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The countdown to go-time: School construction marks one year with completion due this fall

At the second level of the new high school, students will look from a wall long bench out over the parking lot and entry way at the new high school. Windows are major features in nearly all rooms of the new school. Michael Johnson/Focus1 / 8
A new weight room is filled with windows looking outside and looking in onto the gym area. Seventh grade students are led by Superintendent Mitch Anderson Friday at the new high school. Michael Johnson/Focus2 / 8
A seventh-grade class gets a tour from Superintendent Mitch Anderson at the new high school Friday. They stand on a bridge area looking out onto the cafeteria area and commons area. The 38-foot sidewalls and 13,000 square feet of tongue-and-groove make it feel more like the inside of a grand cathedral. Michael Johnson/Focus3 / 8
Perham Schools Superintendent Mitch Anderson guides a group of seventh graders through the new Perham High School Friday. Michael Johnson/Focus4 / 8
Just over a year since the first footing was poured, the new high school now has Perham High School letters installed on the exterior of a building well on its way to completion by this fall. Michael Johnson/Focus5 / 8
A three-lane walking/running track is elevated above the new gym area. Michael Johnson/Focus6 / 8
There's enough room in the new gym for three basketball or three volleyball games to be played at once. It will even seat 2,400. Michael Johnson/Focus7 / 8
A wrestling room next to the new gym and weight room includes a steel beam that will have 92 ropes hanging down for those looking to try their hand at an extreme test of arm endurance. Michael Johnson/Focus8 / 8

A group of seventh-grade students walked the halls of the new Perham High School last week getting their first look at their future stomping grounds.

With phones raised taking pictures and eyes wide, they saw a place they would be proud to attend in the coming years.

"I think it's awesome, it's going to be an amazing opportunity to have a new high school, and it's going to be a great experience for us, being able to go into the new high school and have all our years there," Soren Anderson said.

He and Isaiah Lehmann spoke in unison about the gym being their favorite part of the new school.

"Playing basketball on the new court, going to the new school and getting the education that I need at the new high school," were all aspects Lehmann spoke about.

As of Thursday, the students only had about two weeks of school remaining before summer vacation would start. They are getting out early after starting early in order to accomodate construction work, according to school superintendent Mitch Anderson.

The high school is set to be completed at the end of July giving the school staff the month of August to make sure all will be ready for students.

This week, Anderson said the construction looks to be on schedule with Olaf Anderson of Fargo as the general contractor of the project.

The tour began with students entering the new high school through the existing Prairie Wind Middle School.

Students saw first the special ed classrooms before catching a glance at the new gymnasium, the most popular spot on the tour. They viewed the choir room with towering walls, the commons area that looks like a northwoods cathedral and couldn't stop checking out the views that the immense windows provide in nearly every room of the school. Fun features to come to the new gym is a patch of artificial turf for training purposes and a floor large enough for three basketball or volleyball games to be played at once. Seating can reach 2,400 for events compared to the 1,400 in the current gym. A wrestling room features space for two mats and a metal beam in the ceiling will feature 92 ropes, challenging users to swing their way through them all.

Anderson shared that the lighting throughout the rooms is dependent on the amount of sunlight entering the school, so lights are not often to full strength during the day. Lighting will be minimal with the amount of nearly floor to ceiling windows in much of the building.

Scattered throughout the school is a variety of break-out spaces with soft seating offering students places to comfortably gather compared to standard tables and chairs. These spaces are meant to be taken advantage of by students to work on their studies or find a place to hangout. This was identified as a need if other sites like the media center become crowded.

Students learned the storeroom and concessions stand area are each housed under the stairways within the commons area.

In the middle of this large area is the cafeteria, fit with five lanes for students to access food. The ceiling of this area contains 13,000 square feet of tongue and groove pine with 38-foot tall walls. This space serves as the separation between the classrooms and the gymnasium area.

Throughout the commons area and gymnasium are spaces where large screens will keep everyone informed of upcoming events and happenings. Students can even use them for physical education classes, such as how to learn to line dance.

There are two levels in the school for education. The green level is the STEM-type classrooms such as science, technology and math. The blue level on the second floor includes the humanities; such as English, art and history classes. While some teachers will be staying put, such as science teachers, other teachers will move from space to space throughout the day with the ability to have their own workstation in a separate part of the building. It will be much more like a college setting in that aspect.

Anderson said this is one way to avoid having empty classrooms during certain hours. The constant moving around allows flexibility throughout the building whether it's a small group or large group.

"The main intent is to maximize the utilization of the building," Anderson said.

The flexible classrooms are also needed as larger class sizes are set to be coming up through the system. The new school will have a core capacity of 650 students. Anderson said while a current graduation class is around 100 students, some elementary grades are closer to 150 in a grade. That will bring on the need for more educators too.

"This allows us to add additional staff but at the same time utilize the building," Anderson said.

Anderson points to school security as another major part of what makes this new school an improvement over the current one. With 95 percent of the traffic coming through one entrance at the high school, it will be a drastic change from the nearly 20 exterior doors open at the current high school.

Anderson is beginning to see parts of the other schools that helped shape this one. School members toured many other sites to plan this new facility including schools like Chanhassen, Becker, Alexandria, West Fargo and Rothsay. Those tours also helped the school understand what didn't work.

One thing not seen elsewhere but that will be highly visible in Perham is a 25-foot tall yellow jacket prominently featured on one of the many windows. Taking about 18 months to design, the construction of the building has been going on just over one year. Anderson is eager for this project to reach completion and start making the move.

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