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Piece by piece: New Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school comes together in sections

A portion of the 45,000 square-foot Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School is being built in sections and will be hauled to the site of the school when it is ready. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
Workers from Arizona-based Modular Solutions construct a section of what will be the new Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School at Johnson Lumber Co. in Bena. A portion of the 45,000 square-foot school is being built in sections and will be hauled to the site of the school when it is ready. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
The gym, cafeteria and other large parts of the new Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School are being built at the existing school site. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

BENA—Rene Fructuozo gestured toward a group of looming wooden constructs in the woods off U.S. Highway 2.

"I know it's kind of hard to imagine, but right up to here, we're going to have the gym," he said, before pointing inside the half-finished buildings, which sat on large, purpose-built metal chassis at Johnson Lumber Co.'s bustling yard, miles away from the spot where students will eventually use it.

"Right here they have a conference room for teachers or parents, and then offices for teachers, and classrooms."

Fructuozo is a production manager at Phoenix, Arizona-based Modular Solutions. He and dozens of other workers have been busy putting together a new, 45,000 square-foot Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig junior and senior high school using a new-to-the-area method that school and project leaders say is faster and cheaper than a more traditional build.

The gym, cafeteria, and other large parts of the new school are going up next to the existing Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig buildings in the woods outside Bena. But the bulk of the new building—classrooms, offices, and so on—is being assembled in 40 modular sections at the lumber company's yard a few miles down the road. Workers plan to haul those sections to the school and install them as the final site is ready for them.

"Like LEGOs," Fructuozo explained.

Crews broke ground on the project last last spring and expect to finish in late fall or early winter. Students will start the 2017-18 school year in Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig's building for younger grades, then 7-12 graders will migrate over to the new one as sections are finished and cleared for occupancy.

Brandon Hart, a Modular Solutions general manager and acting project manager, said it typically takes about 15 days to finish a section. Several sections sat attached to one another on the yard last week, and seams ran along their floors and through their walls and ventilation systems in regular increments where each one connected to the next.

Modular Solutions also makes hospitals and police stations, and Hart said they were looking at a prison project before switching gears to build the Bena school.

"We're actually a pilot for this program," said Mary Trapp, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig's superintendent. "We think that we will still get under a year, which is still going to be quite an accomplishment for a brand-new school."

Old school demolished

Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig is one of about 180 schools in the federal Bureau of Indian Education system. Bureau and school leaders drew up a $20 million construction plan several years ago that never came to fruition, Trapp said. The design that’s being realized now is about $14.5 million, according to a Department of the Interior spokesperson.

The old Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig high school building was demolished in May. Before that, it's poor condition drew statewide and national attention: rodents, unstable roofs, a sewer backup, and a struggling heating system that prompted students to don heavy coats and blankets to keep from freezing.

"The students and the staff have really lived in a very, very deficient building for almost 20 years," Trapp said, adding that the new building will offer spaces for distance learning and combined learning projects across disciplines. A lot of students left the school because the old building was so poor. "If this had not been offered to us, our high school students would have continued to leave Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig to go to another school that could offer these things to them. So the longer that we waited, we would run an extreme risk of not having a high school program to offer."

Trapp said the new building will house about 60 students in grades 7-12, but staff there hope to see that number rise to 150 in two years and 300 in four.

"We're going to be able to offer so much more, and I'm hopeful that our community will come back and that our students and young people will come back and see what we can do for them," she said.

School officials are planning a dedication ceremony for the new building in mid-November.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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