A large construction project inside and out of the Bertha-Hewitt School is taking off thanks to the community that showed support for it back in April, when there was still little known about the effects of COVID-19 in the region.

Five months later, the school is moving forward and has a large hole to show for it next to the school. That hole is the future home of the school’s new weight room/fitness center -- a 3,825 square-foot addition to the rear of the building.

This project and several others are being paid for by a special 15-year bond referendum approved by school district tax payers in April, according to school superintendent Eric Koep. In total, about $1.95 million was approved for use for the fitness center, cafeteria flooring and a secure entry remodel, all of which should be complete this year (the flooring is already installed). The remainder of the funds are for the second phase, a science lab and green house remodel.

“Our enrollment has increased by over 100 students the past five years making it a little challenging to meet the needs of all our students,” Koep said. “This project will provide us with two additional classroom spaces, updated science lab, new greenhouse, more secure entry, new cafeteria flooring, new fitness center, and additional space for our entrepreneurial program.”

Bertha-Hewitt School Superintendent Eric Koep speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony at the school, Monday, Sept. 21
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Bertha-Hewitt School Superintendent Eric Koep speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony at the school, Monday, Sept. 21 Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

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The current wrestling room is being used partially as a weight room and partially as a preschool room. The school also has added some portable classrooms outside the school in an effort to distance students further during the pandemic. Under the current circumstances, space is a high commodity.

Nor-Son is the architect and general contractor on the project. Nor-Son representatives were on site along with school staff, school board members and administration to celebrate the groundbreaking with a ceremony Monday, Sept. 21.

Several took turns sharing the positive things about this project including board chair Sharon Thiel, Supt. Koep and Bertha Mayor Ken Nelson. All expressed the importance of the projects to the community.

Thiel thanked the residents of Bertha, Hewitt and Eagle Bend for supporting this project.

“Our community was there, mask and all,” Thiel said.

Koep spoke proudly about the school board, staff, students and the community. He said the staff were keeping the school together through the project, the pandemic and the growth of the school enrollment.

“The new addition will increase the education opportunities of students and that really is our No. 1 priority,” Nelson said.

School board members Keith Bauch and Russ VanDenheuvel spoke positively about the project sharing that the greenhouse and the weight room were both built 40 years ago and in need of major updates.

“It’s just a long overdue upgrade that’s been needed,” Bauch said. Bauch said the fitness center should encourage people to be more healthy and just be a boost for the school overall.

The weight room has been moved twice already in an effort to make room for different offerings.

While Bauch feels there is enough room in the school for the current enrollment, the school has had to be creative in adding extra social-distancing space during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This in my opinion is kind of a nice bowtie on our community,” VanDenheuvel said. “It’s going to help our students, probably the sports teams if they use it more, classrooms will be using the weight room for health class.”

The timeline is that the fitness center should be complete by the end of December. A secure entry will be added over MEA break. The new greenhouse will be roughly twice the size of the existing building and be completed next summer along with a science lab project. Koep said the new greenhouse project is meant to replace an old structure and revitalize and grow the program by adding horticulture classes.