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Nor-Son transforms vintage school into hotel

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A vintage school in a remote North Dakota town was transformed into a hotel, garnering Baxter-based Nor-Son Inc. the Associated Builders and Contractors’ highest honor.

Nor-Son received an Eagle Award from Minnesota Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and accepted the award at ABC’s 2013 Excellence in Construction Banquet in January. The Eagle Award was given for the Coal Country Inn project in recognition of “outstanding achievement and quality workmanship” in the category of renovations more than $5 million.

“That project had impossible written all over it,” said Scott Kuehl, Nor-Son CEO, noting the project’s challenging time frame.

The goal was to take a 1950s-era school in Stanton, N.D., and remake it into a hotel to house workers and guests at the nearby energy plants. Kuehl said there was a small window of time between getting the school and turning it over to be available for housing. The construction team was challenged to put it all in place in less than four months and in a remote area with a labor shortage in North Dakota, Kuehl said.

Nor-Son project team leaders were Dennis Korte, superintendent, Peter Schmelzer, senior project architect, and Terry Hanson, construction project executive.

“It was really kind of a transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly and really neat how fast and safely they did it,” Kuehl said. “I’m just really proud of how the team did a great job. It’s neat to see an old structure like that be repurposed — with a purpose for economic results and the jobs and the folks coming in for those energy plants. That’s an ideal sort of challenge for us.”

Because of the aggressive schedule, Kuehl said a third to a half of Nor-Son company touched the project.

“It went further into the company than we ever thought,” he said.

A notable aspect of the project was the extra thought involved in keeping the character of the school, including old wood beam ceilings, while making it new.

Kuehl said the ABC award is based on challenges overcome and safety procedures.

“It really does mean something special in the industry,” Kuehl said.

“Transformation of the half-century-old school building into a 91-room, 160-bed hotel required design and construction creativity, collaboration, constant communication and dedication from the entire project team,” Nor-Son reported.

Corrugated siding was used to introduce an industrial quality to the building’s identity and reflect the occupational nature of the hotel’s primary guests, Nor-Son reported.

“The fast-track nature of the project presented challenges and roadblocks, but the Nor-Son team persevered to deliver on the goals,” said Jeff Hammes, client representative with Industrial Contractors Inc., in a news release. “The design was delivered to the field and realized materially at a mind-boggling pace. The phrase ‘building the plane in the air’ was uttered on the project and was fitting for the impressive progress sustained.”

Despite design challenges and an extremely tight schedule, Nor-Son reported it completed the project on time and within budget.

The award program with ABC is designed to recognize publicly the quality and innovation of merit shop construction and to honor all the members of the construction team, including the contractor, the owner and the design team responsible for the project. Nor-Son reported the winning projects were selected from entries submitted from across the state and were judged on complexity, attractiveness, unique challenges, completion time, workmanship, innovation, safety and budget.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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