Sue Underdahl, community education director and site administrator, shakes hands with Byron Elementary School principal Abe Rodemeyer in front of the Community Education Center. Photo by David Richards.
By David Richards
Tracy Boyum remembers it well. She remembers the all-school Halloween parades when students gathered outside in costume. It was her first years with Byron Public Schools, when K-through sixth were still in the Community Education Center off First Avenue.
"I was a witch one year and a nun another, and I know that because I still have the costumes," said Boyum, who started in 1988. Boyum was back in that same building last week, preparing for another year as one of Byron's kindergarten teachers.
In January, the school board voted to move kindergarten classes back to the Community Education Center for the first time since 1992 while the district seeks a long-term solution on accommodating growth. As a result, the district completed an estimated $330,000 renovation project on the building last month.
"I love it; it's beautiful," said Gail Barstad, who is starting her 20th year as a Byron Kindergarten teacher. "It feels like home. I loved the other building too, but it was too full. We outgrew it."
Brian Haskin, building and grounds manager for the district, said that three of the kindergarten classrooms were completely remodeled, with new flooring, paint, cabinets and a new humidification system.
The fourth one was partially remodeled as was a "specials" room, which will be used for activities such as art. The flooring was fairly new in those rooms, Haskin said. Upstairs bathrooms were also renovated to make them age appropriate, while new sinks, one side for boys and one side for girls, were added outside the bathrooms for washing hands.
"I think it really makes that building so much nicer," said Haskin of the changes.
The Community Education Center has been a longtime staple for Byron Public Schools. The date on the outside of the brick building with its cubed windows says 1957, but the original section original section was torn down and was built long before that.
It has housed every grade from one time or another and in recent years has been home to pre-school, school-age child care and kindergarten plus programs, in addition to community education classes. Those will remain.
Resident enrollment has increased by 5.8 percent in Byron Public Schools over the past decade and is projected to increase another 16.7 to 20.3 percent in the next 10 years. From just the last school year alone, total enrollment in Byron for kindergarten through fifth grades has increased 3.7 percent, from 902 students to 936.
"The children needed a place for learning, and we got it," said Sue Underdahl, community education director and site administrator, about the new home for kindergarten.
School began today for high school and middle school students and begins for kindergarten Sept. 9 and for pre school Sept. 16.
Also this month, the school board could make a decision on whether to bond next year for a new school, with one option being a new facility for pre kindergarten through second grade that would be housed on the same site as the elementary school. In the meantime, kindergarten students have a new home, even if it's temporary.
Barstad finished the personal touches on her room last week, including an impressive display of books with titles ranging from "Curious George Goes Camping" to "Kindergarten Rocks."
"I'm so proud to be here," she said.
Other additions to the Community Education Center include an area for a nurse's station that wasn't there before. The building had an on-call nurse, but now will share nursing services with the high school and will have staff there part time.
Elementary school principal Abe Rodemeyer said the renovation was a team effort between the teachers, district staff, project manager Knutson Construction out of Rochester and all of the local contractors that worked on it as well, from painters down to electricians.
This fall, there are 156 kindergarten students in the Byron school district filling eight kindergarten classes, all of whom have a new place to call home.
"It's excellent," Rodemeyer said of the renovation. "It exceeded my expectations. I have nothing but great things to say about our district leadership team."
As to whether the Halloween parade returns, well, that's another story.