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Hanson's expansion ahead of schedule

ALEXANDRIA -- More than four months ahead of schedule, the first teacher at Hanson School moved into a $2.6 million expansion Thursday. Middle school communication arts and social studies teacher Kayla Mielitz praised the expanded space and newly...

Kayla Mielitz, center, watches as her desk is placed in the corner of her new classroom as students in her seventh-grade communication arts class watch on Thursday afternoon at Hanson School in Alexandria. Mielitz is the first teacher to move into her permanent classroom while construction continues in other parts of the school. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Kayla Mielitz, center, watches as her desk is placed in the corner of her new classroom as students in her seventh-grade communication arts class watch on Thursday afternoon at Hanson School in Alexandria. Mielitz is the first teacher to move into her permanent classroom while construction continues in other parts of the school. (Matt Gade / Republic)

ALEXANDRIA - More than four months ahead of schedule, the first teacher at Hanson School moved into a $2.6 million expansion Thursday.

Middle school communication arts and social studies teacher Kayla Mielitz praised the expanded space and newly-carpeted floors as she and other students and staff moved desks and supplies into her new classroom. Mielitz's move "leads the charge" of middle and high school staff set to move into the expansion and begin using the space full-time by mid-January.

"I start the whole thing," Mielitz said. "It's pretty exciting. But (the kids) are more excited."

One year ago, on Dec. 16, 2015, the Hanson School Board unanimously voted to move forward with an estimated $2.6 million middle and high school expansion that includes 10 new classrooms.

Originally expected to be done in April 2017, Hanson School District Superintendent Jim Bridge said Thursday the space should be ready for use in the coming weeks.

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The expansion is located between the community library and garage structure on the south side of the school, and is attached to the existing school structure. The classrooms will be used for middle and high school English, science and math.

The ongoing expansion, split into two halves, is the third and final phase in the school's most recent upgrades. In the last five years, the district has built a new elementary wing and a library wing, Bridge said, and the middle and high school expansion is the next phase in the school's upgrading - a phase the district has been planning.

"It's a statement by our community and school district that we're continually trying to improve education here for our kids," Bridge said. "I think it's shown an attraction for new families and new people moving to our community."

Prior to these projects, the district added band, choir and special education classrooms. Then, in a separate project, renovated the school's gym.

But, while the first, most extensive half of the project will be finished in the next month, Bridge said, the second half of the third has yet to begin.

That project includes an extra addition in the school's courtyard that will add two more classrooms and install new heating and cooling systems. Because of its location, Bridge said, it will cause several classrooms to be out of commission while construction is underway in the area. Because of this, school officials opted to wait until classes are able to move into the new expansion before beginning work on the courtyard area - a smart move, Bridge said, citing the skyrocketing enrollment that led to the series of expansion projects. The courtyard project is expected to be completed by the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

At the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, Hanson saw 43 new people enter the district, and Bridge said, the school's enrollment has increased by 125 since 2005. The increase in student numbers has had the most effect on the younger grades, causing a wave of class sizes that have outgrown the seven classrooms in the elementary school. To prepare for those students to move into the middle and high schools, Bridge said the timing for the expansion was perfect.

And Bridge said the majority of the new faces aren't from Mitchell, but rather the result of a growing community. But, he said, Alexandria is a bedroom community to Mitchell and thrives off its growth, as well as its own.

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"I think a lot of it has to do with our geography, being close to Mitchell, and we're a product of Mitchell's success and community growth," Bridge said. "But we're also seeing a lot of the same last names on our rosters meaning moms and dads I had in school are moving back here, too."

Hanson School Board President Gary Jarding commended the school board for its progressive mindset and dedication to not only pursuing massive building projects, but also its commitment to avoid "taking the cheap way."

According to Jarding, the board has been vocal in its pursuit of quality buildings, opting for cement blocks which he said will last longer than other materials.

And, for the 17-year veteran of the board and six-year president, the completion of the project punctuates a "well-executed" long-range plan the board dreamt up decades ago.

"That plan is at its end now and now we need to look to the future again," Jarding said. "What's next for Hanson? We don't know yet, but I'm sure it'll be just as worthwhile."

Kayla Mielitz lines up the tables in her new classroom on Thursday afternoon at Hanson School in Alexandria. Mielitz is the first teacher to move into her permanent classroom while construction continues in other parts of the school. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Kayla Mielitz lines up the tables in her new classroom on Thursday afternoon at Hanson School in Alexandria. Mielitz is the first teacher to move into her permanent classroom while construction continues in other parts of the school. (Matt Gade / Republic)

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