Some of last year's Cloquet Middle School sixth-graders wrote tongue-in-cheek essays about what features they would like to see in a new middle school, and one of the most common requests was for an escalator.

"They said teachers would find 'fewer sixth-graders passed out on the stairs,' with an escalator," said Nicole Vegar, who does reading and math interventions for the sixth grade. She explained that many of the sixth-graders would have classes on the third floor but lockers on the first floor at the old middle school. "I used to lose kids for five minutes sometimes when they forgot something in their locker - and it actually may have taken that long."

Travel time between classrooms and lockers won't be an issue in the new middle school building, as each of the four grades is built in its own pod, with classrooms encircling the lockers and a common-learning area. There are inside windows in each classroom, so teachers can watch students go to their lockers if needed.

Students head back to school Wednesday in Cloquet. While middle school students will relocate to a new school, students in other Cloquet schools also will find upgrades and changes - work completed in the wake of a bond referendum passed by voters in 2015. Both elementary schools and Cloquet High School got new, more secure entrances. Early Childhood Family Education program is now housed in a new wing on the west side of Churchill Elementary. The high school's media center was remodeled.

But the flagship project of them all is certainly the new $40 million middle school.

While teachers are excited with their new digs, they appreciate the thoughtful design as much as the newness of the school.

"We're excited to be part of a team instead of off down an isolated hallway," said special education teacher Tristy Yorston.

And the students? Well, it gives them another reason to look forward to the start of a new school year.

Grand opening

The new Cloquet Middle School grand opening and community tours will be held from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14.