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North Branch Schools

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November 28, 2020

11/21/2020 2:35:00 PM
Primary School project moves forward with board approval

With most of the major construction projects from Chisago Lakes’ 2017 bond referendum finishing up, the district will be able to use the last of the money to take on a Primary School renovation project, tentatively slated to begin construction this summer.

Savings came from multiple projects that were part of the bond and Superintendent Dean Jennissen said they always knew if they had leftover money from the projects that it would go towards the Primary School.

Although the district, like most, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is money that can only be used for buildings. School Board member Lori Berg wanted to stress that fact, saying, “We’re not renovating the school because we want to look for things to spend money on. We have leftover building money that we can use for this project and we always thought if we had any leftover, this is what we would do.”

Director of Business of Services Robin Vosberg-Torgerson, echoed this. “We cannot move this money to salaries,” she said. “We can’t do anything with this money but buildings.”

Vosberg-Torgerson noted that the project will be about $3.9 million overall, and the district has just over $4 million remaining in the bond referendum. To be conservative, she noted that she didn’t include proceeds from the sale of the old Lakeside school property in her available funds estimate.

Representatives from Wold Architects and ICS Consulting were on hand to discuss design elements and timelines for the project.

The design phase, which will include user group meetings, will last from November to March. Bids will go out in mid-March and the pre-construction process will last from March to June. Construction would start in June with a finish date of September of 2021.

The architectural representative explained that they will be “improving Primary School main office functions, giving art and music their own home since they currently share a space, and rightsizing the Developmentally and Cognitively Delayed and Early Childhood spaces. Renovating multiple bathrooms to comply with the American with Disabilities Act is part of the plan.

“This renovation is very much needed. There is not much intervention space and offices are cramped,” Jennissen explained. “We’ll create dedicated spaces for music and art and anyone who has been in that building can tell you the bathroom situation for both adults and students needs renovation. This is the most pressing need and this is an opportunity to make that a much improved space.”

The design phase, which includes the fees to be paid to ICS and Wold was approved unanimously.

Despite the excitement about improving another building in the district, the grim progression of COVID-19 lingered throughout the meeting. As case numbers continue to skyrocket in the county, the board discussed steps they’ll need to take.

The middle school, which was moved to distance learning sooner than the high school and elementary school were, will now follow the same timeline as those two levels. “We won’t be returning anytime before December 2 at the middle school as well,” Jennissen said. “That way, we can all get on the same page and communicate as a district and not in bits and pieces.”

Jennissen also said the board should meet before the December 2 date to talk about learning models, potential for return to learn and activities. “I would suggest the board has a special meeting to determine school, academics and activities,” he said. “Even if the numbers aren’t great, we’ll need to talk and see what our plan is.”

Jennissen did say that the district is starting to look at allowing small groups of students to return. He said special education has been discussed, as well as career and tech ed classes. “But, with the recent county cases at 102 [cases per 10,000 people], it certainly makes us wonder if that’s the right idea. But, we are having conversations if it’s viable.” He said that if they did something like that, there would be some extra health screening measures, including taking temperatures before students enter the building. “We know that we have students that could use that additional support, but we just want to make sure we are doing it safely,” he said.

Jerry Vitalis, who is heading into his last month as a school board member after many years, was recently told he would be inducted into the Wildcat Hall of Fame. The district is hoping to have an induction celebration in February, but as with everything nowadays, this is pending upon where COVID-19 numbers are at.

A new student representative joined the board meeting. Anne Nelson remains throughout her senior year, but junior John Douglas was welcomed by the board to represent the student body, hopefully through the 2021-22 year. 

Vosberg-Torgerson said that she talked through the preliminary fiscal year 2022 budget at the finance committee meeting. “We’ll look at the assumptions for our budget and work through some of those,” she said. “We’ll bring that info to the next finance committee meeting and board meeting.”

The district received a $1,000 donation from the Rudquist Family Trust to Middle School English Department. There are also a pair of grants the district approved. A $5,000 one from Chisago Lakes Area Community Foundation that helps with breakfast carts and disposable silverware and a $4,000 one from the St. Croix Valley Foundation for the high school and middle school musical programs to heavily invest in concert music from under-represented composers.

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