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Crunch time at new school

Walking down the halls of the still unfinished East Ridge High School, it's hard to imagine that in just a few short months they'll be alive with students running to class, teachers offering an encouraging smile and the morning bells marking the first chapter in a new story.

"Everything is so detail-oriented that it's hard to focus on the big things right now like the first day of school," East Ridge principal Aaron Harper said. "We're just trying to make sure every 'T' is crossed and every 'I' is dotted."

Harper said that as of East Ridge staff officially took up residency in the school July 21 and they are currently on schedule to wrap up construction the first week of August. Mike Vogel, District 833 assistant to the superintendent for operations, said that only 90 percent of construction will be completed by the fall and teachers can start setting up their rooms on Aug. 15.

"It's getting to be crunch time," Harper said. "There're so many fine details to take care of, we're just getting down to the nitty-gritty."

As far as construction is concerned, the only remaining facets range from the floors, to windows, to electrical work, to last-minute painting, along with other small details.

In addition to wrapping up construction, Harper said they are also working on a lot of logistical things associated with the school -- policies, signage and hiring.

East Ridge has been two years in the making, and has encountered its fair share of controversy and opposition. But Harper said he is confident that once the school takes its place in the community, things will work out.

"It's starting to become more real, it's starting to become more exciting," he said. "I think people are excited and anxious and I hope to see a cloud of energized enthusiasm once the school opens in the fall."

Some of the controversy surrounding East Ridge is that some believe it will overshadow Woodbury High School and Park High School, but Harper said he doesn't believe that to be the case.

"One perspective says that East Ridge may overshadow the other schools, but I think it's not about taking away from other schools, but about providing opportunities for students," he said.

District 833 superintendent Mark Porter mirrored Harper's sentiments that the opening of East Ridge will bring a wealth of opportunities for students, and hopefully be a uniting force in the community.

"I am looking forward to opening more than anything," he said. "It's more than just an opening of a new high school building, but the opening of new opportunities for all of our students.

"I am very confident that East Ridge will very quickly be the unifying element of the district that we wanted."

Harper said he hopes to integrate the three high schools, whether it would be with a district-wide dance or other performances, or by just uniting the community under the District 833 umbrella, rather than concentrating on what amenities and opportunities each school houses.

Until East Ridge opens in the fall, Harper will continue to wear his many hats, but once the doors open, he will be able to wear the one hat that he is truly passionate about.

"I'm so excited to be a part of the school and doing what I love -- teaching and high-fiving students in the hall," he said. "This whole experience has really been a time out and I can't wait to get in the saddle."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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