Three Northeast Nebraska communities have united to form one new school district, which recently moved into its final destination among the rolling fields of corn in rural Antelope County.
Summerland Public School is entering its second year of being a district in a new school that holds grades preschool through 12th grade. The facility was recently finished on a parcel of land purchased from a local farmer, totaling about 34 acres.
The school year had to be pushed back two weeks, from Aug. 16 to Aug. 30, to ensure enough construction would be done for all grade levels to move in together, said Kyle Finke, Summerland superintendent. The expected move-in date was in mid-December.
“Hausmann Construction has done an unbelievable job of getting us to where we are today. We were ready to face the challenge of being an elementary-only site,” Finke said. “For us to be all together as one — I don’t think that was supposed to happen. I’m just thankful we were able to move out here on a nice, warm day instead of November or December.”
Crews broke ground to build the 130,000-square-foot facility on March 23, 2020. It features a one-level preschool and elementary section, with a two-level junior high and high school section.
A lot of classrooms are encased in glass. The hallways are wide, and common spaces are dispersed around the facility for classes to meet outside of a regular environment.
“Everybody seems impressed with the facility — the building, layout, features and opportunities for kids. Classrooms, in general, are a lot larger than (teachers) are used to,” Finke said. “The people, when they walk in, can’t believe the vastness of the hallways and entrance. It has been very well received so far.”
Construction is still ongoing in a few areas, such as the band room, stage and agricultural/industrial technology shop. For now, the band practices in the main gym, and extra classrooms are used for the remaining classes.
The industrial technology shop is one of the facility’s most-desired features, which will provide classes students didn’t have access to before in their previous schools.
There are also makerspace areas, equipped with machines like 3D printers or laser cutters, and a green screen media studio for students to use.
Students have more opportunities with the new facility, Finke said.
Summerland Public School was created in 2020 after the communities of Clearwater, Ewing and Orchard passed a $34.3 million, 20-year bond to build the new facility.
The location, 513th Avenue and Summerland Road, was purchased specifically because it is between the three communities, which all previously had their own school districts.
“The class sizes were starting to decrease a little bit and the three school boards were wanting to make sure their kids had the opportunities that other kids had in the area, so I think they felt the best way to accomplish that was to pass a bond and consolidate into one school district,” Finke said.
Summerland Public School operated in all three communities for the 2020-21 school year while the facility was being built. The boards consolidated into one, with two members from each community.
Finke said the district has 416 students, which is comparable to the number all three communities had together in their respective schools. Some students among edges of the district’s boundaries opted into other nearby school districts, while some students outside opted into Summerland.
Because students are distributed among several rural towns, the district has nine bus routes.
There are four to five vans that visit Inman, Page, Royal, Clearwater, Ewing, Orchard and other communities. The school also has three shuttle services.
While Summerland’s athletic facilities are functional, sod was just laid down on the football field behind the school. The Bobcats football team will instead be competing in Orchard this season.
Finke said the whole process of managing a transitioning school district has been tough his first year on the job. He started as superintendent July 1 after serving as an elementary principal for Battle Creek Public Schools for 16 years.
Besides his regular duties — he records about 11,000 steps a day traveling around the school — he manages a long list of construction projects as the crew finishes up.
“There were a lot of unknowns I didn’t know about that made this job even that more interesting,” Finke said. “But it’s been a good transition so far.”
Finke said he’s looking forward to being completely done with construction by early October. Summerland also will host an open house for the area shortly after that date.
“When I was talking to the kids about what their biggest fears were, they were a little fearful of being lost in the building,” Finke said. “But it didn’t take long for them to get used to it. (The facility) just opened up their eyes to their opportunities here. It’s going to be a great school district.”