WHITE BEAR LAKE — The last Monday of this month will be the start of a new era at White Bear Lake Area High School’s North Campus.
That day, Jan. 30, is when students, faculty and staff at the grades 9-10 building will begin their first day of classes in the newly built addition.
The week of Jan. 23-27 will be five non-student days at North Campus, which will consist of one full work day for staff, one full day of professional development and three days dedicated to moving into the new building addition.
That timeline differs from the rest of the district, which will close out the first semester on Wednesday, Jan. 25, and only dedicate Jan. 26-27 as non-student days.
The transition into the new space is the culmination of more than a year of construction work on the addition, which began in summer 2021. The project was one of several the district OK’d in its 2019 “Building Our Future” bond referendum.
North Campus Principal Angela Nelson is eager to see work on the addition conclude and for it to finally be operational.
“Every time I go over there, it's more finished, and you can see the vision behind why it was created and how it was created,” Nelson said. “It just makes me excited, because we're doing so much prep work around how student learning can change and really expand beyond what we've been able to do because we've been bound by facility space.”
The three-story, 250,000-square-foot classroom addition is arranged into nine “studios,” one of which contains temporary office space and another which holds the media center. The remaining seven studios are learning pods that include six classrooms, conference rooms, individual and group workspaces, teacher workspaces and intervention space.
The seven classroom studios will be organized by academic subject area to maximize collaboration among students and teaching staff. Each studio has a wall with windows to let in natural lighting.
Three classrooms in each studio will be situated next to each other in a row and be separated by moveable walls that can be opened up to combine rooms. One of those classrooms will also contain interactive, touchscreen TVs and other specialized technology offerings.
Two classrooms will be located next to the studio windows and will have open-concept arrangements. The sixth classroom, meanwhile, will have walls on three sides containing whiteboards and a fourth, removable wall that can be opened up to the rest of the studio.
“Teachers can be as flexible as their minds allow them to be in this space. There are really no limitations,” said Tim Wald, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.
Since teachers won’t be assigned their own classrooms, the studios are designed to meet teachers’ and students’ needs as those needs change. At the entryway to each studio will be a TV monitor showing students which room their class will meet on a given day.
“That could change by day, or it could change by week depending on how the staff within the space want to utilize it,” Nelson said. “Staff aren't assigned to a room; they're assigned to a studio, and then they're able to be flexible and move within the studio based on what they're doing with their students that day.”
Teachers will also wear microphones that will be connected to a sound system in their studio. They can adjust the system settings so their microphone’s audio can be amplified in specific areas in the studio.
“It’s designed so that it doesn’t matter if you're right next to the teacher or all the way in the back, the sound will be the same,” Nelson said.
Separate from the learning studios will be new art, automotive, science, welding and construction labs located on the ground floor of the new addition.
The addition also has a slew of safety features, such as secure entrances, an upgraded camera system, an electronic locking system, perimeter door monitoring and visual notification lights. The doors to each studio can be locked down in emergencies, with only permitted key holders able to gain entry. The studios also have rear stairways that provide an emergency exit route.
Besides the three-story classroom structure, the North Campus addition includes a new 92,000-square-foot fieldhouse. The fieldhouse consists of the following features:
• Five new full-sized court surfaces — three wood courts and two with multipurpose flooring — that can be separated with curtains.
• 200-meter, five-lane indoor track that encompasses the courts on the lower level. It includes a long-jump pit.
• Four-lane walking track on the upper level that will be open to the community.
• Auxiliary gym that can double as a storm shelter.
• Wrestling room.
• Fitness gym.
• Equipment storage.
The courts and track at the new fieldhouse will make scheduling indoor practice times easier for the high school’s athletic teams, according to Wald.
“Especially when we get to the spring when it's too cold to be outside for baseball. Right now, they're just fighting over space,” he said.
Just inside the student entrance to the addition is the “Union” area, which will be the school’s cafeteria and eating space. The far wall of the Union is the existing 100s and 200s wing of North Campus, which will keep its windows to let in natural light. Overhead windows in the Union will provide extra sunlight.
The Union will connect to the new classroom addition from the existing building through the “Learning Stairs,” which also provide an area in which students can sit and work. A hallway connects the Union to the new fieldhouse, too.
Moving into the addition will free up the existing North Campus building so renovations on it can commence. That work will last through 2024, with the unification of grades 9-12 to begin in fall 2024 at North Campus.