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Published August 18, 2012, 11:30 PM

Tour West Fargo's newest school: Freedom Elementary full from the get-go

First of several new West Fargo schools opens this week to capacity
WEST FARGO - Freedom Elementary opens here this week and it’s already full. The newest building in the rapidly growing West Fargo School District is expected to greet 561 students when classes start Thursday, said Principal Jeff Johnson. It’s built to handle 550.

By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM

WEST FARGO - Freedom Elementary opens here this week and it’s already full.

The newest building in the rapidly growing West Fargo School District is expected to greet 561 students when classes start Thursday, said Principal Jeff Johnson.

It’s built to handle 550.

Plans were to have the school open with 470 students when the school board approved construction last year, Business Manager Mark Lemer said.

“We knew we were going to have growth,” he said. “But we didn’t anticipate that it would open over its maximum capacity.”

You can thank the great construction weather this past year, Johnson said. It helped builders pepper the area with homes for young families.

Freedom is patterned after Aurora Elementary, which opened in fall 2007 in the Eagle Run area. Using that template saved at least $180,000 in architectural fees on the new school just south of Interstate 94 and west of Veterans Boulevard, Lemer said.

Aurora was also built to handle 550 students. Last year, it had 585, “but that’s really pushing the infrastructure,” Lemer said. This year, it should open with about 537 students.

The school board had set a trigger point of 85 percent of Freedom’s capacity to begin deliberations about the second of the two elementary schools approved by voters in a recent $82.5 million bond vote.

“Obviously, we’ve met that trigger point,” Superintendent David Flowers said.

“We do know that with Freedom opening above its capacity, it will require the board to look seriously at what our timeline had been and any adjustments they need to make to it,” he said.

Flowers said the district is preparing for 539 more students districtwide than it had last year at this time – a full-sized elementary school worth of students.

The district’s post-enrollment report, generated Aug. 9-10, shows the district opening classes this fall with 8,052 students compared to 7,513 last year at this time.

Flowers said the board could decide to order another school built, or look at other alternatives, such as using available classroom space elsewhere in the district for students.

One factor the board must weigh is the cost of hiring staff, heating, cooling and upkeep of another school, Lemer said.

The district’s budget will be strained for a few years with Liberty Middle School being brought online next fall and the expansion of Sheyenne 9th Grade Center into the district’s second high school.

The district is buying 10 acres of land just north of 40th Avenue South and a half mile east of Sheyenne school as a potential elementary school site.

The district also owns land along 52nd Avenue South just north of the Deer Creek subdivision that could be used for an elementary.

Last week, teachers were preparing their classrooms and workers were delivering furniture and other items to Freedom Elementary.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” first-grade teacher Ashley Neisen said as she made a sign for her room. “I love the setup.”

The Freedom media center, which is surrounded on three sides by the academic wing’s pods, has a tree house theme, with green fabric leaves hanging above the bright, airy central library.

“I love my tree house” and its 7,232 new books, said Heidi Wolf, who is in charge of the media center. “Everyone has easy access to it.”

Among Freedom’s features:

• The school incorporates natural light into all but four rooms, which improves student performance, Johnson said.

• Classrooms have motion-sensing light systems to turn lights on and off to trim electricity costs.

• Next to the commons/

lunch area is a large gym, which can be curtained off to accept two classes. The gym can also be used for athletics by the southside secondary schools or rented out at night.

• The playground to the east is on land shared with the West Fargo Park District.

Here is how the academic wings are set up:

The blue wing houses first- and second-graders. The green wing houses second- and third-graders. The gold wing is mostly filled with fourth- and fifth-graders.

There are three fifth-grade rooms, four fourth-grade rooms; five third-grade rooms, and six rooms each for the first and second grades, Johnson said.

• Classrooms are designed so adjoining rooms can form a suite with a shared door, allowing for more collaboration.

• Each classroom has a microphone and speaker system to amplify teachers’ voices. They also have electronic projectors.

• There is a computer lab that will hold 28 computers, Johnson said. The school also has a mobile cart with 30 laptop computers.

• The second-, third- and fourth-grade classrooms have interactive white boards. The fifth-grade classrooms get those boards next year. The boards have touch-screen capability.

• The water fountains have bottle fillers, too, to encourage children to drink more water.

• The school’s nickname and mascot will be revealed at the first school assembly on Thursday.

Fourth-grade teacher Tammy Peters is in her 27th year with the district. She calls the school “excellent. Incredible.”

“I just walk around in awe. Everything’s new and fresh,” Peters said. “I think there’s just so much energy.”

“We’re 95 percent ready to roll,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting. We’re ready for school.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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