Huskies happy to be home
Everyone deserves a place to call home. School communities are no exception.
After years of uncertainty and dried-up leads, the North Lakes Academy Huskies know where they will be for years to come.
In fact, they’re already enjoying that location. The Forest Lake charter school’s upper-grade campus is staying put at 308 SW 15th St. Rather than building a new campus, the school last year launched a project that has added and renovated classrooms and offices and will soon produce a new gymnasium.
“We’ve been at this for so long,” Executive Director Jackie Saunders said of the search for a long-term home. “We are so glad to be settled in one place. We’re committed to this place. The kids are feeling really good about, ‘Okay, we have a home and we know it will be here in five years.’”
Most of the renovation took place over the summer and was ready in time for this school year. Some classrooms were expanded, others added from space other building tenants used to occupy.
“It’s wonderful,” Saunders said. “You can really tell the difference when you walk into classrooms. There’s break-out space, and we do a lot of hands-on, activity-based learning and project learning here, so having those break-out spaces is huge.”
The science curriculum, in particular, is benefitting. The two former science rooms were not in close proximity, and they were impaired by carpet and a lack of sinks and chemical lock-up spaces.
“They were not at all well-designed for science,” Saunders said. “We did science in them, but it was a struggle.”
The two new rooms, which were completed over winter break, share space and have all the features needed for modern application of the subject.
The school’s interior remodeling served to spread out cramped quarters. Now only one room has two teachers assigned to it, and they teach on different days.
North Lakes Academy also now has room to grow. Enrollment at the upper school is around 380 this year. Numbers have risen by about 5-10 percent a year. The facility now can accommodate 450 students.
A consolidation of administrative offices was another thrust of the renovation. Most offices for both the upper and lower campuses are now grouped together on 15th Street.
“We refer to it as the admin wing, which is probably a bit of a grandiose statement for six offices, but we’ve never had one,” Saunders said.
Following guidelines in the school’s charter, the renovations were as “green” as possible. Chairs were donated, old lab tables were converted to desks, large wall pictures were trimmed to fit donated irregular frames. To the extent they could, students even spent part of their summer helping with the renovation.
“We added four classes and six offices and a student commons area, and only purchased one new item,” Saunders said. “The rest of it is all repurposed or reused or recycled. We paid for a little of it, but a lot of it was donated.”
The other side of the project remains a work in progress. The exterior of the gymnasium is up, and concrete is drying inside. Activities Director Jeff Biemert expects construction to continue through April.
Landlord Bob McCullough funded the exterior work, but the school must come up with the money to finish the interior. The push is on to secure donations to fund a wooden floor.
“We have some of the other things we need for the activity center, but we can’t put them in until we get the floor in, and that’s a huge capital campaign,” Saunders said.
North Lakes Academy needs $100,000 to outfit the building so that games can be played. But another $100,000 is needed to add bleachers and other components the school would like, such as a portable stage.
“We really want to be able to host all of our events there: theater and graduation and music and all of the above,” Saunders said.
A goal of holding graduation in the activities center may not happen, but it won’t be for lack of trying. An Italian dinner was recently held, and a larger fundraiser is on tap for May 17.
Officials believe half of the amount desired can be raised from within the school community, and administrators this week were considering proposals for how to raise the other half.
“We’re really moving into a Phase 2, but we don’t know what Phase 2 is,” Saunders said. “We’re teachers, we’re educators – we’re not fundraisers, so we’re really looking at a number of options.”
It is important to finish the project and provide students with a facility of their own, she added.
“Home games have never been at home,” Saunders said. “It’s pretty exciting to think about being at home. Finally, we can see the building. We can see it’s really happening.”