North Park Elementary in Fridley to alleviate space needs with remodel

North Park Elementary in Fridley is undergoing a remodeling project in response to space limitations.

At the June 26 District 13 School Board meeting, Bill Holmgren, director of finance and operations, said there are space needs at all three elementary schools because of student enrollment growth.

An addition is being constructed on the south side of Highland Elementary to provide five more kindergarten classrooms and one early childhood classroom.

He said 49 new students enrolled at North Park this past school year, which accounts for two classrooms. As a result of the increase in enrollment, one second grade class was in the media center, and one second grade class was in the computer lab.

There is not enough money in the budget to pay for a large project at North Park, so the media center and the computer lab will be redesigned into a second grade area.

For three days, Supt. Kathy Kelly, Director of Teaching and Learning Duane Berkas, Director Holmgren, Director of Technology and Security Services Bryan Hennekens, Principal Jeff Cacek and a team of teachers met to discuss the redesign process.

During the June 26 meeting, Cacek used Google SketchUp, a 3D modeling program, to give board members a tour of the new space that will be created.

One of the immediate changes that will be noticed when arriving at the school’s media center is a glass wall, Cacek said. There will be an alcove with benches that will offer an inviting space for not only teachers and students, but visitors as well.

“When I asked the teachers what would you do differently, in a perfect world, every single answer had to do with having a large space so that all the second grade classrooms could get together to collaborate,” he said.

The large space will allow for the entire second grade to join together for morning meetings on most days.

Round tables in the space will promote collaboration among students, and there will be a table for children who learn by standing and moving around. Another room will also provide standing workspace.

There will be desktops, laptops and iPads, in addition to the video cameras and digital cameras students have been using.

A few of the desks are multi-purpose, so they can become stools. Cacek said the focus was that everything has to be flexible because things are going to change.

“We have desks, and we have chairs and we have whiteboards, and it works wonderfully for one type of learning, but not for all the types of learning that our students need to be productive in a 21st century economy,” he told the board.

“Every decision that we made was based upon, “OK, what about 15 years down the road, what about five years, what about 15 minutes down the road when there is a new technology or skill that our students need to learn.’”

In creating the 21st century learning space, the school is also freeing up two more classrooms, Cacek added.

Other features include lecture space, a room for doing messy projects, structured classroom space, and collaborative space for small group and individual work.

The remodeling changes will enable the school to use its recording studio for projects. Cacek said the studio space hasn’t been utilized because there’s too much background noise, but the additional space will hopefully eliminate that issue.

The furniture can be folded up and it will be on casters, so students can move it around the space.

Teachers chose to not have traditional desks. Because students are asked to share space and supplies, the teachers were adamant that they model that themselves, Cacek said. There will be places for the teachers to lock up their belongings.

“We’re going to get to turbo charge the future here,” Cacek said. “We’re going to get to create a model classroom that will look like the classrooms of the very near future – not just in Columbia Heights, but hopefully everywhere.”

He said he knows the space will work very well, and his hope is that all of North Park and the rest of the district’s buildings will look very similar in the near future.

School Board member Keith Roberts said the remodel is exciting. He likes that the flexible space allows for clustering, which needs to exist more, but classrooms are limited because of the room configuration, the desks and the noise level.

Roberts said it’s essential to teach kids collaboration because they can’t be expected to do everything at their desk by themselves. The real world isn’t like that – more businesses are working collaboratively to reach goals.

School Board member Ted Landwehr asked if the sound levels in the space will be an issue.

Cacek said he doesn’t expect any issues because the carpet helps absorb sound, and teachers set and model expectations early.

An open house at North Park is scheduled for Aug. 30. Cacek said the structure will be completed and most of the furniture will be incorporated into the space. Furniture ordered from Europe is set to arrive on Aug. 31, and it will be phased into the classroom.

The open house won’t showcase everything, so it will be a surprise when parents and students arrive when classes begin, Cacek said.