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Brainerd Public Schools: Public celebrates Harrison groundbreaking

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Harrison students Paige Skoglund (left), Rylee Hoppe, Emmy Yaunick, Vanessa Maggiore, Blake Brenny, Brayden Richardson, Jenna Dambowy and Harmony Blomberg hold posters that spell Harrison while Laine Larson, superintendent of Brainerd Public Schools, addresses the crowd in the school gymnasium. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 5
Harrison second graders Arianna Elling-Starry, (left), Delaney Jackman and Kyle Ottmann read a poem Wednesday, May 22, at the Harrison School groundbreaking. The students wrote a poem about what it meant to become a Brainerd Warrior. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 3 / 5
Harrison Elementary students Ezra Rygh (back left), Carter Johnson and Sage Isle-Antell sing Wednesday, May 22, at the groundbreaking ceremony for Harrison Elementary School. The building will be repurposed and modernized while maintaining it as a neighborhood school. The students wore safety vests and hard hats to symbolize the renewal of their school. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 5
With her hard hat and safety vest, Emelia Steinke forms a heart with her hands Wednesday, May 23, during one of the songs at the groundbreaking ceremony for Harrison School. The building will be repurposed and remain a neighborhood school. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 5 / 5

Harrison Elementary School got its time to shine Wednesday, May 22, even though the sun didn't.

A tarp with a ceremonial dirt pile on the gym floor served its purpose, as students clad in orange vests, yellow hard hats and safety goggles gathered in the gym on a rainy morning for a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate work soon to begin on major renovations at the school.

The vests, Harrison Principal Cathy Nault said, cover the students' hearts, representing the work at Harrison to be kind, to have great hearts and to follow the golden rule. The hats, she continued, represent Harrison's mission to grow students' brains, while the goggles give third and fourth graders a vision and ability to set goals for their lives ahead.

"I'm so proud of all of you," Nault told her students. "But I also want to send a big 'thank you' to this community for investing in Harrison."

Several speakers shared her sentiments, thanking community members for their support in last spring's $205 million bond referendum, which resulted in the upcoming renovations to Harrison and many other schools in the district.

Though those hard-earned tax dollars could have been spent elsewhere, school board Chair Sue Kern thanked voters for choosing to spend them on the school and invest in the community's future through its children.

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More photos of the Harrison School groundbreaking, go to https://bit.ly/2WsgSVD.

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"Educating children and youth is at the heart of every school board member," Kern said. "I can't say thank you enough."

As a representation of what exactly the voters approved, Brainerd School District Superintendent Laine Larson used each of the letters in "Harrison" to explain what the school means to her.

H—Happy, healthy children.

A—Academics, arts, activities, athletics and achievement for all.

R—Reading, writing and arithmetic (the three Rs).

R—Respect, responsibility, relationships.

I—Innovation and inquiring minds.

S—Successful students, safety, security.

O—Opportunities and outdoor learning.

N—Numbers and nursery school through grade four.

"When you see the word 'Harrison' in the future, I want you to think of this special groundbreaking celebration," Larson said. "I want you to think about the opportunities for innovation and success that our community has given Harrison Elementary School as a result of our new building project."

Fourth grade student speakers Savannah Bowen, Elle Sam and Shelby Stout embodied Larson's description of Harrison, sharing why they love their school.

"Harrison belongs to all of us. Each of us here feels part of something very special," Stout said. "As students, we feel safe and cared for here. It is a place where we have built lasting friendships and have learned so much. So I'm standing here to give a huge Harrison cheer and thank everyone who made it possible for our new Harrison to be built."

Speaking right after the students who showed so much excitement for the next chapter at Harrison, parent and member of the school's parent-teacher organization Sarah Katzenberger commented on their enthusiasm.

"The spirit of this place is electric," she said. "I think the spirit that our teachers and staff have built into our kids is something that will last long beyond their time here. And that will be present for generations to come."

Though the future generations likely won't remember much about the 2019 groundbreaking or the people present, Katzenberger said, she and Mayor Ed Menk noted they'll be able to acknowledge the community's investment in their education, just like the contributions of past generations who built the first Harrison School 120 years ago are still appreciated today. The current Harrison building dates back to the 1930s.

"You're here today to say 'thank you' to preceding generations to allow us to benefit," Menk said. "And we are passing the dollar along ... to the next generation and following generations after that. Congratulations to Harrison and the community that made this happen."

Other speakers during Wednesday's ceremony included second graders from Mrs. Armstrong and Mr. Kelm's classes, ICS Consulting principal owner Dave Bergeron and Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce board member Adam Rees, the latter of which noted the immense impact the building updates at Harrison and the other schools will have on, not only students, but the community as a whole.

"We know that our schools are performing well, and how they look is a reflection of whether our community actually cares about itself. So having great facilities really does matter. We also know that good schools help us to attract good people," Rees said, explaining the new schools will likely help draw more workers into the area for local businesses.

The renovated three-story Harrison Elementary is scheduled to open for the 2020-21 school year, complete with a new secure main entrance on Norwood Street, a learning commons for each grade level, a bigger gymnasium and cafeteria, a media center and a 40-stall parking lot outside.

"Any time you want to make something wonderful happen, whether it's building a new school or it's doing really well academically in our schools, it takes a partnership," Larson said. "Everybody came together at the right time to make this brand new Harrison Elementary School a reality. And today we are so fortunate."

For more photos of the Harrison School groundbreaking, go to https://bit.ly/2WsgSVD.

Theresa Bourke

I started at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and the Brainerd School District. I follow city and school board officials as they make important decisions for residents and students and decide how to spend taxpayer dollars. I look for feature story ideas among those I meet and enjoy, more than anything, helping individuals tell their stories and show what makes them unique.

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