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Cloquet's new middle school taking shape

A hallway and larger classrooms — for 2D and 3D art, industrial tech, band and choir — extend toward Cloquet High School from the cafeteria on the second floor of the new middle school. The middle school will connect with the high school at an existing window. (Jana Peterson / Pine Journal)1 / 3
All of the exterior walls and most of the roofs at the new Cloquet Middle School are in place now. The school is expected to be ready for students by this fall. Jamie Lund / Pine Journal2 / 3
A long handicapped accessible ramp glides down one side of the swimming pool at the new Cloquet Middle School, currently under construction. The deep end — where there will be diving wells — is about 13 feet deep. Workers starting putting the final tiles in after this photos was taken. Jana Peterson / Pine Journal3 / 3

The weather this winter may not have been kind to Nordic skiers, but it's been great for construction.

"We're loving every minute and we're hoping it continues," said Wade Engebretson, lead superintendent/field coordinator for the Cloquet Middle School construction project, commenting on the warmer-than-usual winter and recent warm spell. "We've had perfect weather coming at the most opportune times to help our schedule."

The new school will serve grades 5-8 and is located just south of Cloquet High School. The building will be more than 150,000 square feet.

There are roofs over at least two-thirds of the site, and windows on 95 percent of the classrooms, Engebretson said. Workers are doing Sheetrock and framing in the classroom wing — every classroom will be double-Sheetrocked for durability and sound proofing — and they started on the final swimming pool tiles this week.

A long handicapped accessible ramp glides down one side of the swimming pool, which has seating for about 400 on the poolside bleachers. The deep end — where there will be diving wells — is about 13 feet deep. The pool is the same length as the pool at the current middle school, but it will have two more lanes. In addition to a boys and girls locker room, there also will be a family locker room just down the hallway.

Workers also started painting the three-station gymnasium this week — white with purple — and gym equipment such as backboards (14 of them), batting cages and the dividing curtains will go in starting March 6. A few weeks later crews will install the scoreboards, Engebretson said. Although the gym will be used for middle school gym classes, it also will host high school games and other community events. Three windows will look out from the cafeteria area into the gymnasium.

"In the spring, the track and baseball/softball teams can use this until they can get outside," said Cloquet Middle School Principal Tom Brenner, who also is an assistant basketball coach at the high school, as he lingered in the massive space during a tour of the facility earlier this month Cloquet city councilors Adam Bailey and Jeff Rock.

Bailey said his son, who will be in the eighth grade next year and spend his last year of middle school at the new school, told him to take lots of photographs.

The new middle school building is being constructed so the classroom wings can easily be shut off from the "common areas" that might be used after school for sporting or community events, including the gym, pool, cafeteria, media center and more.

Brenner said they planned the cafeteria to be a big, open space with rubberized flooring so it could be used for anything from an aerobics class to ballroom dancing.

"So it's not just used for eating two hours a day," he said. "Instead it's a great big open space that can be used by the community."

The classroom wing of the school has space for two grades on each floor — grades seven and eight downstairs, five and six upstairs — each one surrounding a locker and open learning area that can be used for combined classes or small group activities. The classrooms have windows looking out into the open area so a teacher could keep an eye on students inside and outside the room.

The science rooms are located in the corners of each "pod" and are larger than the other classrooms.

The office and main entrance are next to the classroom wing.

"We'll be able to push a button and it will shut the doors to the learning areas," Brenner said, stressing how much more secure the new school will be from possible outside threats. "At a certain time of day the doors will all be locked and visitors will have to be buzzed in through the office."

"Every building will have a secure entrance when we're done," said Greg Schendel, project manager for Kraus-Anderson construction company, referring to the current high school entrance project, along with remodeled entrances planned for both Washington and Churchill elementary schools. "The days of just walking into a school are just about over."

The exterior of the school will be a combination of brick and metal panels, Engebretson said, adding that workers started on the brickwork last week. Rooftop units for mechanical and electrical components are also being installed now.

It's a busy place.

"We average up to 115 bodies on site daily," Engebretson said, rattling off a list of things those workers are doing now. "Electrical, plumbing, heating, carpenters, masons, roofers, painters, welders, metal workers ... You name it, we've got them all."

And many of them are from the area, he pointed out. A lot live in Carlton County or the Twin Ports.

"It's awesome for Cloquet and the surrounding area," he said. "Most people live here, buy things here and their kids go to school in this area."

When asked if the project is on time, the veteran school construction superintendent — who worked on Piedmont, Stowe and Congdon Park elementary schools in Duluth — promised that the building would be ready for students when fall rolls around.

"The project is reaching its peak and now we will be heading down that hill and doing interior finishes," he said.

But he wasn't predicting any extra time.

"We'll be finishing and walking out one end of the building as the kids and the teachers walk in the other," he said.