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Ushering in ‘a new era in education’: Ground is officially broken on the new Perham High School

Perham-Dent School Board members were in good spirits as they 'dug in' at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Perham High School on Wednesday, breaking out into laughter after a gust of wind caught them off guard and blew dirt up into their faces. Marie Johnson/FOCUS1 / 4
An artist's rendering of the exterior of the future Perham High School. Submitted photo2 / 4
A drawing of what the great hall inside the new Perham High School will look like. Submitted photo3 / 4
Perham students Andrew Jacobson, Annika Kovar and Grace Kalina, left to right, presented a performance piece at the groundbreaking to share their excitement about the new high school. The ceremony also involved choir students, who sang the national anthem, and band students, who played a few celebratory numbers while the crowd gathered before the start of the event. Marie Johnson/FOCUS4 / 4

It was a historic moment in Perham yesterday as shovels hit the dirt at the site of the future Perham High School.

It’s been 100 years since the community last celebrated the construction of a new high school, and it could be that long before such an occasion is marked again.

The pivotal event was commemorated with a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony at the construction site Wednesday afternoon.

A feeling of excitement, community pride and optimism was in the air as several key figures and stakeholders behind the project took their turns at the microphone, speaking to a crowd of city and school leaders, staff, students and community members.

“After 18 months of designing and planning, we have finally reached this historic moment,” said Superintendent Mitch Anderson, who spoke first. “We are ready to celebrate the start of constructing the new Perham High School. This historic groundbreaking not only marks a new era in education for the Perham area, but also a chance to look back on the rich tradition of the school. Perham High School has been an icon of the community for a century. We celebrate these 100 years along with paving a new path for our future. We look back on decades of successes while looking forward to setting a new foundation for years to come.”

Anderson then introduced the other speakers, most of whom have played major roles in making the new school a reality, and many of whom are Perham alumni. They included: school board chair Sue Von Ruden; school supporter and advocate Kenny Nelson; former school administrator and coach Fred Sailer; vote ‘yes’ school referendum campaign leader Tammy Sturdevant; the new school’s principal architect Chad Bormann; Perham Mayor Tim Meehl; Congressman Collin Peterson; longtime staff member Shawn Stafki; school activities director Erin Anderson; high school principal Ehren Zimmerman; and students Andrew Jacobson, Grace Kalina and Annika Kovar.

Tammy Sturdevant, who was instrumental in getting voters to back a referendum to pay for the new school, compared that process to having a baby. She and other school advocates struggled through a first failed attempt to get a referendum passed, but then celebrated a victory in Nov. 2015 when voters narrowly agreed to a $45.3 million referendum. Those dollars make the new high school possible, as well as additions and improvements at other school buildings.

“Once we got that ‘yes’ vote, we forgot all the pain and agony it took to get there,” she laughed.

“So many people put hours and hours of commitment into this.”

Those people include not only vote ‘yes’ campaigners but also school board members, school administrators and community task force members, all of whom put a lot of time, thought and effort into planning and designing the new school.

One of those people, school board member Sue Von Ruden, said the new school will be “a game-changer for the Perham-Dent School District,” a sentiment shared by the other speakers.

Mayor Tim Meehl said the school will be “another piece to the glorious puzzle that we call Perham.”

“Perham is always progressing,” he said, “and today is another example of that. The new school will only make our already strong community, stronger.”

“We have a real progressive community,” said Kenny Nelson. “I think we’re the envy of a lot of towns around us, and we’ve gotten there because our community works together, and we’re not stopping now.”

“We’re all feeling gratitude at the high school,” said Shawn Stafki. “We can’t wait for the new building to be completed… I look forward to an amazing future in the new place.”

The new high school is expected to open by the fall of 2018. The state-of-the-art facility will house grades nine through 12 and will be connected to Prairie Wind Middle School.

BHH Partners’ Chad Bormann, the lead architect on the high school project, said BHH will be posting weekly construction updates, with photos, on the company’s Facebook page for those who are interested.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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