Turning a page in ISD 197 updates

A major addition at Henry Sibley High School is complete — Warrior Field, the new athletic complex, hosted its first game Sept. 5. The second phase of work at the high school will include modernization of classrooms for family and consumer sciences, shop, art and other labs. (photos courtesy ISD 197)

A big focus of ISD 197 renovations was creating common spaces, as seen here at Friendly Hills Middle School, above, and Moreland Arts and Health Sciences Magnet School.

School starts as projects end, others begin


Despite the school year officially being underway, construction work is still ongoing in West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Schools as part of a District 197-wide facilities update.

The renovations and updates were made possible by a voter-approved $117 million referendum passed in May 2018. While some projects are close to wrapping up, others are just getting underway.


Getting going

Superintendent Peter Olson-Skog said a handful of projects started this spring as the school year was winding down, including at Henry Sibley High School and at district elementaries. Most of the heavy work at those locations took place this summer.

“With projects where you’re making some pretty big changes over the summer, you’re big goal is to make sure you can start school, day one, as planned,” Olson-Skog said.

The 2019-2020 school year did start as planned, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some adjustments to schedules. 

Mark Quinn, Moreland Arts and Health Sciences Magnet School principal, said this year’s open house at his school had to happen outside.

“Actually, teachers loved it,” said Quinn.

Even with the usual day-after Labor Day start, Olson-Skog said there are always small things that need to get wrapped up as the school year progresses. This may mean work in the evenings and weekends, or even during the school day if it doesn’t interrupt goings on.

Henry Sibley

Olson-Skog said work at the high school is expected to continue in sections as the next two to three school years go on. 

“The size of building, the number of classrooms, number of projects — it’s just nothing the contractor would have enough people to bring in and do in one summer, he said.

Crews will work on one section of the building, Olson-Skog said, before moving into another; staff and students will move into the areas where work’s been completed. The most noticeable shift at the school right now is the secondary entrance being used since the usual main entrance is close.

“That’s probably the main thing I think people would notice in terms of change,” Olson-Skog said. Elsewhere, Warrior Field, the high school’s new athletic complex, hosted its first game Sept. 5.

The summer of 2020 should mark the beginning of work on the school’s new science wing, Olson-Skog said, along with a new music wing as well. While many classrooms were updated during the school’s last round of improvements, many will be looked at for things like new carpet and paint, and more energy-efficient lighting.

The FACS area, which includes spaces for art, industrial technology, science, health and business classes, is getting addressed this time around.

“The high school is definitely getting a comprehensive renovation,” Olson-Skog said.


Elementary schools

At district elementary schools, the building bond means that if the facilities were missing something important, it was added.

“If they had both a cafeteria and a gym, great,” Olson-Skog said. “If [students] ate lunch in their gym, which some of our schools did, we added a gym or cafeteria.”

Moreland was one of the schools that needed a cafeteria — Quinn said the lack of a dedicated meal space lead to scheduling difficulties for activities.

Common, or flexible learning spaces were created during the renovations at elementary schools. Olson-Skog said that teaching methods are changing, with it being common before for students to never really leave their classrooms besides for gym or recess. 

Now, he said, there are groups of grade level teachers who will collaborate together to teach all students of a certain grade at once. Pilot Knob STEM Magnet School Principal Tom Benson said the new spaces are geared for kids to work in groups and pairs.

He said teachers and faculty are figuring out how to use the new spaces, meaning everyone will get more, and more excitement, out of their potential.

Olson-Skog said when it came to tackling deferred maintenance, the district has a strong commitment to the environment and sustainable energy. 

LED lighting was installed throughout the buildings and boiler efficiency was increased to help with energy usage in the schools.


Middle schools

The district’s middle schools are newer than other facilities, having been built in the mid-1990s. Olson-Skog said they required less work than the elementaries and high school, but still needed some work, including LED light fixtures, paint and new carpet. 

The middle schools already had common spaces, so the renovation work focused on improving those areas.

Back when the middle schools were built, Olson-Skog said the district opted for “cafetoriums” — a combination of a cafeteria and auditorium — at the schools.

“Experience told us that it was OK for both purposes, but not great,” he said.

The district opted at its two middle schools to build auditoriums separate from dining spaces. Olson-Skog said the auditoriums are geared to be multi-purpose, used for performances as well as gym classes or assemblies.


What’s next

Over the course of the fall, the district will select contractors for the remaining schools that still need work, while construction will continue on the new aquatic center at Henry Sibley High. There are still finishing touches needed on other projects nearing completion, Olson-Skog said.

“Warrior Field still needs a fence put up around it,” he said, adding small work remains in classrooms and common areas.

Olson-Skog said the district continues to appreciate the community for being supportive, and for families and staff for being flexible during the construction process.

“I think we all feel really grateful to be in a place that supports their schools and such a great learning environment for kids,” he said.

An open house will be held at Moreland Arts and Health Sciences Magnet School on Thursday, Sept. 26, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. where community members can see the renovations. Similar events are planned this fall at other schools.

Full breakdowns of construction work and timelines can be found at www.isd197.org/news/facilities.


–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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