A different school year got underway Tuesday, Sept. 8, in more ways than one at Nisswa Elementary School.

As administrators, teachers, staff, parents and especially students enter the new school year maneuvering COVID-19 mandates with the end goal to keep everyone safe and healthy, they also enter what seems like a brand new school building.

The elementary school’s $12 million improvement and expansion project that got underway in late May 2019 is now complete. The renovations and additions increased space and improved security at the school. While the existing building remains, it all looks brand new and modern.

Former kindergarten teacher Joe Koman now teaches fourth grade on the upper level at Nisswa Elementary School. Here, he talks to Julie Cummings and her third-grader, Emmett Cummings, during the school open house. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal
Former kindergarten teacher Joe Koman now teaches fourth grade on the upper level at Nisswa Elementary School. Here, he talks to Julie Cummings and her third-grader, Emmett Cummings, during the school open house. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

The renovation project was part of a Brainerd School District facilities improvement project that totaled $205 million - including the $145.71 million bond referendum school district voters approved in April 2018 to improve schools throughout the district.

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Nisswa School now boasts a new main entrance location toward the middle of the school with the Brainerd School District “B” standing out on a Warrior blue pillar and “Nisswa Elementary” in big Warrior blue letters. The entrance leads to a roomy and secure office area.

Once inside the school, lockers no longer line the hallways. Instead, they are in locker bays in the first- through fourth-grade areas.

Early childhood and kindergarten classrooms occupy the south part of the school with their own emergency exit outside if needed.

First and second grades are in a lower level area in the middle of the school, with third and fourth grades above them in a newly built second story. These classrooms are all located off a commons area on both levels, and students no longer have to walk through another classroom to get to their room.

The school has a full-size gym now, as well as a second gym, two alternative classrooms, an enlarged cafeteria and remodeled kitchen.

The end result is larger spaces to accommodate students and, most important, security and the ability to lock down certain parts of the school building as other parts are in use.

Specifically, the school now has:

  • A second gym next to the existing gym to offer a full-size basketball court and drop-down partition. This will allow two gym classes to take place at the same time, as well as community use of the gyms for basketball, volleyball and pickleball leagues, etc. The stage remained and a lift was added to make it handicap-accessible.

  • Two levels of classrooms off the gym on the School Street side of the building, with first- and second-grade classrooms on the lower level and third- and fourth-grade classrooms on the upper level. This includes an elevator.

By building a second level in this spot, the school was able to keep its playground and baseball field areas, which are both used by the community. Also, the school building isn’t so spread out.

  • The new main entrance that is more obvious than the previous entrance. This entrance will be locked when the school day starts so all visitors will have to enter through the office.

Nisswa School offers three classrooms per grade, two early childhood classrooms and one Kinder Club room, with two flexible classrooms to use if there is an influx of students.

Security measures will allow different parts of the school to be locked when other parts are in use by the community.

That area near the Nisswa Children’s Community Library will be an after-hours entrance into the school so the public can use the library and gyms, with the rest of school locked and inaccessible.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.