Public Schools is so fortunate to have community partners like the Shops at Gateway, Olsen, and Viking Vittles willing to address some of the needs in creative ways,” said Supt. Sara Paul. “We are so grateful for their enthusiasm and encourage anyone who values being part of a solution for our kids to contact us.”

Those interested can hear directly from Olsen and Twitchell about their efforts in recorded interviews located at the school district’s Return to Learn! Website (www.isd138org/returntolearn).

Individuals, companies, and civic organizations that would like to help NBAPS provide services to students, families, and staff are invited to complete the Partner Contribution Form at the Return to Learn! website or contact Supt. Sara Paul at spaul@isd138.org.

The superintendent noted for the School Board in her report that she’s been holding Q and A  “virtual talks” with community members (see district website www.138.org) and has been hearing from mostly parents so far.  She would like to engage students and welcomes ,all residents to look into the communication option.

The Board also tweaked policies on school discipline and attendance in light of the covid-19 special conditions.  Chairman Ekstrom said these are one-year only wording revisions and will be reviewed.

* District Community Relations person Patrick Tepoorten contributed to this article.

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