Great Expectations School undergoes facility improvements to meet current needs
Photo by Matthew Baxley

Great Expectations School undergoes facility improvements to meet current needs

The Great Expectations Charter School in Grand Marais is undergoing significant school and facility improvements. 

Construction of a new building began in late summer of 2023, and thanks to the warmer weather experienced during Nov. and Dec., construction crews continued to work into the early winter months. After taking a short break during the recent negative temperature cold snap, crews are back on site to continue construction.

“We’ve been nearly six months in construction on this,” Jerry Starr, the construction manager and general contractor of the school project, said. “We don’t have a roof on yet, but we have almost 99 percent of all the walls in place at this point in time.”

The new building will have six new classrooms, a new kitchen and cafeteria area, storage, and offices. Rachael Lehman, the Great Expectations School (GES) director, said the new building will allow the school to transition from the temporary trailer classrooms into a permanent facility for the staff and 130 enrolled students. Lehman said the existing kitchen and cafeteria area will become a teacher’s lounge.

In addition, a private donor provided the school with 100 solar panels to include in the facility improvements. 

“I think everybody overall is just so excited. And you can feel the energy this year that once that ground broke, it just lights up that hope and that spark,” Lehman said. “People have really waited for a long time.” She said the project has been in the works for nearly nine years. 

As the school transitions from the temporary trailers to the new building classrooms at the end of the school year, Lehman said the school intends to sell the trailers. One of the two trailers has already been spoken for. Arrowhead Animal Rescue has expressed interest in purchasing the brown trailer for the anticipated new animal shelter in the Cedar Grove Business Park. 

Starr said every detail of the construction process had been reviewed and approved by architects and engineers, as required by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. “One of the most scrutinized construction projects you can ever do in the state is to build a school,” he said. “We are under a microscope every day on what we’re doing here.”

Given the tight restrictions and regulations, Howard Hedstrom, chairman of the GES Foundation, said, “Jerry’s doing a really good job of pulling this all together so we can open by next fall.” GES is hopeful that by the start of the 2024-25 school year, the students and staff will move into the new space. 

In Minnesota, charter schools are not permitted to own the school building. Hedstrom said the GES Foundation owns the building and is leading the effort to find funding and grants to develop and construct the building. The foundation has a loan package with the North Shore Federal Credit Union and is currently undergoing additional fundraising efforts. At this moment, Hedstrom said the school is approximately $500,000 short to complete the project. 

Given the construction and fundraising challenges, Starr, who has over 30 years of construction experience, said, “I do hopefully get this finished up and get it proper for the kids and the staff this coming fall.”

Once the project is completed, he said, “I think it’s time for me to probably retire and I’ll still do a few things, but hopefully we’ll get this really excellent shape for everyone. It will be a good way to say thank you and move on.”

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins toured the new GES building with Jerry Starr, the construction manager and general contractor of the school project, and spoke with Rachael Lehman, the GES director, and Howard Hedstrom, board chair of the GES Foundation, about the new building and what it means for the future of the charter school. 

Video and audio of the tour & interviews are below.