New Doland School Opens 2020 Fall Season
Friday, October 30, 2020
The hallways of Doland school echoed with the voices of generations of students, including a young Hubert H. Humphrey, whose father was town mayor and owned a local pharmacy. The stairs were worn smooth from thousands of youthful feet running up and down them. Memories like these can’t be replaced, but over time, the three main buildings that cobbled together the Doland public school were showing their age. The cracks and creases of time could not be erased with simple repairs, the walls and windows leaked heat out into the cold winter air, and times had changed so that the buildings no longer were ADA compliant, no longer efficient for students or staff. With every passing year the school board tucked away money everywhere they could in the hope that one day they could replace the old with the new.
Superintendent Jim Hulscher laughed when he described the plan for a new school as “the 2 or the 22-year building” because they didn't know if they’d build it in two years or 22 years. Over time, the savings added up until finally, with a new design and costs in hand, and the money that we had in the kitty, says Hulscher, it never had to go to a public vote. That’s what you call an “independent” school!
Ironically, the oldest part of the school, built in 1911, was in better shape than the three-story 1950s addition. It had about eight classrooms, home to the core high school classes of math, science, and social studies. One of the buildings was primarily a lunchroom/kitchen, which also served as the spare gym. It had a library above it, which wasn't used that much. The 1950s addition, which had the ag shop, the music room, the FACS classroom “had more cracks, and floor was bulging,” than a couple of the other ones admitted Hulscher.
While school officials saved where they could, they also were constantly thinking about what a new school could be for their staff and students. “Myself and my principal, I think we toured around 12 to 16 schools, newer schools, newer additions,” asking questions about what they liked, what worked, what didn’t. They kept bringing this information back to Doland, putting it before the school board and the public, again, asking the same questions, sifting through the information, input and ideas, and coming up with plans until they found a design they liked.
Finding an architect to work with their budget and design idea was more of a challenge than Hulscher anticipated, partly because the new Doland school is what they call in the construction world, a stick building, basically made up of wood. “We're very similar to the farmer’s machine shed, or your house, in that it makes up our interior and exterior walls,” explained Hulscher. “Obviously, our exterior walls are going to be a thicker wood than what you have on your house or your garage, but it's still wood.”
Aesthetically, Hulscher calls the building a “Plain Jane” but functionally for Doland, it’s a wonder of simplicity and efficiency, something they are all excited to be a part of, and best of all, it’s on one floor. The new school has a lot of significant changes. “The offices are near the entrance,” says Hulscher. “Safety is a big thing, and our visibility of kids and monitoring of kids is a lot better now than it was then.” We wanted a primary entrance with a parking lot, for safety with people driving, explained the superintendent, for safety to see who's coming and going from school. Prior to the new school the old main entrance was right on the street, with limited parking. “If somebody parked there, the next person in line would have to go park down the street somewhere, whereas now we have a parking lot, you can see someone that comes in, you can see the buses when they come and go and everything else.”
Another must-have need was an ADA compliant building. ADA compliance is critical to any school building and Doland was no exception. Parts of the old school were difficult to access. “The library was on the third floor, and the music was on a third floor, about as far from some of our elementary classrooms as you can possibly imagine. So now, for our elementary students, it's much easier for them to use music, it's much easier for them to go to the library,” says Hulscher. That has had a huge, positive impact already in the new school year.
The change has made life easier and safer for everybody. The FACS (the modern lingo for Home-Ec) classroom is on the main floor where before it was on the third floor. For instance, if a student was in a wheelchair, we'd have to find a way to get up to the third floor, we’d literally have to find a way to carry them up or down because we didn’t have an elevator.
There is a lot of pride and tradition that comes with a century-old school, and in Doland, a large piece of that was restoring the school’s ag program. “We brought it back here probably about seven years or eight years ago,” says Hulscher, “and it has really flourished and taken off. Our FFA program is doing an awesome job.” When they built the new building Hulscher said they based the new shop off the old shop size, so it’s about the same square footage, and the ag classroom, which is right next to it, was set up with a lot of the input from the current ag teacher to utilize a lot of the stuff.
Not only did they rebuild the program, they teach the importance of their agricultural heritage in the elementary school curriculum. “We put an ag class in the elementary school, so the ag teacher goes down and teaches K-6, two days a week for a half hour, in addition to PE and music, so each kid, by the time they’re out of elementary, will have an ag class for two of their elementary years.” Hulscher says they don’t expect to make farmers out of everyone, but it's “another neat little thing and especially in this area it’s nice for the kids to know.”
Community ties are important in a small town. The school planners got a lot of input from the public, and from the school board; they held public meetings, they sent a survey out at one point in time. Based on the feedback, they moved the school playground from one side of the building from the north side of the building to the south side so it is now right across the street from the daycare. As a nod to the past, a portion of the perimeter is made up of the foundation stones of one of the original buildings.
The school also partnered with the community on a fitness center and a library. The Doland Area Wellness Fitness Center was leasing a room in the basement of the school, explained Hulscher, so during the process of all these discussions, we had always talked about combining the fitness center and our weight room to utilize both rooms, to make it effective for everybody involved. So, we combined the two.
Combining the city library with the school’s library also generated a lot of excitement. The city of Doland had always provided the librarian for a small and seldom-used library, and the Doland school always had a beautiful library, but didn't have a librarian. For students to use the library meant that a teacher had to volunteer to staff it, but there was no regular access. The school and the city agreed that combining the two would benefit the school by having an actual librarian available, and the community would benefit by having access to a nice, modern library. “We put the two libraries together, and it's been a huge success. Our kids love it. I think our community loves it,” says Hulscher. “It's awesome.”
In the spring of 2020, most of the staff and administration moved into the new building. The new school was ready for action, but then came the coronavirus, and everything was put on hold. It was a long, anxious spring and summer for educators, students, and parents alike, waiting for the coming year. Inside the school some of the construction came to a halt, classrooms were modified to work around the virus, but on August 24 the new Doland school officially opened its doors to students for the first time amidst a lot of nerves and excitement.
“School is kind of the heart and soul of your community. If you lose the school, then what's next?” He says there's a lot of excitement in Doland this year, a lot of people wanting to see it, wanting to tour and wanting to be a part of it. “It’s an awesome building,” says superintendent Hulscher, his voice palpable with excitement. “We're very happy for it. Very proud of it.”