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Nisswa: Groundbreaking celebration marks start of renovations

Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal Nisswa Elementary School Principal Molly Raske speaks at the groundbreaking celebration with schematic designs in the foreground.1 / 2
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal Nisswa Elementary School staff members throw ceremonial dirt at a groundbreaking celebration Thursday, May 23, in the school gym.2 / 2

The Nisswa Elementary School gym has been filled to capacity lately, accommodating annual events like the Prairie Fire Children's Theatre production, Grandparents Day and fourth-grade graduation.

The gym was full Thursday, May 23, for another celebration. This time the entire student body and all teachers and staff along with community members sat in the gym. On stage were the Brainerd School District superintendent, all school board members and other community representatives.

The occasion was a groundbreaking celebration for the school's estimated $12 million in renovations and additions to increase space and improve security. It's all part of a Brainerd School District facilities improvement project that totals $205 million - including the $145.71 million bond referendum school district voters approved in April 2018 to improve schools throughout the district.

"I have to say that it is quite surreal to be at the point where we are breaking ground," Nisswa Principal Molly Raske said on stage at the groundbreaking celebration. "As I prepared for today, a quote by Coretta Scott King came to mind. She said, 'The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.' I stand in front of you today because of you. You decided to invest in our children.

"Nisswa is a community that has always demonstrated that investing in our youth is at the core of what we do," Raske said. "There are so many 'only in Nisswa' opportunities that our children get to experience, such as turtle races, Halloween parades, community walks. And because of you, in the fall of 2020, our students will be walking through the doors of a beautiful, secure and larger building that will foster learning and innovation for years to come."

Nisswa Elementary School will see additions for a second gym and two-story classroom addition, enlarged cafeteria and remodeled kitchen and offices, a new entrance and remodeled space through much of the rest of the school building.

Nisswa PTO President Joleen Quisberg spoke at the celebration, concluding with: "Lastly, while I do love this tight, small-knit community that we're all part of, I will be honest in saying I look forward to the day that we have a larger gym and events like this are not quite so intimate."

Holly Olson, a Nisswa School teacher for 20 years, compared Nisswa to the town of Mayberry in "The Andy Griffith Show."

"We feel our community is second to none when it comes to support for Nisswa School," Olson said.

Olivia Johnson, a fourth grader who has attended Nisswa School since kindergarten, shared her favorite memories of Kinderfriend Day as a kindergartner and trips to Ski Gull and Dairy Queen as a third grader.

Nisswa Mayor Fred Heidmann, who attended Nisswa School starting in third grade, told the students he saw them as people who will create our future.

"I hear all over the community how blessed Nisswa is to have this school, teachers and staff," Heidmann said.

And Holly Holm, Nisswa Chamber of Commerce president, said the Nisswa community is vibrant and growing thanks to citizens who voted for a positive change.

"We are so much more than just a building," she said.

Other speakers were Dave Bergeron, principal at ICS Consulting, which has worked with the school district on building plans; Sue Kern, school board chair; and Laine Larson, superintendent.

"I'm so excited today because at Nisswa Elementary School - because of the commitment from our parents, from our community members, from our teachers - we're going to have new classrooms, we're going to have awesome learning commons in your school," Larson said. "We're going to have that great big gymnasium that we talked about a little bit ago. We're going to have some more green space for our playgrounds, off street parking. And most of all we're going to have increased safe and secure entrances in your buildings."

As Larson spoke, six students went on stage to hold up the letters that spell Nisswa while Larson said what each letter means to her:

N: Numbers and nursery school through grade four.

I: Innovation and inquiry in learning.

S: Success for all students.

S: Safety and security in buildings.

W: Wonderful world of writing and words.

A: Arts, activities, academics, athletics and achievement for all.

After the groundbreaking celebration, improvements got under way as a test well was drilled in front of the school.