'Blended' schools celebrate tonight at Pike Lake Elementary
A child-sized wooden bear stands in a hallway at Pike Lake Elementary School welcoming visitors and students. Carved from a pine that was cut down to make room for an addition last spring, the bear helps preserve a bit of history at the 58-year-o...
A child-sized wooden bear stands in a hallway at Pike Lake Elementary School welcoming visitors and students.
Carved from a pine that was cut down to make room for an addition last spring, the bear helps preserve a bit of history at the 58-year-old school.
The addition -- the building's third -- was completed early this month when finishing touches were put on the new gym. An open house is scheduled for 6 p.m. today at the school to commemorate the nearly 15,000-square-foot, $2.1 million project.
"There is something about the message given from the community when it will step forward and say ... 'We care enough about students to create these kinds of environments for you to learn in,'" said Pike Lake principal and fifth-grade teacher Bill Gritzmacher.
The Proctor school district's decision to expand Pike Lake grew from circumstances faced by many Northland districts: declining enrollment, less money from the state, and "country" schools spread too far apart.
Last year the district closed Caribou Lake Elementary. Munger Elementary School closed in 1998.
This year, 136 new students in kindergarten through second grade, six teachers and other staff moved to Pike Lake.
"It was getting too hard to keep up that many buildings with declining enrollment," said Larry Shelton, chairman of the Proctor School Board. "It was hard to see Caribou close. That was one of my fears. But as it turns out, it's worked out great. The kids have all blended together."
The Proctor district -- with 1,780 students -- spreads over 150 square miles. That has meant a lot of traveling time for staff members who shuttled between schools, including music, speech and physical education teachers and counselors.
"For the longest time, one of the challenges this district had was a large number of sites," said Gritzmacher, who began in 1996 as principal of Munger, Caribou Lake and Pike Lake schools. "While they were all very nice little schools ... every one of those buildings needed a certain level of staffing, and every one had deferred maintenance issues. Now we are operating more efficiently."
The district expects to save about $120,000 this year in operational costs with the closure of Caribou Lake, said Superintendent John Engelking.
Six new classrooms, a set of bathrooms and a middle school-standard gym were added to the pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade school, with construction beginning in May. To pay for the project, the district used a combination of capital and health and safety funds, lease-levy money and the sale of the Caribou Lake building. The Caribou building was purchased by the Sheet Metal Workers Union for $300,000 to be used for training.
The new classrooms have triple-glazed, high-efficiency windows, Smart Boards, padded vinyl-tile floors and plenty of space. The addition exceeds the state's energy codes, said Jack Johnson, director of building and grounds.
Engelking hopes people are pleased with the building, because the gym is also meant to act as a community center for events.
"Closing Caribou was a sad time," he said. "But everybody realized they were moving into a better environment."