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Helmut Schmidt, Published July 30 2013

New West Fargo middle school to be finished as school starts

WEST FARGO – The new kids on the block will be ready for school.

At least, that’s what West Fargo School District officials said Tuesday.

Construction on Sheyenne High School and Liberty Middle School is proceeding at a frenzied pace as workers aim to have both schools ready for the opening bell on Aug. 27.

The 95,000-square-foot academic addition to Sheyenne should be done with time to spare, but the three-story 210,200-square-foot Liberty Middle School will be a near thing, Business Manager Mark Lemer said.

Notices went out to middle school parents letting them know that orientation is planned at Liberty on Aug. 19.

But Lemer said that’s looking less likely because of the amount of work that remains. The backup day for orientation at the school being built to hold 1,200 students is Aug. 26 – a day before classes start.

“Liberty is a very large building. It was a very aggressive schedule to assume that it could be done in 16 months,” Lemer said. “We’re aware of that, but our contractors were also aware of the timeline when they bid the project.”

Larry Carcoana, an architect with Zerr Berg Architects of Fargo, which is responsible for the Liberty project, said all but a couple of pieces of the school – not vital to classes – will be ready.

“We are absolutely going to be done,” Carcoana vowed.

School Board members toured the buildings Tuesday.

The buildings share a nearly 80-acre site south of Interstate 94, just west of Veterans Boulevard between 36th and 40th Avenues South.

Inside Sheyenne, wall coverings and flooring are in place in much of the academic addition, and the expanded first-floor library and multipurpose room.

In some areas, terrazzo waits to be polished and doors are stacked, ready to be installed. Pallets of boxes filled with cabinets or furniture await assembly or installation elsewhere.

Classrooms and common areas in Sheyenne have large windows to let in lots of natural light, a feature aimed at improving learning, Lemer said.

Sheyenne’s math and social studies rooms will have smart boards capable of interfacing with computers. And all of the rooms have sound systems that interface with multimedia and computer equipment, he said.

“It’s nice. It looks like a lot of great opportunities for our kids,” board member Patti Stedman said.

In between the course concentration areas, there are shared learning areas where activities can be held for multiple classes.

A health careers classroom on the second floor sits next to another room that functions as a lab with six patient care stations.

Board member Dave Olson said he liked the diesel mechanics and nursing program spaces.

“There’s so many people that want schools like they were 30 years ago,” Olson said. But “everything changes. Technology changes, and it forces us to change.”

Board president Kay Kiefer was also impressed by Sheyenne.

“I think they’ve done a pretty good job,” she said of the design.

Work on Sheyenne’s gymnasium addition on the west side of the school and the theater and fine arts addition on the east side is underway. Those projects are to be completed by next fall.

Sheyenne is expected to open this fall with 800 students in ninth and 10th grades, Superintendent David Flowers said. The school will hold up to 1,500 students when finished.

A human anthill

To the north, Liberty Middle School is a human anthill of activity, with skid-steer loaders zipping around to landscape the grounds, and a small army of electricians, bricklayers, carpet-layers, glazers and other skilled laborers working throughout the building.

“One day at a time. They are working furiously,” Principal Denise Jonas said.

Much of the work on the school’s library was finished Monday, with furniture for the school coming in this week, she said.

As a tribute to the speed of the work, in the 45 minutes it took for the tour to work its way to the middle school’s offices, Jonas found the floor of her office carpeted and insulation put into the ceiling of the main office.

“At 3 o’clock, nothing was here,” Jonas said. “It’s been kind of an amazing process.”

Liberty will house sixth-graders on the third floor, seventh-graders on the second floor, and eighth-graders on the first floor.

For this year, fifth-graders will also attend classes on the third floor, Jonas said.

As at Sheyenne, an effort was made to build the school to include a lot of natural light.

All of Liberty’s classrooms will have amplification systems similar to those in the district’s elementary schools that amplify both multimedia equipment and teachers’ voices.

The main entrance is on the east side of the school, with students coming past the main office to the lunch room/commons area.

“It’s gorgeous. It looks like it’s good for learning,” board member Angela Korsmo said. “It looks like it’s designed for kids. It’s a good use of taxpayer money.”

In the gym, installation of the maple basketball flooring is nearly complete, but then it must be finished and sealed.

A weight room and exercise room on Liberty’s second floor, as well as a theater, won’t be finished until October, Carcoana said.

Workers were still installing facing brick on the theater walls and ductwork lay in piles on the floor.

“We did the same thing at Cheney” Middle School, Lemer said.

Liberty Middle School is expected have about 800 students from south of Interstate 94 this fall: 600 will be sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, with another 200 fifth-graders from Aurora and Freedom elementary schools, which have seen a tremendous influx of students due to the area’s housing boom.

Flowers said Liberty will relieve overcrowding at Cheney Middle School, and allows the district to reintegrate students from the district’s STEM Center into the middle schools.

The STEM Center, which focused on science, technology, engineering and math, held about 240 middle school students last year, Flowers said.

Sheyenne and Liberty are among the schools funded with money from an $82.5 million bond issue approved by voters in 2011.

Liberty was budgeted at $31,286,000. Another $2 million was set aside for furnishing the school with everything from telephones and floor finishers to desks and computers.

The Sheyenne Phase I project academic wing is budgeted at $13,490,000. Another $815,000 was set aside for furnishing the school.

The Sheyenne Phase II gym, theater and fine arts additions are budgeted at $12,438,500, with $425,000 for furniture, etc.

The athletic fields shared by the two schools are budgeted at $2,590,000, Lemer said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583