In a major milestone in the St. Louis Park School District’s move to improve its facilities, a contractor announced that construction is complete at Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School.

The elementary school moved to the former Cedar Manor Elementary School, 9400 Cedar Lake Road, at the beginning of this school year. In an Oct. 29 statement, contractor Kraus-Anderson announced the Minneapolis-based company had finished an $8.4 million renovation project in the building.

With designs from the Cunningham Group, the project included new furniture, technology, lighting, added multipurpose rooms and collaborative spaces, Kraus-Anderson noted. Additionally, the company upgraded the school kitchen, cafeteria and media center.

The newly remodeled school includes a new main entrance, bus loop, playground, school offices and a modified parking lot, the statement adds.

Community members had a chance to tour Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School along with Aquila Elementary School and the new St. Louis Park High School offices on Oct. 26.

Facilities Manager Tom Bravo described the new entryway at PSI as a bright, all-glass design during a school board meeting last month. A maker space at the school is bright and contains tables for students to create items. New classrooms are designed with flexibility and comfort in mind. Even the carpet is designed for students to use as seating.

“Students can be in an environment where they can learn ... and have that relaxation of just being comfortable in the environment that they’re in,” Bravo said.

The playground at the PSI took longer than expected to install due to exceptionally wet weather this year, Bravo noted.

He predicted the outdoor atmosphere will improve over time.

“We have all the landscaping around that space that’s going to grow in time and make this more beautiful,” he said.

Boardmember Karen Waters singled out the cafeteria in particular, noting the handwashing stations, for example.

“It was a very pleasant experience,” Waters said of a tour she took of the school. “It was crowded, it was active, it was busy. ... It really is a beautiful space.”

Chair Nancy Gores praised the remodeled kitchen, noting Boardmember Ken Morrison’s appreciation for it as well.

“I almost couldn’t get Ken out of the kitchen,” she joked.

Morrison, in turn, joked of the kitchen, “I’m looking for part-time work, I think.”

Aquila Elementary School and Park High School

Aquila Elementary also has a remodeled kitchen, Bravo said.

“We have very happy employees in a real bright kitchen,” Bravo said. “They have windows for the first time ever in that area.”

All the equipment that has been installed is ready to handle made-from-scratch cooking through plans for a central kitchen for the district.

The media center at Aquila has more color, more reading materials, more CDs and other materials, Bravo said.

The traditional elementary school also gained new furniture in “next-century classrooms,” he said.

“There was some skepticism about this,” he observed.

However, in practice, teachers have said having a variety of furniture works out well since some students prefer higher chairs, some prefer lower chairs and some prefer benches, according to Bravo.

At the high school, the district has replaced tennis courts and upgraded locker rooms. Bravo said of the new locker rooms, “It’s just night-and-day improved, and it’s just amazing, and the kids really are enjoying it.”

Ongoing efforts

Many of the remodeled spaces lack branding, logos and messaging after the upgrades, said Sara Thompson, director of communications and community relations. District leaders are working with school leaders and users of spaces to gain input on what is needed to make the schools “feel like home,” she said.

She compared the progress to people who move into a new home. They initially hang curtains and later add pictures on the wall.

“The longer you live there, the more you add to your house,” Thompson said. “So you’re going to see that come to life in our schools.”

She envisioned student artwork, photos and branded logos at the school buildings.

Some projects are still underway, including renovations to the St. Louis Park Middle School media center and classrooms as well as renovations for the high school weight room and fitness center.

Weather caused delays for some of the ongoing work, but Bravo said, “Contractors are working very hard to try to stay within the timelines that were given to them.”

Bravo anticipated he would seek board approval sometime in November to begin renovating the former PSI space at Central Community Center to be used for early childhood education. The board is expected to take action in the coming months on future projects at the middle school, including a performing arts center, a kitchen expansion and more classrooms.

The district will then convert space that is currently used for early childhood education for use as the district office, which is currently using leased space. At the high school, future projects will include a new dining commons and the central kitchen as well as renovations to classrooms.

For more information, visit slpschools.org/domain/749.

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