The Park Rapids School Board looked at plan concepts for updated school facilities at their July 20 meeting.

Jason Splett with ICS Consulting introduced David Leopold with JLG Architects. Leopold recapped the connection between the facilities project and the district’s strategic plan, as well as the Educational Drivers, or Pillars, recently drafted by faculty members and adopted by the school board that evening.

Leopold highlighted such objectives of the strategic plan as being a “leading school district recognized as innovative and transformational,” increasing “flexible learning spaces, problem-based education, personalized learning and varied career pathways,” and fostering students’ “critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.”

Leopold also presented four small groups’ concepts of what 21st century learning spaces should look like, created at the same workshop that developed the Educational Drivers. Using cards of various sizes, marked as classroom, lab, medium group, small group, staff, special ed, flex and media space, the teachers pieced together four concepts and then voted on which ones best represented flexibility, authentic learning, collaboration and technology.

Splett said this staff input was used to shape the conceptual plans for educational spaces at Century School and the high school.

High school improvements

First, Leopold proposed that the Frank White building be demolished and a new addition built in its place. With grades 7-8 moving from Century School, a new wing at the south end of the high school would house classrooms for grades 7-9, a new gymnasium and offices for district staff and Community Ed.

Leopold envisioned a long corridor linking this south wing to the vocational area at the north end of the high school. He said this will give grades 7-9 direct access to the vocational wing while also putting some distance between older and younger students.

According to the concept plan, the kitchen and cafeteria serving area would move to the current high school offices, adjacent to the commons. High school offices would move alongside the main entrance. Leopold said this will create a more secure entry and give administrators “eyes on the commons.”

“Why is that important? That allows us to use the commons throughout the day,” he said. “Students can be there … doing project-based work, because they can be observed.”

Other additions to the high school will include a new theater scene shop, music practice rooms and storage space, and choir and band directors’ offices. This will open up more space in the choir and band rooms themselves.

Leopold stressed how much space the plan sets aside for teacher collaboration, a flexible lab equipped for various projects, special ed rooms, small-group breakout areas, “learning commons” outside the classroom for informal learning, and even a one-on-one learning space.

It also moves the boys locker room from the basement to the main level and adds a flexible “activities commons” space; updates the auditorium and public restrooms; expands and reconfigures the art, agriculture and CTE spaces; provides a new home for the Alternative Learning Center; pulls lockers away from the walls and creates locker bays, allowing for better supervision of students and more productive use of space; and up-sizes classrooms to meet state standards in what will be the grades 10-12 wing.

Splett said the design allows sections of the building to be closed off after hours – for example, opening the “activities wing” to the community while limiting access to other areas.

Leopold discussed current thinking about the use of the media center, focusing on technology and the fiction collection. He suggested turning part of the area into the school store, opening the area up as an extension of the commons, and worrying less about students returning borrowed books. He also discussed putting windows in collaborative areas to allow supervision.

Compared to earlier concept plans, Splett said, the latest plan puts most of the structural additions at the south end of the building. This is to minimize the complexity of dealing with structures of varying ages.

Century school

At Century School, most of the proposed changes involve repurposing existing space, driven by moving early childhood programs in and grades 7-8 out.

Splett said the current kindergarten pod will become early childhood classrooms, plus the elementary office, relocated to oversee the secure entry. Early childhood will spill over to what is now the second-grade pod, with extra classrooms as needed for “bubble grades.”

Kindergarten will shift into the current first-grade pod, with a seventh classroom to be added on, and grades 1-2 will move to where grades 3-4 are now. The current elementary and middle school offices will provide space for itinerant staff.

On the middle school side, a new parking area and pick-up/drop-off area will be added to relieve traffic flow issues on the elementary side. The current west-side playground will be relocated to the south, with part of the play area doubling as a school bus turnaround.

Part of the choir-band area will be reconfigured as an office to oversee secure entry from the west. As the current middle school becomes the grades 3-6 wing, Splett said, “We have exactly the number of classrooms that we need right now. So, what we’re looking at is a two-classroom addition at the end of the 900 block, which gives you that flexibility in the future on that end.”

Leopold said some rooms on the north side of the school, behind the gym, may become exploratory labs. The concept plan also sets aside space for music classes, the Century Adventures after-school program and special ed.

Board questions and comments

Stressing that these are only conceptual plans and not a final design, Leopold said, “This shows us what can happen and helps us come up with budget numbers. But after the referendum passes, we’ll start meeting with user groups and get really detailed in terms of what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.”

School board member Gary Gauldin said he feels the school store should be closer to the performance area, like the gym and theater. He also stressed the importance of addressing accessibility issues with the public restrooms.

Responding to a question by Gauldin, Splett said the drop-off loop on the east side of the school will remain unchanged, though the west loop is planned as a straight shot instead of a right-angle curve like the east one. However, Splett said it will help that the east drop-off loop will have less traffic.

Splett said Ehlers, Inc. financial advisers will be at the school board’s Aug. 3 meeting to discuss the project’s cost and tax impact. Later that week, the board will finalize its Review and Comment to submit to the state education commissioner, the next step toward putting a bonding referendum on the November ballot.

Splett said later that a tax impact calculator at PRoject309.org will show property owners how much the proposed school bond will affect their property tax bill.