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Halfway home: Work continues for Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig’s new school

Construction of a new junior and senior high building for the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school is about halfway completed. The project is expected to wrap up this winter. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
John Parmeter, a safety compliance officer with the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School, describes how water would leak through the old school's walls while giving a tour to the Pioneer in Aug. 2016. (Pioneer file photo)2 / 2

BENA -- John Parmeter’s police-style uniform says “SECURITY” in bold letters, but he wears several hats at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school.

The 70-year-old safety, security, emergency preparedness, and environmental compliance officer spent nearly two decades recording the problems at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig’s old high school building.

“Every day with a camera and a notebook, documenting it,” Parmeter told the Pioneer. “This thing broke, this thing broke...The furnaces went down seven times in one year.”

Parmeter promised himself he’d only retire once a new school was built and, soon, he’ll have that chance: he and Superintendent Mary Trapp estimated the school’s audacious project to build a new junior and senior high building in less than a year is about halfway finished.

The bulk of the new, 45,000 square-foot school was built in 44 modular sections at a nearby lumber yard. The last of those sections was hauled down U.S. Highway 2 and installed on-site the week before school began. Since then, workers have been busy pouring cement, hanging windows and sheetrock and installing plumbing.

Construction workers and Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig staff say the modular construction method saves time and money.

“This, you could probably put three schools up for the price of one,” Parmeter said as he gestured toward the half-finished buildings.

Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig’s new building will cost about $14.5 million -- about $5 million cheaper than an earlier, non-modular construction plan school staff floated several years ago and cheaper still than a new elementary school at Bemidji Area Schools and a proposed one at Cass Lake-Bena Schools.

It’ll replace a building that was notoriously shoddy. The old Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig high school had sewer backups, rodent infestations, and unstable roofs. Students there would wear heavy coats and blankets to keep from freezing during winter classes. It was demolished in May.

Trapp and her staff expect the new school will house about 60 students in grades 7-12 for now, but they hope to see that number quintuple in four years.

Students in all grades are taking classes at the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig’s elementary building while the new one goes up next door. Students will migrate to the new building as parts of it are completed and cleared for occupancy. The whole project is expected to be finished this winter.

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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