Construction and maintenance workers, teachers and support staff have been hard at work for the past week, making sure Detroit Lakes Public Schools' academic facilities are ready for the start of classes Wednesday, Aug. 28.
Three of the four main buildings — Rossman Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary and Detroit Lakes High School — will be holding open houses for students and parents Monday, Aug. 26, from 4 to 6 p.m., while Detroit Lakes Middle School's open house is set for Tuesday, Aug. 27, also 4-6 p.m.
Before any of that happened, however, there was still much work to be done this past week, as Rossman, Roosevelt and the middle school finished up their summer construction projects.
Visitors to Rossman Elementary will notice that the main entrance has been "built out" and the offices enlarged, so people entering the building after the start of classes will have to go through the school office in order to get past the interior security doors, which will be locked while classes are being held. Similar upgrades are planned at the Roosevelt entrance next year, said Detroit Lakes Superintendent Doug Froke.
These new "safety and security" measures were included as part of the $50 million school construction referendum passed by Detroit Lakes school district voters last November, though part of the Rossman upgrades were funded with a $300,000 school safety grant, according to Froke.
"The four main parts of that (referendum proposal) were improvements for 20th-century learning, increased space, safety and security," said Froke. "This is the safety and security piece."
Due to modern day school security concerns such as active shooter situations, bomb threats, etc., "The days where parents could just go right inside the front door and straight to their kids' classrooms are over," he added, as all visitors must now check in before being allowed to enter the building.
Other improvements that may not be as readily apparent to the naked eye include all-new, LED lighting and updated heating and cooling systems, with pneumatic controls which will allow the temperature of each room to be controlled individually, Froke said.
In addition to the LED lighting, some improvements have been made to allow for more natural light in the classrooms and collaborative spaces, Froke added.
"Brighter lighting, along with more natural light, will create a better learning environment for our kids," he said.
Though a better learning environment for kids is always the No. 1 goal, some of the improvements were also made with staff and parents in mind, such as the addition of conference rooms at Rossman.
"We've never had conference rooms there before," he said, adding that these new spaces will allow for more privacy when dealing with sensitive student and staff issues.
Not all of the improvements at Rossman will be done this year, however. Because of this, the district will be renting some of the facilities at the National Guard Armory across the street from the school for the duration of the 2019-20 school year.
"All of Rossman's physical education and music classes will be held over there this year," Froke said.
Some yet-to-be-completed projects will be worked on during the school year, he added, such as converting Rossman's main gymnasium and stage into a new media center and student commons. (The addition for a new gymnasium will be completed next summer.)
"The new media center should be done by Oct. 1," Froke said, while work on the commons area won't be completed until next year.
Most of the work done at Roosevelt Elementary this summer, by contrast, involved ground preparation, sewer and water improvements, and pouring the footings for the new addition, which is slated to start construction yet this fall.
There was no work done at the high school building this summer other than routine maintenance and repairs, Froke noted; this is because the bulk of the work on the high school, including two large building additions, will be done in 2020-21. In fact, bids for construction at the high school site won't even be let until November.
As has previously been reported, the school district received permission from the state to start classes early this fall — and to let out a couple of weeks early in May — to allow for a longer construction season next summer, when the bulk of the work at the high school site will be done.