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Circle of Life School to host groundbreaking

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news Perham, 56573

Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

Groundbreaking for a new school on the White Earth Reservation has been a long time coming, and it's finally happening this summer.

Bidding opens Thursday for the new $17 million Circle of Life School with the groundbreaking planned for next Wednesday.

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School officials are hoping to move into the new building at "Mission Site" on County Road 131 by the fall of 2011.

"It's going to be a very beautiful facility. It will overlook Mission Lake, it'll be connected to hundreds of acres of forests," Superintendent Mitchell Vogt said. "We're excited about the environmental studies that we can have there."

About 10 years ago, the school applied for federal funding to build the new school, but was placed at the very bottom of a list of schools also waiting for money, Vogt said.

Then to accurately determine which school -- out of the 184 qualified Indian schools nationwide -- was in need of funding first, the Bureau of Indian Affairs hired an independent firm to evaluate the schools.

The evaluation was conducted in 2004 and the BIA decided the current Circle of Life School, which was built in 1939, was in need of a new building.

"It's old and it's too small for us," Vogt said. "It doesn't have a lot of the amenities that a normal school would have."

But in 2004, the BIA was still unable to secure enough funding for the school on the White Earth Reservation. So just last fall, Vogt said, Circle of Life was able to allocate the funds to start the planning and construction.

About 75 to 80 percent of the $17 million will be federal funds and the rest is either invested by the school or borrowed, Vogt said.

The existing K-12 school serves about 125 students and the new 60,000 square-foot Circle of Life School will accommodate about 350 students.

In addition to environmental studies opportunities, the new school will continue to preserve Ojibwe culture, language and the arts.

"We've always had Indian culture embedded into our education," Vogt said. "That's what we're all about."

The public is invited to the groundbreaking event at 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 9 at Mission Site with a community feast to follow.

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