New elementary school aims to inspire

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 31, 2013 - 4:48 PM

The $18 million Wildwood Elementary School in Grant opens Tuesday close to capacity, with a lot to offer.

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Second-grader Evan Heinsch, 7, gazed out the window of the media center during an open house at the new Wildwood K-2 school. Staff members, parents, school board members and others were part of the planning process for building the school, Principal Mark Hamre said.

Photo: Photos by JERRY HOLT • jerry.holt@startribune.com,

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Walk through the new Wildwood Elementary School in Grant and you notice the shapes, from the high slanted ceilings that make the most of natural light to the hills that roll gracefully outside.

The $18 million building opens on Tuesday, replacing a 54-year-old structure nearby in Mahtomedi, and for art teacher Kristi Eckert, that means trading in a basement view of a parking lot for a new “beautiful, inspirational view of nature.”

For Principal Mark Hamre, the new Wildwood is not about any particular feature or two, but about what it all means for instruction. “We now have the space to really teach the way we want to teach,” he said after a recent tour.

This week, about 600 kindergartners through second-graders, close to a capacity crowd, are expected at a school in a district with strong appeal to families. A big reason is student performance. In state test results released last week, 89.7 percent of third-graders at O.H. Anderson Elementary — the school to which Wildwood feeds — were proficient in math in 2012-13.

The district also is giving a boost to its youngest learners by setting up a wing at the new building for preschoolers.

Still, Wildwood was not without its challenges.

Groundbreaking for the new school was delayed after several Grant residents argued that the school was too close to an old toxic dump site. Objections were raised, too, about the routing of buses across the Gateway Trail, which is used by walkers, joggers and cyclists.

Mayor Tom Carr, who went to school at the original Wildwood, said that the new building is “real nice.” But he has heard other residents complain of “overkill,” he said, with the school’s slanted roof being one concern. More costly to repair? He couldn’t say.

There is still talk, too, Carr said, about the old dump site to the west of the school. From there, about 550 tons of waste sludge were hauled away during a 1990s cleanup. The mayor said that he was convinced there’s no cause for concern at the school, which was built clear of the old dump.

“They’ve had it tested eight different ways,” he said. “Everything I’ve seen says it’s mitigated.”

In his view, if there are any safety worries, they’re about the recreational trail and the lack of a fence between it and the school.

The school says it’s fine, “they have cameras,” Carr said. “But they know what I think.”

Hamre, during a recent visit, did point up to a camera above the front door. Cameras are at each public entrance, he said.

Asked about security personnel, he said that Wildwood will not have an officer on duty. But at the start of school, he said, the main entrance door will lock, and visitors will have to enter through the school office.

Space to learn

If the new school seems designed for maximum academic impact, it’s because staff members — as well as parents, school board members and others — were part of the planning process, the principal said.

Two summers ago, he recalled, LHB, the building’s architect, divided the local advisory team into three groups, took a bunch of wood blocks representing various building elements, and then dumped them onto a table and said: Build your school.

“We took the best ideas from each model,” Hamre said.

  • related content

  • The school is set in an open area near the Gateway Trail. Nearly 600 K-2 students will start school in the new building on Tuesday.

  • Parents and students walked the halls during a community celebration this month of the new Wildwood school.

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