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Moose Lake students move to higher ground

Several people said the biggest difference between the old Moose Lake School and the new one is the high school art room. It was located in the windowless basement in the old building. Sometimes water would come up through the floor and there was no natural lighting for painting and other art projects. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 9
Moose Lake School Superintendent smiles as he cuts the ribbon for the long-awaited new school. He is surrounded by school board members, principals, and students. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 9
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The Moose Lake moose greets people as they enter between the administrative offices at the front of the new school. The moose and the swoosh marks under it are made of Moose Lake agates, as are the moose tracks that lead into the elementary section at the other end of the building. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal4 / 9
The exterior of the Moose Lake School is nearly finished with just a few cosmetic touches to go, including the rock facade on the entrance to the school. The high school is to the right of the entrance and the elementary and preschool sections are to the left. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal5 / 9
Audrey and Sophie Gunderson are ready for school. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal6 / 9
The Moose Lake Volleyball team played the first game in the new Moose Lake School gym before the open house last Thursday. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal7 / 9
The moose tracks are filled with Moose Lake agates and lead towards the elementary wing of the new school. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal8 / 9
Look close and a silhouette of a calf and adult moose can be seen in the wood feature wall in the lunch/commons area at the new Moose Lake School. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal 9 / 9

Once upon a time there was an old, worn out, brick school building that had been built in a flood zone. After many, many failed attempts to pass a bond referendum to build a new school, the school was flooded yet again. The school board surveyed residents to find out how much they were willing to spend and came up with a winning number of $34.7 million. The bond passed by a two-to-one margin and the project moved forward, culminating in a combined elementary, preschool and high school building for Moose Lake students.

The most commonly used word at the new Moose Lake School grand opening Thursday was "beautiful," spoken in quiet awe as close to 500 people toured the new building. Several were curious Moose Lake alumni who graduated in the 1950s and 1960s. They were impressed with the beauty of the new building and happy that it finally came to fruition after so many failed referendums over the years. Teachers were in most classrooms to answer questions by alumni and other visitors such as what is a smartboard and how does it work.

There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday afternoon followed by several speakers. When the speakers were done, the onlookers were encouraged to explore the new school.

The volleyball team had played the first game in the new gym against Two Harbors earlier in the day, which could also be viewed on two large television screens in the cafeteria/commons area outside the gym. People can also sit and watch through the windows into the gym.

"We are just really excited," said second-grade teacher Joanne Unzen, who's been a teacher for 20 years and whose four children graduated from Moose Lake. "It's just so much fun to put everything away!"

The students are also excited.

"I think it's really awesome. I like that the rooms have windows and shades," said fourth-grader Sophie Gunderson.

Her younger sister concurred.

"I am excited for my new classroom and my teacher," said Audrey Gunderson a bit shyly. She will be a kindergartener this year.

"It's the same awesome teachers in a new setting," said the girls' mom.

The new kindergarten classrooms have in-floor heating as well as their own bathrooms, thanks to the efforts of early childhood coordinator Julie Duesler. She applied for a $1.5 million grant and matching funds from the state for the ECFE program, which resulted in a separate wing for the youngsters. The preschool area, including the Mini Moose Daycare, has doubled in size at the new school. It had been 800 feet at the old school and now has 1200 feet for the kids to move around in.

"They can see out the windows now and there is so much natural lighting," said Duesler. "They are all in one area and the air quality is so much better."

"She's (Duesler) an amazing person," said Unzen.

The new school features plenty of natural lighting, is more secure than the old building for the safety of both students and teachers, and is located on a high area to prevent flooding. The terrazzo moose in the floor at the entry of the school is made of Moose Lake agates, as are the giant moose tracks that lead into the elementary wing of the school. Roughly 27 tons of crushed marble went into the terrazzo floor and 1,800 gallons of epoxy was used. That amount of epoxy would fill 28,800 8-ounce coffee cups, according to fun facts from the school district.

The beautiful wood featured in the cafeteria/commons area has a silhouette of a young calf looking to an adult moose for guidance, symbolizing the students and teachers at the school. Blue pendant lights hang in a line in front of the wooden feature and cast reflections onto the tables below. Best of all, the project came in close to budget.

"We were about $300,000 over budget. This was about 1 percent over our $34.7 million project," said Moose Lake School Superintendent Bob Indihar. "We are using other monies that we had saved to make up the overage. The final bid on the fields came in over and that is what caused this. I did not cut anything on the school because that was already done."

The majority of the school is complete, including classrooms. The rock facade on the front of the school needs be finished as does the library and some bench seating in the hallways at the time of the grand opening. The athletic area is also still under construction; it will include a track, practice football field and a baseball field. For softball, kids will travel to Willow River.

"We were waiting to get large book shelves out of the old school," said Indihar Friday afternoon. "We literally had to break out a large window to get them out." The shelves have since been moved into the new school and set up.

Several teachers commented that they love the natural lighting from the many windows, including the preschool wing. Several also expressed appreciation to the voters for making the dream of a new school come true.

A few of the teachers said the biggest change was the new art room.

In the old building the art room was in the basement.

"I had no windows, no air flow and very little heat. It was either hot or it was cold; it was a dungeon," said art teacher Tracy Kill. "I went from a tiny little room with water coming up from the floor to this."

Kill also said the old 20-by-80-foot classroom had two large columns which obstructed some of the students' view as she talked. Kill also would accidently turn around and walk into the large obstructions at times.

Junior Makayla Hoffman walked into the art room and looked around the bright, organized room. Her face glowed with happiness and excitement.

"It looks good. It's big, open and light," said Hoffman, adding that the light was a lot better for her painting and drawing projects. (She is excited about attending the new school, but not about getting up earlier.)

Colleen Heikkala graduated from Moose Lake School in 1960 and had toured the new building while it was under construction. Now that it was done, she decided to drive up from Farmington and visit the open house to see the finished product.

"It's awesome," said Heikkala. "I was impressed with the gym and the fine arts area."

"This is fantastic!" said Barb Skogg, a 1960 Moose Lake School graduate. Her husband, Dick, was a chemistry teacher at East High School and was impressed with the new science rooms.

"The gym is nice and the band room and the auditorium is nice," Skogg said. "The stage is tremendous and the art room also."

She said it was definitely time to retire the old school building and build a new one.

"Look at what a beautiful building we have now," said Indihar. "It will serve the community for years to come. This was meant to be, it was our time."