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A dream is coming true: Crews break ground on $6 million Freshwater Education building in Wadena

Crews from Anderson Brothers Construction were on scene Monday busily leveling the ground for the construction of a new Freshwater Education District building set on the southern edge of the Wadena Industrial Park. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal.1 / 6
Wadena Mayor George Deiss (left) and Wadena Development Authority director Dean Uselman speak on the importance of having the Freshwater Education District headquarterd in Wadena at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday on near the Wadena Industrial Park. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal.2 / 6
Jerry Nesland, executive director of the Freshwater Education District, speaks Monday about the work it took to get to this point of groundbreaking for the new facility. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal.3 / 6
An artist rendering of the Freshwater Education District's new facility shows a space for administrative staff and student teaching. Image courtesy of Nor-Son and BHH Partners.4 / 6
Freshwater Education staff took a moment to toss a ceremonial scoop of dirt at the groundbreaking Monday for the new building in Wadena. Staff include Michelle Motschenbacher (from left), Jena Osberg, Sharon Thiel, Jerry Nesland, Lori Murdock, Scott Veronen and Dave Fjeldheim. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal.5 / 6
Jena Osberg, Freshwater Education District Level IV site facilitator. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal.6 / 6

A new Freshwater Education District (FED) building is going up on the edge of Wadena, designed to serve more students in ways staff couldn’t serve them before.

The official groundbreaking ceremony took place Monday morning, though as Sourcewell executive director Paul Drange said looking out over the leveled site, “The ground is already broken.”

Behind the crowd of people set to be a part of the ceremony was a bulldozer, backhoe and construction employees surveying the ground that was already cleared in preparation for a foundation to be set. The site was decided upon on the southern edge of the Wadena Industrial Park after looking at 18 different sites around Wadena.

It was an exciting moment for all groups involved. Drange spoke about the conversations that took place in 2016 to work to fund a project that would help serve students, teachers and families in Region 5.

“Through honest communication, planning and collaboration, together we’ve reached this day that I would say is part culmination but also part new beginnings because we know what this building has in promise and what it can offer our kids,” Drange said.

It was a dream come true for FED executive director Jerry Nesland, who said he’s been working on the idea of this building for eight years. He’s been the director there since 2010.

“I put that plan together many years ago and the only thing that was missing was money,” Nesland said. He noted that Sourcewell, formerly NJPA, deserves credit for investing in the region to make projects like this happen.

Jena Osberg, Level IV site facilitator for FED’s new building thanked the people at Sourcewell, formerly NJPA, who secured funding ($5 million) to make this project happen. Another $1 million came from FED reserve funds, Nesland said.

Osberg was thankful to all those involved and spoke of being in the Deer Creek school building for 13 years and how that facility has helped them grow.

“Level  IV is a whole different kind of school, we have to be very careful about safety and making sure we have designated areas for certain types of learners,” Osberg said. She said while the Deer Creek building worked for them, it can’t do what the new building can.

Osberg said a lot has to happen for the FED students to succeed, including staff, programs and the learning environment.

“I’m thrilled to know that we our going to see our students succeed just based on the fact that this building was created to meet those needs,” Osberg said.

Some of those unique features include sensory needs for the students, many with special needs.

“The color of the walls is calming, there are extra spaces available to work for students who need a more quiet space, the windows are higher on the walls to allow natural light without the distractions of what is happening outside the building. We have lights that will dim if needed, and a whole extra room for projects and cooking activities,” Osberg said. It all translates to an atmosphere staff feel will help them serve those students better.

This 32,000 square foot building will replace the two administrative and staff buildings in Wadena (on Hwy 10) and Staples (Staples Administrative Office at the CLC Campus) as well as the Elm Tree / Leaf River / White Pine Academy currently in Deer Creek. Those sites will find other uses. Nesland noted the Wadena FED building is for sale.

According to Nathan Norton, project manager with Nor-Son, the building includes a stick built portion for the staff offices and a concrete masonry unit built portion for the education side. Norton said the student portion is built for durability while the staffing side is designed to get the most space, most economically. There will be room for about 40 students and 50 staff in the new facility.

Chad Bormann, project manager with BHH Partners said this project was unique in that it was created with a focus on the end user more so than the building.

“This is designed for the now, but has room for the future,” Bormann said as the site has room to grow if needed.

Wadena Mayor George Deiss was thankful to FED for choosing Wadena.

“This kind of project is a big deal for Wadena,” Deiss said.

Wadena Development Authority director Dean Uselman was also thankful for Freshwater choosing Wadena. He said he did a lot of campaigning to make sure they could put out all options for FED. He noted putting out 18 site options for FED to choose from. He said working with the city council, staff and FED, they were able to make a dream come true.

“Sometimes the word is out that municipalities are hard to work with, and I think this shows that Wadena is not hard to work with,” Wadena city administrator Janette Bower said of how this plan came together. “The council is very interested in helping where they can.”

“I want developers to know that they can come to Wadena and find answers and get the solutions and get the problem solved to get to where they are breaking ground,” Uselman said.

Nesland said Wadena was an obvious choice as the junction of Hwys 10 and 71 form the crosshairs for the FED. He noted that working with Wadena staff was stellar in making this project happen.

FED serves 13 school districts including Bertha-Hewitt, Browerville, Henning, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, Menahga, Sebeka, Staples-Motley, Verndale and Wadena-Deer Creek, Frazee, New York Mills, Perham-Dent and Pillager.

The new FED school will continue to work to provide a safe and positive learning environment that empowers students to develop the skills needed to achieve educational success. Many of the students at the current FED school in Deer Creek have special needs or have been through crisis situations. Staff use therapeutic, verbal strategy for intervention with students in crisis, according to the FED website.

The new building is expected to be completed in June 2019.

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