By Adelle Whitefoot
After months of construction, the North Shore Community School opened its completed new addition on Wednesday to the public.
In 2004, NSCS purchased four portable classrooms to handle the overflow of students that were attending the environmental charter elementary school — this year, that number was more than 330. The portable classrooms were already more than a decade old at the time of purchase. The new addition replaces those inefficient, low security portable classrooms, with two fifth grade classrooms, two sixth grade classrooms, a new art room and a new greenhouse. The construction started last fall and cost about $3.5 million.
“(The portables) have served us well, but we’ve lost our innocence,” said Affiliated Building Company board chair Phil Strom. “We lost our innocence because not a thought was given by me or anybody involved as to the security and safety of our kids when they move from the brick and mortar classrooms to the portable classrooms.”
Strom said due to school shootings in recent years, such as at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the safety and security of students was brought to the forefront.
“So the nucleus for the idea to replace those portables came out of the fact that we needed to do something better,” he said.
ABC is a non-profit corporation that took over ownership of the school and surrounding land from Duluth Township in 2013 after the school paid rent to the township for about a decade. Charter schools cannot levy or bond to fund capital needs, so typically the capital need of a project like this would be funded by conventional financing, Strom said.
Originally, ABC had hoped to use at least some of the $400,000 that NSCS had paid to Duluth Township as rent over the years. Last fall, township officials said they were considering using the money for a town hall expansion, so ABC tapped other resources, including tax-exempt bonds issued by the county.
According to Strom, representatives of ABC talked to St. Louis County commissioners and explained how it would work — how the county could issue tax-exempt bonds without taking on any of the risks. This financing model, as compared to a conventional loan, will save ABC $455,000 over the 15-year bond, Strom said.
NSCS is located in Duluth Township, and formerly was part of the Lake Superior School District.The new addition is Smart Energy Environment Design, SEED, certified. Green additions include passive solar captivators on all of the south facing windows in the new classrooms that capture the energy of the sun and then release it at night, helping to reduce the thermal footprint of the building. All of the lights are LED and are motion activated.
The art room will be moved to the new addition this year and the rest of the classes will move to the new addition over the summer. The portables are expected to be removed by the end of June. Once all the students are all in one building, it will be easier to monitor who is coming in and out of the building and will be safer for students, said NSCS interim director Barry Wolff.
“Knowing that all of the student are going to all be in one building will just make me and others feel better,” he said.