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Space, at the heart of the matter: Heart of the Lakes Elementary School is feeling the squeeze

Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS Space, or the lack of it, has played in to many scheduling and planning decisions at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School in recent years. For kindergarten gym class, it has led to some combined groups of almost 60 students with two teachers and assistants.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of four stories focusing on the buildings of the Perham-Dent School District, and the educators who work in them, included in the upcoming referendum.

Cozy or cramped, no matter the adjective used to describe it, Heart of the Lakes Elementary School has run out of space and is bursting at the seams.

The school’s principal, Jen Hendrickson, said the “space crunch” in the building, which was completed in 1990, is largely due to growing enrolment among the younger grades.

As of the beginning of April, 485 students were attending Heart of the Lakes Elementary School: 114 in kindergarten, 89 in first grade, 101 in second grade, 97 in third grade and 84 in fourth grade.

At this time in 2014, there were 460 elementary pupils; and only 442 in April of 2013.

In order to accommodate a sixth section of kindergarten, the building’s second computer lab was converted into a classroom in September, after classes had begun.

“That (lab) will be forever lost because of our increased enrollment,” Hendrickson said.

 “We kind of have people in closets and corners,” Hendrickson said of the current arrangements for reading tutors and some other specialists. There is not really space for small groups of students to work either, unless they go in the hallway.

“We also consolidated two special education teachers and put them in one classroom, which is not ideal at all,” Hendrickson said of the quest to make more room within the building. “To meet the needs of kids, getting those two their own classrooms again will really be beneficial.”

Elementary teachers interviewed by the Focus said they have done the best they can to adjust within the space they have, but they too feel the pressure of having more students within the same spaces.

To get all of the students through their 25 minutes of gym class in the day, some classes have been doubled up.

The school’s gymnasium also serves as lunch room from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., so the gym classes have to fit around that time.

Gym teacher Kyle Van Dyke said the largest class he and fellow teacher Jim Kennedy have is comprised of about 60 kindergarteners, who they teach together.


Portable relief

For the 2015-2016 school year, four portable classrooms will be used at the elementary school: one owned by the district (which is being updated) and three just purchased from the Wadena-Deer Creek School District.

“Obviously, portables aren’t probably ideal,” Hendrickson said. “However, it does give me a bit of a sigh of relief, because now, we will actually have spaces to put students and teacher.”

“Being able to have four of those will be huge,” Hendrickson continued. “People don’t really like portables, but…” She shrugged.

Other options have been all but exhausted.


The project

Under the Perham-Dent School District’s plan for referendum-funded projects, Heart of the Lakes would undergo $11.7 million in construction. This figure includes the construction of six classrooms, a gymnasium, small group spaces and a new preschool wing (covered in the April 16 edition of the Focus). Some building repairs and maintenance needs are also included in this total.

If the referendum passes on its first try, construction could be completed in time for the beginning of school in September, 2016.


Learn more

The next community information session is scheduled for Tuesday, April 28, with tours of the high school starting at 6 p.m. and a presentation at 6:45 p.m. No other dates were set as of press time.

For more information, visit and check next week’s Focus to learn about work planned for Prairie Wind Middle School.