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Dain Sullivan, Forum Communications, Published September 01 2012

Wadena celebrates new school two years after EF4 tornado

WADENA, Minn. – There wasn’t an empty seat in the house Wednesday night, as about 2,500 community members, students and staff flooded into the new Wadena-Deer Creek Middle/High School gymnasium for the facility’s long-awaited dedication ceremony.

More than two years ago, an EF4 tornado moved through Wadena and destroyed much of the town’s old secondary school.

“For me, it’s hard to imagine just over two years ago we were standing at this same spot trying to figure out what we were going to do with our school,” Principal Tyler Church said.

When Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom stepped up to the podium and threw her arm up in the air, the crowd exploded in applause.

“Thank you all for your support over the past two years,” she said with a smile, as people listened from an area largely taken up by bleachers and folding chairs. The walking track that surrounds the sky-lit gymnasium also was packed, with people standing shoulder to shoulder.

Dahlstrom said work on the school is 98 percent complete. Among the projects still on the to-do list is the school’s storm shelter, which also will be used as an additional gym.

High school senior Sayde Anderson spoke to the audience about progress the community has made since disaster struck June 17, 2010.

“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next,” she said.

Some stayed in the gymnasium to chat after the ceremony, while others lined the doors to tour the school, with student council members and faculty as their guides.

Highlights of the tour included iPads in the Media Center, new conference rooms, and the auditorium and technology room.

State Sen. Paul Gazelka spoke with attendees and said he’s confident the school will benefit Wadena and its students.

“The students have buy-in. This is their school,” Gazelka said. “When you have buy-in, when you have ownership in it, you tend to perform at a higher level, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we have high-performing students this year in Wadena.”

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Dain Sullivan writes for the Wadena Pioneer Journal