Posted 8/23/16 (Tue)
By Cecile Wehrman
It’s taken more than a year and $9 million, but students and teachers came back to school last week to celebrate an addition that will help ensure students are well served in Grenora for decades to come.
At a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday, School Board President Lavern Johnson, a catch in his throat, told the assembled crowd just what the project means to one patron he visited with recently. Instead of complaining about his taxes or the fact his own kids are already grown and gone, “He said, ‘Thanks for saving our community.’”
Truly, said Johnson, “It’s the community that built this.”
Superintendent Troy Walters led off the ceremony with comments addressed to 180 students and three dozen staff members scattered on the front lawn.
“When you leave,” he said, “you can talk highly of Grenora and your experience here.”
When Walters first came to this post eight years ago, the future looked anything but bright. The district was down to just 44 students. Then the oil boom hit and enrollment swelled, virtually overnight.
Teachers were giving instruction in rooms as small as closets, there weren’t enough bathrooms, and elementary and high school classrooms were intermingled in a facility, though well maintained, was beginning to show its 50-year age.
“It’s pretty exciting for us to have something so beautiful to come to every day,” said Walters, even if arriving at the point of construction completion was, at times, chaotic.
“It’s been a lot of stress, a lot of meetings, a lot of decisions,” said Walters, not to mention frequent upheavals for staff and students as they shifted rooms multiple times last year to accommodate ongoing work.
No surprise, said Johnson, “it turns out to be three or four more times the work than you expect.”
But it was certainly worth it.
“The kids have a better environment and more opportunities to learn,” Johnson said.
Contractors FCI and EAPC Architect Sean Sugden -- the same firm and architect engaged in Divide County’s addition project now underway -- added a whole new elementary classroom wing to the south of the old portion, along with a weight room, new lockers rooms, an elementary library, special education room and a multi-purpose gym.
“This will all be open to the public by key cards during off hours and sometimes, during the day,” said Carlyle Norby, so members of the community can use the fitness equipment or play on the court when it is not in use by the school.
New water fountains are fitted to accommodate filling water bottles and all of the classrooms are air conditioned and outfitted with smart boards and “All of the elementary kids have their own lockers,” said Norby, with K-3 classrooms on the west side of the building and grade 4-6 on the east side.
Norby, a school board member who served the district as an administrator for 35 years, knows this is a day that could just as easily have never come.
“I never thought in a million years,” he said, that tiny Grenora School would once again be populated by nearly 200 students.
But thanks to the oil boom, a decades-long decline in student enrollment turned around. And despite the current industry slowdown, it appears the families attracted here have mostly stayed.
“We’re really blessed for the oil boom to come to our school,” said Chelsea Berg, one of only two seniors from the Class of 2016 to attend her entire career in the old school.
Now, her younger siblings will finish out their school years in the facility.
Berg was given the honor of being at center stage to cut the red ribbon officially opening the new facility.
“My family has gone to school here a long time, my grandpa. It’s pretty cool to see that it’s still here,” she said.
Though she’ll be attending college in Grand Forks, one day, “I think I’d like to come back. This is a great community.”
Fourth grader Reign Ledahl is excited about everything from the air conditioning to the newly seeded lawn outside.
She likes the fact the school has grown, too, not just in its footprint, “because it makes more people and more people you can make friends with.”
Brett Wuori, family and consumer science teacher, appreciates the air conditioning, too.
“Last year when it was 89 degrees and no air it was hot and hard to teach.”
Principal Joe Paine, in his second year on the job, has seen the project rise from the dirt. He is looking forward to all of the benefits the new addition brings.
“I expect it’s really going to help boost the self esteem and morale of our staff throughout the year,” he said, because they know the community is willing to invest in the facility and its future.