New school brings new possibilities for Oberon students and staff

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

OBERON - The abundance of brightly colored walls could not mask the disarray of the century-old Oberon Elementary School.

The school, given its age, was arguably more reminiscent to a historical landmark than a state-of-the-art center for learning. This was nothing personal, of course. After all, the building served its purpose practically 100-fold – even though the high school went away several decades ago, the building still consistently served kindergarten through sixth grade for close to its entire history.

New Oberon Elementary School

But the writing was on the wall, almost literally. The school’s two Kewanee, Illinois boilers from the 1920s had been out commission since 2014. Steam pipes lined across the bathroom ceilings fought for space with resident spider webs. This wasn’t their only battle, however, as water droplets down to the tiled floors below signified leaks were an issue, too. Then, there was the issue of the blistering heat during the summer and the threat of bone-chilling coldness during the winter, both of which could finally spell the end to the building's conditioning units. 

To say a solution was needed was a false statement. A solution wasn’t needed.

A solution was necessary.

Luckily, a remedy presented itself in the form of new concrete, freshly made steel and a clean plot for a newly minted Oberon Elementary School, which is scheduled open just in time for the upcoming school year.

Jordan Brown, superintendent and principal for Oberon Public School, had his hands full, even when he wasn’t donning a hard hat and observing the construction of his new facility. More importantly, the Devils Lake native had to be certain he didn’t jump the gun too quick with the transition from the old school to the new one, even if they were physically right next door to each other.

“You cannot go in there and start making structural changes if you don’t like how it functions,” Brown said. “You really must think ahead and think if the classrooms are going to be big enough, are we going to have enough classrooms, what is going to be the best utilization of this space versus that space. Then, obviously you are outfitting it. Obviously, you want to be as up to date as possible. So, you have to find a balance.”

Although Übl Design Group and Consolidated Construction Co. have done the bulk of the heavy lifting and contracting for the new facility, Brown still has had to lend a helping hand in transitioning his staff into the new building. This challenge hasn’t been his first as superintendent.

Nor would it be his last.

After Brown’s school district was forced to trek through distance learning as they attempted to navigate around COVID-19 last year, delays in construction only made matters more complicated. After the new facility broke ground last October and concrete was poured a month after, steel for the facility, initially intended for November, did not reach the site until the birth of the new year in January. Even still, Brown held strong and remained optimistic. 

“There is not a lot a guy can do if a major steel company says they are not going to deliver to you when they were supposed to deliver to you,” Brown said. “I could’ve sat there and fretted about it, but I also had to focus on running the school and making sure the kids got what they needed day-to-day. Staying in contact with our construction management team…that kind of fell into the realm of what they needed to look after.”

No matter how long the process took, Oberon’s staff was willing to wait just a bit longer, especially if it meant to have access to new amenities not even possible in the older facility.

“No stairs,” Business Manager Maria Dunlap said. “It’s not air conditioned yet, but it’ll be nice. Everything is new and modern.”

Former Oberon Elementary School

In Mary Ann Broe’s 20+ years of teaching at Oberon, she recognized all the ins, outs and flaws of the old facility. The first-grade teacher not only recognized that the old building was not handicap accessible, but also that air quality was lacking, especially in the summer.

Nevertheless, a new building would not only bring more accessibility, but equal opportunity to create everlasting memories as the old school did for decades. Even as Broe packs up her classroom in preparation for the move into the new school, the sentiment has held true.

“I loved my room, I love this school,” Broe said. “I am excited about everything…and a big gym, a large gym where we can have all the parents come in and everything. It’s more open. Nice bathrooms for the kids. Like I said, I am excited about the whole thing. It is just a whole new environment, and yes, I am going to miss the old building a lot. There are a lot of memories in here, and now we are going to form new ones.”

With an open house scheduled for Aug. 24 right before the school’s inaugural first day on Aug. 25, excitement is in the air for both students and staff alike.

“They were excited last year about the new school,” Broe said. “They were very excited. I am just glad, because this will be our first group in this school, and I am hoping to get pictures of each group now, because as I said, we haven’t done that before. I am a picture-taker. I take pictures of all my students throughout the school year. I want them to have happy memories. When they walk in the door, sometimes things happen before they even walk in the door, on the bus, before they even get to school. That sets their day.”

“I think it’ll be really good for the kids,” Dunlap said. “New this and that, new lunchroom, a new gym and a nicer gym…I think they’ll enjoy it very much.”

For Brown, the upcoming school year will bring its unique set of challenges different than those from his first year as superintendent during the pandemic. Even still, Brown is ready for the new era for the school district.

“My old football coach would say, if it doesn’t make you nervous, you are not doing it right and you should find something else to do,” Brown said. “If you are not excited about it, you should find something else to do. I am excited about it. We have a lot of moving parts to it and you kind of hope everything falls into place when the day comes.”