On Wednesday, April 14, the Forest Lake City Planning Commission gave approval towards facility improvements for North Lakes Academy. These improvements are both desired and needed due to the increased enrollment and success of the district. Starting this summer at the K-8 Campus, a final buildout phase of the structure will add five more classrooms, office space, and a large “Becoming Center” for our students to access and collaborate. This will allow the school to reach full capacity of three sections per grade while still keeping our small class sizes of 22 students. NLA has been fortunate to have foresight in planning for a phased construction model that has allowed the elementary program to grow into the building, to keep financial integrity at the forefront by not spending on space we are not using, and by adapting plans to finalize a fantastic building for our students. This is an exciting addition and completion to a 5-year long process which will be completed by fall of 2021.

At the Upper School Campus we received approval to do a complete demolition and remodel of the interior building space save for the current activity center (known around here as the Husky Den). The building the school is situated in has been converted from businesses to office spaces, and finally to a school over the last 40 years. When NLA began occupying the space in 2009, there were three other tenants that we worked alongside each day. This gave the school a soft landing spot to grow into, adjust and take on more space as capacity grew, and finally take over and purchase a few years ago to ultimately call home. Now that we have a healthy and vibrant K-8 program, it is time to align our Upper School facility to match. This construction project will create more efficient spacing for classrooms and student use areas, will renew and repurpose specialty spaces like art, science and music rooms, and will upgrade security features that are needed and helpful in maintaining student safety. This overhaul has been a long time in the making and a significant step to have a continued imprint on the Forest Lake community.

Because of the need to allow for as much construction time as possible, the Upper School will be shifting and concluding the school year in a distance learning format. The school has been preparing for this, feels confident that a quality and engaging learning environment will continue, and believes the timing is as ideal as can be considering the need for displacement to advance a project of this scope. With the current rising positivity rates in testing for COVID-19, especially now with more and more youth positive cases, this also potentially could be a win-win given the circumstances and need.

There is a common denominator amongst successful ideas, people, businesses, and communities - that success does not come without sacrifice. This sacrifice of a distance learning model and displacement, of planning and preparing, of communicating and responding will ultimately lead to an environment where our facilities can match and compete with the already high-quality teaching and instruction being provided. This bears out in a recent niche.com (educational survey and rating website) that has NLA teachers ranked 14th out of 429 total Minnesota districts. It is now time to provide a structural environment that can enhance and meet the desires of such a quality staff and school.

Cam Stottler is the Executive Director of North Lakes Academy. More information can be found at northlakesacademy.org

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