Due to the investment the community has made in North Branch Area Public Schools, the district is able to provide new in-person learning opportunities, when applicable, to its students.

During the North Branch School Board meeting Oct. 8, Director of Building and Grounds Art Tobin provided an update on the construction improvements and energy efficiencies within the district buildings.

With the exception of the secure entrance at Sunrise River School, which was funded through grant dollars, the improvements Tobin highlighted were completed through the successful passing of a bond referendum in May 2017 where voters approved three questions.

The three questions the voters passed enabled the district to fund safety and security improvements, deferred maintenance and updates to classrooms and other district facilities; enabled the district to expand and improve gym and athletic program space at the middle school and high school; and provide funds to support technology used for classroom instruction.

Superintendent Sara Paul thanked the community for their support of the district.

“We are so excited about and appreciative of the community for the investment that they’ve made, for us to not only upgrade but to add to high-quality learning spaces,” Paul said. “Art Tobin, he is our director of building and grounds, and he truly puts the art in building and grounds. He is an exceptional leader that takes attention to details of all aspects of creating these learning spaces. He has worked in partnership with leaders like David Treichel and building principals to really make some thoughtful and intentional decisions that impact the daily experience of our students. ... The reality is that COVID hitting really put a heavy hit against a lot of school districts across the nation. And the thing that is really interesting to me is that the way we’re positioned, due to the community’s investments, has given us enough space to spread kids out. It’s given us high-quality learning spaces that have high air quality and ventilation. Even in the context of COVID where we’re not fully able to benefit from the learning spaces that we’ve created for the purposes and intention behind them, ... we are able to keep kids in school because of the investment the community has made in our learning spaces.

“These spaces really are about preparing our students for their future. This year our kindergarten class is representing the graduating class of 2033 and we need to give them the best we have to offer,” Paul added.

Tobin thanked the district administrators for all their support.

“A friend of mine told me a long time ago, many hands make light work, and without you people, my teammate, superintendent, there’s no way that this would have been accomplished,” Tobin said.

Tobin highlighted the learning stairs at the high school.

“I didn’t know if I was in favor of learning stairs, but, boy, it comes in handy and the kids love it,” Tobin said. “It’s a break-out space, it’s a place to see what we were seeing tonight. The learning stair is used a lot more than I ever thought it was going to be used in the short time that we’ve been dealing with COVID and everything.”

Tobin explained the benefit to the furniture in the break-out spaces and the learning areas is it’s not all stationary and can be moved as needed.

“It’s what we need it to be,” Tobin said. “We talk about teachers, we talk about David Treichel and how we use different areas and always coming up with different ideas to excite the kids to get them to learn and get them to be part of everything — the furniture, it’s just an awesome way to be and the way that we can break that stuff out.”

Tobin touched on the ProStart area, an area that was finished last year. The ProStart is a career and technical education program that unites the food service industry and the classroom to teach high school students culinary skills and restaurant management principles.

“But the ProStart area, when we went into it, we thought that the people that were putting the equipment in, but to be very honest with you, the other schools that were so jealous that they didn’t have what we have. Not because we had it and they didn’t, but the things that we could do with it,” Tobin said. “When you take a look at what these kids are doing, and the ability to learn, and the different things that they can do and the interests that are in there, it’s not like when I went to school. People are really excited to get there and I think it’s a wonderful space. We watch cooking shows on TV. Again, many hands make light work. When you take a look at the monitors that are put in place and the IT that was there, there’s not a space that you get lost in the ProStart area. There’s different areas. You can pay attention to everything from the back of the room as well from the front of the room. It’s a great experience.”

Tobin touched on the brand-new stage at the high school and how the seating is also new.

Energy efficiency is also of utmost importance to the district.

“We do our energy efficiencies every day,” Tobin said. “I have conversations with our finance director Todd Tetzlaff about what we can expect to save on energy costs as we go forward. How we can monitor them? Why are we burning three boilers when we only need to burn one boiler?”

At the middle school, Tobin highlighted the Life Work Center space, which provides life skills and work exploration programming for young adults with disabilities ages 18-21.

“It’s a beautiful space. People enjoy going there. It’s clean and it’s welcoming and inviting,” Tobin said.

Tobin mentioned the middle school is now all conditioned, so the district can monitor temperature, humidity and other aspects of the building. He said a new feature is the building now has occupied and unoccupied settings, a setting that is now available within all district buildings.

“So if we’re going to have this meeting, we look at the facility calendar. We see when that meeting is scheduled and about a half hour before we believe that meeting is going to be over with, we set that timing so that it goes to an unoccupied setting and we coast out of that meeting. In the summer time, we are going to bring that temperature up, we’ll let it rise up about 4 degrees, 5 degrees, and in the winter time we’ll let it cool down,” Tobin said. “So we’re making sure that people are comfortable and we’re giving those comfort levels when people are occupying those spaces and we’re also not wasting energy when they’re not occupied. So we go to an occupied/unoccupied setting on all of our buildings now.”

At Sunrise River School, Tobin highlighted the new secure entrance, as well as the more efficient furniture that allows for social distancing and multi-purposes within the school. The school also has new open areas, new paint, new soundproofing and a new energy efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

“Right now when we’re washing our hands a lot, we drop that temperature down just a little bit on our hot water temperature so to make sure that those kids got that hot water on their hands all the time, that it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” Tobin said.

The Brooker building, which houses the Norse Area Learning Center, has a brand-new kitchen area, brand-new surfaces, is handicap accessible and has remodeled bathrooms and classrooms.

Tobin explained the North Branch Area Education Center has break-out spaces to allow for social distancing, window seatings for the students, a bright and colorful playground, a renovated kitchen space with new energy efficient coolers and appliances.

“It’s really a wonderful space,” Tobin said. “The rooms are bright. They are large spaces, there are open spaces, there are creative spaces. It’s really a plus.”

Tobin highlighted there is also energy efficiency climate controls throughout the building.

“Thank you all. This has been truly a labor of love to do this and I couldn’t have done it without the support and leadership of the people that I work with every day,” Tobin said.

Board Member Tim MacMillan thanked Tobin for all his efforts.

“Art, thank you for the level of detail and expertise on HVAC and all that,” MacMillan said.

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