Duluth News Tribune: Community breaks ground on new Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School
BENA, Minn. — Eighteen years ago, John Parmeter -- a safety compliance officer with the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School -- was found unconscious in his office due to some sort of toxic fumes inside the building. On Wednesday, after years of fighting for a new, safer high school, he was able to watch ground being broken for just that.
“Now I can put those 18 years of documentation away in a file,” said Parmeter, who was in charge of providing proof of the school’s run-down condition to others seeking funding to improve the site. He called the groundbreaking “a dream come true.”
Sen. Al Franken and Reps. Rick Nolan and Betty McCollum attended the groundbreaking, as well as Faron Jackson, chairman of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe; members of the school board and Superintendent Mary Trapp.
The school, which is located in Bena, had been the subject of local and national discussion for years before the U.S. Department of the Interior announced in April it would contribute $11.9 million toward the construction of a new building.
During those years, Franken, Nolan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others campaigned for funds from “anyone who would listen or pretend to listen,” Franken said.
The old building, which will be demolished, has myriad problems ranging from inconvenient to dangerous, Parmeter said, adding the school’s furnace was so old no parts existed to repair it when it broke, and classrooms were kept warm with space heaters. Students could not use the oven, microwave or dishwasher in the home economics classroom because of electrical concerns, and could not do experiments in the science lab because of a lack of ventilation.
The new building is scheduled to open June 2017.
“This will be a school where kids will learn, and kids will celebrate the Ojibwe heritage and culture,” Franken said before the groundbreaking. “I’m just looking forward to when we cut the ribbon.”
Jackson also spoke briefly and thanked those involved.
“The possibilities are somewhat unlimited to what we can actually do,” he said. “It’s all about having that working relationship and being on the same page with a lot of these issues. The better you understand a culture or a race or anything of that nature, the better you understand people, the better the communication is going to be.”
Many of the event’s speakers praised the bipartisan effort to secure funding for the school while emphasizing the work left to be done.
“We know we have more work to do,” McCollum said. “I want you to keep challenging us … challenge us to reach for higher goals. Challenge us to do what’s right.”