RIVER FALLS -- Although the River Falls Journal has come and gone in its Prairie Drive home, the space is serving the community in other ways.
The blue-roofed building is up and running as a temporary place for Montessori Elementary while the Academy Building receives a face lift and additions this upcoming school year.
The city of River Falls purchased the Journal building in January 2019 for approximately $1.5 million to use as a future police department. In the meantime, the River Falls School District is leasing the building to the Montessori school.
“We appreciate the lease arrangement that we have with the city with what used to be called the Journal building,” River Falls School District Superintendent Jamie Benson said at a joint School Board and City Council meeting Aug. 12.
Other board and council members echoed Benson, expressing their approval of the internal exchange of local taxpayer money and the opportunity for students to have an existing separate building space for learning.
Benson said the Montessori’s old Academy building should be “ready for business” next August.
Kids Club moved its things into the Journal building in early spring 2019 for the summer season, Montessori Elementary Principal Nathan Wells said during an interview, and the staff will be working on transitioning materials for the academic year in the coming weeks.
Adversity and flexibility are required for a move such as the one Montessori is experiencing, according to Wells, who has been in education for 15 years and with the district for 10 years.
“If you were to talk to folks in general in education, the idea of a referendum and needing to pack stuff up and move it around for construction isn’t unheard of … . But to actually transfer over a whole building doesn’t really happen very often. There’s a lot of flexibility and learning and growing as we go. I’m fortunate to have people who figure out the logistics of it because I can’t imagine all the different moving pieces,” Wells said.
Joe Hazelman, director of Buildings and Grounds, Chad Smurawa, director of Finance and Facilities and Kraus-Anderson Construction Co. have overseen the building projects and helping with the timeline, Wells added.
The Journal building, with over 20,000 square feet, provides Montessori Elementary with similar space allowances per classroom.
Nine makeshift classrooms will be set up using cubicle walls and other separators for the estimated 204 elementary students.
Wells tested the noise levels within the building as the ceilings are very tall and there are only cubicles separating learning spaces. His results from using an app on his phone determined the levels are not above normal conversation, but the district would address any noise issues that might arise during the school year.
Traffic for pick-up and drop-off will be a learning curve for parents and staff. Benson and Wells said the parking lot will have signage and painted routes as well as people outside directing traffic.
“We’re excited about what’s coming after this. We’re settling in here with the idea of this is great for the here and the now, and there’s going to be some shortcomings and deficits and we’ll work around those happily because we know the new school is what we want and what we need,” Wells said.
Wells said he is looking forward to having air conditioning available for the few hot days the school year has. Natural light from the many windows in the building is welcomed as well as having spaces closer to each other on one level than they were in the Academy building.
A document answering frequently asked questions about this move are available for public viewing on the River Falls School District website under Montessori Elementary’s Referendum Updates page.
An open house is scheduled 4-6 p.m. Aug. 24 at the building, 2815 Prairie Drive. Wells said parents, students and public are invited to tour their temporary school home.