Kids question construction crew about Dist. 11 projects

“What’s making the school rumble a lot?”

Jeff Wellman, co-owner of the Rochon Corporation, the construction company responsible for building five elementary school additions in Anoka-Hennepin this summer, gestures to a blueprint of planned additions to Lincoln Elementary School for the Arts in Anoka. The school’s fourth-graders listen before asking questions of Wellman and Project Superintendent Shaun Robeck, left. Photos by Olivia Koester

Jeff Wellman, co-owner of the Rochon Corporation, the construction company responsible for building five elementary school additions in Anoka-Hennepin this summer, gestures to a blueprint of planned additions to Lincoln Elementary School for the Arts in Anoka. The school’s fourth-graders listen before asking questions of Wellman and Project Superintendent Shaun Robeck, left. Photos by Olivia Koester

It was one of many pressing questions on Lincoln Elementary School for the Arts fourth-graders’ minds when they interviewed the construction firm responsible for adding seven classrooms to their school over the summer.

Six Anoka-Hennepin elementary schools will see 10,000-12,000 square-foot additions go up to make room for more students with all-day, everyday kindergarten coming this fall.

Currently, space is tight at Franklin and Lincoln elementary schools in Anoka; Adams, Eisenhower and Sand Creek elementary schools in Coon Rapids; and Jefferson Elementary School in Blaine.

The two Anoka schools will see multi-story additions; the others will grow on one level, according to Steve Anderson, director of buildings and grounds for the district.

The school board awarded contracts for the work to two construction companies in January: CM Construction out of Burnsville and the Rochon Corporation out of Plymouth.

CM Construction will build the addition on Adams Elementary School for slightly more than $4 million.

The district awarded the Rochon Corporation the remaining five projects for a total of approximately $18.3 million.

Construction started in March at all sites, which is fairly unusual, according to Anderson. Typically, crews begin work when school is out for the summer, but that allows less than 50 working days to complete projects, he said. So, construction at Jefferson started March 15, and the other crews broke ground March 31. Jefferson will see two separate additions on the north and east sides of the building, so extra time was allotted for the project, according to Anderson.

Though construction crews try to disrupt students and staff as little as possible, it’s hard not to notice giant mounds of dirt, disappearing doors and loud rumbling sensations.

“They’ve been so curious hearing all of the construction and the noise outside,” said Derek Williamson, a fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln.

He has found some of his students sneaking off to the bathroom, where there is a good view of the construction site, for long periods of time, he said.

To feed their curiosity, Jeff Wellman, co-owner of the Rochon Corporation, and Shaun Robeck, project superintendent at Lincoln, visited the school May 20 to speak with students about their work and the school’s transformation.

The Rochon Corporation has worked on more than 70 schools in the last 25 years, but Wellman has never spoken to students in those schools before, he said, a little nervous.

He and Robeck explained what the addition will look like and answered kids’ questions.

The school will gain a two-story edition on the eastern side of the building. The addition includes seven classrooms, three of which the fourth-graders will occupy as next year’s fifth-graders. It will provide additional space for special education students, freeing up the school’s stage where they currently study.

The school’s computer lab was converted into a classroom a couple of years ago, but it will be remade into a lab for next year.

Mechanical systems will be upgraded at Lincoln, as well as Adams, Franklin and Jefferson, Anderson said in an interview.

Students wanted to know more about the important stuff: lockers and playground equipment.

They cheered loudly when they heard there would be new lockers for them in the addition, but groaned a little when they heard that those lockers wouldn’t be any bigger.

A portion of the playground equipment was removed in order for construction to proceed this spring, so students wanted to know if they would get that equipment back.

Robeck explained that the current playground will be completely torn down, and new equipment provided by the district will be erected elsewhere on the grounds.

Students asked why they smelled cow manure by the fence at recess.

The culprit is probably decomposing dirt and woodchips, Robeck said.

“How come there’s tons of Pink Panthers everywhere?” one girl asked.

Robeck and Wellman looked at one another, puzzled, before Robeck exclaimed, “Oh! The insulation!” Highly amused, staff took a minute to compose themselves.

Students offered many names of people they know who work in construction to see if Robeck or Wellman also knew them. They typically did not.

Construction is scheduled to wrap up by Aug. 13.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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