Step into Sand Creek Elementary School in Coon Rapids and you’ll see hallways curving into the building to the left and right — part of a circle that staff members and others sometimes walk and run for fitness purposes.
Eleven laps equal a mile, Principal Paul Anderson said last week.
The classrooms then branch off the corridors like spokes on a bicycle. And this fall, for the first time, students will make their way from that center hallway to a new building addition that will house seven classrooms made possible by Minnesota’s embrace of all-day kindergarten.
Sand Creek is one of six elementary schools in the Anoka-Hennepin district that will feature new additions — each of which the district hoped would be substantially completed by Aug. 13. That’s today, Wednesday, of course, and if a visit to Sand Creek’s new space last week serves as any indication, there will be plenty of cleanup work left for the custodians, and desks and furniture to be moved around, too.
When he walked into the school’s main office eight days ago, Chuck Holden, the district’s chief operations officer, gave Anderson a quick description of what he saw.
“Still a mess,” he said.
“Still a mess,” the principal affirmed.
But the two officials spoke positively of the possibilities during a tour of the space last week. Granted, with wires hanging and carpeting yet to be installed, one’s imagination was required. But the rooms were coming together under an aggressive construction time line that began in late March.
The Sand Creek addition is expected to account for $4.2 million of the nearly $40 million worth of building additions now nearing completion in the state’s largest school district. Improvements to Coon Rapids Middle School also are a part of that larger cost, Holden said.
He was asked whether he expected the six elementary schools to meet the Aug. 13 deadline for “substantial completion.”
“We are hoping,” Holden said then. “The nice weather is helping.”
Other district elementary schools seeing additions and improvements are Adams, Eisenhower, Franklin, Jefferson and Lincoln.
In 2013, the state Legislature agreed to provide funding to districts wanting to move to all-day kindergarten beginning in 2014-15. That legislation covered operating costs, but districts were left to figure how to make room for the kids, and then how to pay for any building projects that might be needed.
Anoka-Hennepin is using money from a maintenance fund and a capital fund and savings from a cutback in portable-classroom rentals. The new additions have made it possible for the district to get rid of half of its temporary trailer classrooms.
The new spaces also allow the district to provide new homes for non-kindergarten students and teachers. At Sand Creek Elementary, two of the seven new classrooms will house special-education students who previously attended Madison Elementary in Blaine. That move, in turn, helps Madison Elementary accommodate its kindergartners, Anderson said. Art and music teachers who previously taught from carts also will have permanent homes.
“It’s a domino effect,” Holden said.
One morning last week, Carolyn Kennedy, a veteran music teacher nearing retirement, grabbed a hard hat and took a look at a new music room in the Sand Creek addition.
“This gives me at least another three years,” Anderson quoted her as saying.
Much of Sand Creek’s new space — four classrooms — will be occupied not by kindergartners but by fifth-graders. The older children, the principal said, should be able to make better use of a wide hallway constructed between classrooms. There, smaller groups of students can be pulled from the main classrooms for more specialized instruction. Holden said such spacious hallways now are a common feature in modern school design.
A week ago, pink insulation cluttered the floor in the rooms to be used by special-education students. Anderson, surveying the scene, pointed to a room near the rear of one classroom. That’ll be a “calming area” for the students, he said.
As he spoke, a worker drilled a door frame into place.
Sand Creek is planning an open house on Aug. 21 for the 17 families who will have children in the special-education program.
An all-school open house will follow on Aug. 27, Anderson said.
Last year’s fourth-graders, he added, are “pumped” about the new space. Holden, too, recalled how students pressed their noses to classroom windows to check out the work when construction began. Now, the two school leaders themselves were pleased to see the classrooms taking shape.
“It’s turning out nice, Chuck, isn’t it?” Anderson said.
“Real good,” Holden replied.