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Volunteers installed carpet Friday, May 3, in the large main building that St. Croix Central Elementary is using to house its offices as well as kindergarten through second grade students for the rest of the year. St. Croix Central is leasing Rolling Ridges Girl Scout camp from Girls Scouts River Valleys as a school location. Other work to prepare the camp for use as an elementary school included cleaning bathrooms, building railings, installing locks and other cleaning and maintenance work.

Elementary students go to 'Panther Camp'

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On Friday afternoon, May 3, teachers in white face masks and blue rubber gloves walked through the dim halls of St. Croix Central Elementary School.

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Tears fell, even as water dripped from the ceiling of what was left of the office area. The staff, stepping over soggy ceiling tiles, were allowed to enter the building and view the damage, as well as retrieve some personal items from their classrooms. Some staff had not yet seen their classrooms.

Adrianne Lemberg, Title I reading teacher, saw her classroom, for the first time since the fire, on Friday. She said she didn't know what to expect, but the experience left her feeling disappointed.

"There's just so much work in here, and it's kind of wasted," Lemberg said. "I think it's the students' work that bothers me the most."

Lemberg's room, located next door to the library, would appear almost undamaged, except for the smell. She said the smoke seeped into everything in her room, and most likely damaged most of her materials.

Lemberg said the support of her fellow staff has helped her to deal with the emotional upheaval. She said she is looking forward to the last few weeks of school.

"Just seeing how we do it together out at the camp and make the best of it," Lemberg said. "I guess we'll all move forward. That seems to be our word."

St. Croix Central's motto through the transition to the temporary school location is "Forward together," announced at a public meeting held May 2 to discuss plans for the rest of the school year.

Panther Camp

SCC Elementary students will be spending the rest of the year at "Panther Camp." The school district has leased Rolling Ridges Girl Scout Camp, 965 Alexander Road, Hudson, and students began attending classes at the camp Monday, May 6, a little less than a week after the fire that closed St. Croix Central Elementary.

School district Superintendent David Bradley said school board clerk Jeff Redmon and his wife Cindy, who have been heavily involved in Girl Scouts, first suggested the idea of using the camp, which had been closed since 2010.

Sarah Danzinger, Girl Scouts River Valleys public relations manager, said the camp was decommissioned because the council simply had a high a number of camps in the area.

The school board unanimously approved a contract with Girls Scouts River Valleys on the evening of Monday, May 6. The contract had been approved by Bradley Saturday, May 4, pending the board's approval.

So far, "Panther Camp" has been a great success, Sanders told the school board Monday night.

"We don't think [things] could have gone much better," Bradley said in a Tuesday, May 7, phone interview. "It was a really good day."

Turning a Girl Scout camp into a temporary elementary school did present its challenges. The camps utilities had to be turned back on, it's well water had to be tested, and a great deal of cleaning had to take place. SCC had less than a week to ensure the camp could meet safety regulations in order to open Monday.

According to an email sent out by school board director John Hueg (who was coordinating volunteers), approximately 100 volunteers spent about 850-900 volunteer hours between May 3 and May 5, in order to get "Panther Camp" ready for students.

Hueg said volunteers put up partitions, cleaned different areas of the camp buildings, built railings, put down carpet, changed light bulbs, moved desks and chairs, made and installed signs, repaired toilets, among other tasks.

Bradley said he would like to thank the volunteers who helped set up "Panther Camp" and those who donated books and classroom materials. He said the school now has all the materials it needs to get through the rest of the year.

Restoration

The board was given an update on restoration progress at the May 6 meeting. Randy Hedden, a representative with ServiceMaster, the district's restoration company, is in the process of having a structural engineer for the district's insurance company evaluate the structure of the roof over the library and administrative office areas.

Bradley said once the insurance company's evaluation is complete, the district can begin working with its own engineers and McKinstry, the company the district is working with to make the schools more energy efficient.

"We're really pleased with the progress," Bradley said. "We're going to make a big pitcher of lemonade out of the lemons we've been given."

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Gretta Stark
Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.
(715) 426-1048
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