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LP-A's $17.5 million high school open for learning

Lake Park-Audubon Juniors learn the new lunch line procedure in the cafeteria of the new high school Tuesday morning. The cefeteria will also serve as a commons area for the gym, which is to the right. Photo by - Brian Basham1 / 3
Band director Paul Liversage greets and helps LP-A students as they get off the bus for the first day of school Tuesday morning. Photo by - Brian Basham2 / 3
A look into the school's hallways. Students are getting ready to start their new classes. Photo by - Brian Basham3 / 3

LAKE PARK, Minn. - Christmas is arriving early for Lake Park-Audubon High School students.

Work is nearly complete on the school district's new $17.5 million high school.

Not only will the bricks and mortar be new when the school opens on Tuesday, but the technology will be top-notch.

Laptop computers and carrying bags will be issued to the 180 students in grades 10 through 12, Technology Coordinator Bob Henderson said.

Giving all students the same computer and software eliminates the "digital divide" that can crop up due to variations in household income, he said.

"Hopefully, that will level the playing field all around."

The school has campus-wide Wi-Fi and has doubled its bandwidth capacity to handle the extra computing load. Wi-Fi is also available at Audubon Elementary, Superintendent Dale Hogie said.

The high school has four computer labs with 25 to 30 computers each.

Hogie expects the district to start the year with 670 students. About 300 of them will be in the new 7-12 high school.

Principal Kevin Ricke said Thursday the academic areas south of the commons/cafeteria are ready for students.

The smaller of two gymnasiums, which includes the theater, will be ready with bleachers for the first school assembly, he said.

The school has two two-story academic wings. The math, science and language arts departments are clustered, and its three science labs are twice the size of the old labs.

Hallways are wider than in the old building. Students can open lockers on each side of a hall and there will still be 7 to 8 feet between so other students can pass.

"The traffic ergonomics are very user friendly," Ricke said.

Big gym needs work

On the north side of the commons is the high school competition gym and locker rooms.

Ricke said Thursday the gym won't be ready for at least a couple of weeks.

He said students will be bused to and from the old school for physical education classes for two to four weeks, adding that fall athletic teams are now using the old facilities.

Ricke said the old football field will also be used this fall to give turf on the new field time to mature.

To the west of the school there is room for softball and baseball fields. Hogie said community groups are still raising funds to build and fit out the fields.

A health and fitness room will have weightlifting and cardiovascular equipment. It will be used for classes, athletics, and be available to the community, Hogie said.

Energy efficient

The high school has geothermal heating and cooling, which will save on energy costs. Classroom lights are tied to motion detectors, turning on when students or teachers enter, and turning off when no motion is detected.

On the second floor, the media center, with its large south-facing windows, is bright and airy, offering a view of fields and Highway 10.

Ricke said all but one room in the building has a window.

Easy to navigate

The new building is fully handicap accessible, Ricke said.

In the old school, the elevator literally "didn't go to the top floor," he quipped.

The old high school had multiple additions, with the oldest section opening in 1890. Other additions date to 1922, 1955, 1960, 1974 and 1980, Ricke said. Altogether, the building has about 10 different levels, making it tough for the handicapped to navigate.

Temperature control in the old building was iffy at best, with temperatures between hallways and classrooms ranging from 60 to 90 degrees. Some students kept sweaters or sweatshirts in their lockers to have something extra to wear if they knew they were going to a cold classroom, Ricke said.

In the new school, the water tastes good and the plumbing works, he said.

"It's nice to see the kids using drinking fountains. It's nice to see the bathrooms where all the toilets flush."

It's 'fabulous!'

Laureen Svobodny, who teaches English to juniors and seniors, called the new building "fabulous!"

Her favorite area is a television production studio off her classroom to expand the school's communications offerings.

Her husband built the anchor desk. An interview area and a green screen wall used for computer-generated graphics are also planned.

"We will actually do the news" and cover feature stories and sports, she said. "The kids are really looking forward to doing that."

Senior Jacob Huesman said it will be good to have a school in which everything is new and working properly.

"It's really nice. It's going to be really cool," he said.

Putting tech to work

The district is leasing its laptops for about $66,000 a year. The laptops are lightweight -- 3.3 pounds -- and the batteries will last a full school day. They'll be given to students this year with no fee.

"The student response with this has been great," Henderson said.

Students will be allowed to take the machines home and install their own software and games on them.

The program will expand to grades seven through nine if it's successful, Henderson said.

Ricke said he's talked with two math teachers about "flipping" their classrooms. That would require the teachers to record lessons for playback by students online.

In a flipped classroom, students watch their lessons online at home, and do their homework during the day in the classroom.

Ricke said it's likely the switch to laptops will lead to fewer purchases of paper textbooks and novels as the district shifts to using online texts and e-books.

In time, "I don't see us buying classic novels in paperback," Ricke said.

Try, try again

It took six attempts to get approval from Lake Park-Audubon voters for the bond issue paying for the new high school, starting in December 2005.

It passed in May 2010, and dirt work began that fall.

"The big difference on the last vote was a sense of urgency," Hogie said.

The district had the opportunity to get nearly $17 million in federal bond money for new construction, and another $2 million for renovation. All of it was interest free, Hogie said.

Not paying interest on the bonded debt will save the district $9 million, he said.

"This was one of the best opportunities" for the district, Hogie said. "The timing was good for us."

An addition and extensive renovation of Audubon Elementary was finished last year, bringing that building up to new standards.

Altogether, about $3.5 million was spent on the elementary renovations.

"What I enjoy most now is when I come over here and see another place done," Hogie said. "It's coming to life. It's really almost emotional to see things finished."

Getting the schools back up to modern standards is important to both Lake Park and Audubon, Hogie said, particularly since demographers are saying the Highway 10 corridor will see double-digit population growth in coming years.

The old school will be put up for sale, Hogie said.