Gymnasium, updated classrooms coming to upper school
The Huskies of North Lakes Academy have reason to cheer. Pending approval Monday from the City Council, the upper campus for grades nine through 12 will soon have a place designed to do just that. Plans are in place to add an 8,800-square-foot gymnasium on the charter school campus at 308 SW 15th St. in Forest Lake.
As part of a 10-year lease with building owner McCullough Companies that was approved in May, significant interior renovations to the existing building will be completed before the school year begins Sept. 3.
The road to a long-term site solution has been trying for Husky students, parents and staff. At one point, it involved a concept for relocating the upper school along with the middle school located on Northwest Seventh Avenue in Forest Lake, to a combined facility in Wyoming.
“We are thrilled because we have been looking at options that would be just so close to fruition that would fall through,” NLA Executive Director Jackie Saunders said. “This is the culmination of years of work.”
The lease agreement will keep the campuses in place and provide room for growth.
Students in grades nine through 12 have shared the upper campus building with three other tenants but only Dance Tech Studios will remain in the building under the new lease.
The high school campus consisted of 12 inconsistently shaped classrooms. The school’s two-story layout is being overhauled to take advantage of the increased space formerly occupied by Aspen Air Heating and Cooling and Northland Home Exteriors. It will feature 15 classrooms as well as several break-out rooms for small-group studying. Two of the classrooms may be completed next summer.
“It’s not as much adding rooms as it is adding and expanding space that is much more functional,” Saunders said. “The building set-up had some classrooms that were way too large and some too small.”
A two-lab science suite will replace two antiquated science rooms. The design allows for the school to eventually add new equipment.
“It will be great to have something that actually looks like a chemistry room,” NLA Business Manager Jan Jensen said. “We’ve been patiently waiting for this, and I know the kids are excited.”
Enrollment this fall will be fairly steady at about 75 students per grade and 18-24 per class.
“NLA grade and class size remain essentially the same; we are just finally getting the room we have needed for a couple of years,” Saunders said.
Many students will feel right at home in the new space. Owning property is off limits for charter schools but maintenance is not. The triple-net lease makes NLA responsible for repair and maintenance costs, so dozens of students have taken part in a hands-on summer school of sorts under the supervision of a NLA parent who is a licensed contractor.
Saunders regards the volunteer effort as an ideal way to foster school spirit.
“This is a real North Lakes thing,” she said. “As a community, we all pitch in.”
NLA will consolidate most of its administrative and office workers at the upper school campus, freeing up space for a conference room at the lower campus. The move will provide much-needed breathing space at the lower campus, Saunders said, as workers have been playing musical chairs to get by. Receptionists at each location will be freed from extraneous duties and be positioned better to provide customer service, Saunders said.
The school’s main entrance will shift from the south to the east side, facing 15th Street. The parking lot will be reconfigured and repaved, outdoor lighting added and landscaping improved.
The council will vote Monday on whether to amend the school’s comprehensive use permit to allow for the gymnasium addition. The Planning Commission on July 24 unanimously recommended approval.
NLA officials refer to the proposed gym as an activity center, noting it will be used for much more than Husky sports.
“It will house our gym space as well as allow us to host many events at ‘home’ instead of renting local space as we have in the past,” Saunders said. “We plan to host our indoor home sporting events, music concerts, plays, graduation, etc. in this space.”
Much work remains, even beyond Monday’s vote. While McCullough will provide the facility, NLA must raise money for a wooden floor, bleachers, basketball hoops and portable stage. If the project gains the city’s approval, a campaign will soon kick off to raise the $180,000 to $250,000 necessary to make the facility operational, NLA Activities Coordinator Jeff Beimert said.
The 110-by-80 gym will have a separate access from outside, thereby giving NLA the ability to rent it out.
Jensen said McCullough might break ground in September and the addition might open by February.
“This would be a dream come true,” she said.