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Cooper construction rises at brisk pace

Sparks fly as a construction worker works at Cooper Elementary School in Superior on Tuesday afternoon. Maria Lockwood

Construction of the new Cooper Elementary School was in high gear last week.

On Tuesday, the first precast concrete floor planks for the third-floor mechanical mezzanine were lifted into place. A section over, workers smoothed out newly-poured concrete on the second floor.

Tubing for in-floor heating was visible in a ground floor classroom area, and the framework of the cafeteria stage was in place. A metal bridge spanned the cafeteria and gymnasium area, with a barrel roof curving above it.

The roof offers plenty of space underneath to store materials from the rain, said Patrick Gallagher, senior construction manager with Kraus-Anderson. While the sun shone Tuesday, however, work crews were making the most of it.

According to District Buildings and Grounds Director Gary Niemi, work is ahead of schedule on the estimated $24.5 million project, part of a larger $92.5 million referendum approved by Superior School District voters in 2016.

Gallagher said the district's decision to prep and raise the site last year became a real advantage during the rainy summer.

Despite the bustle at the construction site, it was fairly quiet 50-feet away in the current Cooper Elementary School. Bagged blue gloves hung from the ceiling, ready to be used to pull out asbestos pipe joints. Asbestos tiles on most of the floors were gone. Custodians have been waxing each concrete floor following abatement.

"We're trying to tear it apart; they're trying to prep it for school," Gallagher said of the building.

During the tour, a school bell rang. Outside, children played on bikes. Each a reminder that summer vacation is fleeting.

School construction is a niche market, Gallagher said. It involves a flurry of work and orders during the three months of summer before children return to class.

Drone pictures taken of the building site in April and July show what a difference three months can make. April's bare sand has been replaced with a building shell that looms over the existing Cooper.

What can kids and their parents expect that first day of school?

Fencing will line the sidewalk around the new construction, including the biofiltration pond on the corner of North 17th Street and Wyoming Avenue. The long pond beside the new building's west wing will catch stormwater, filtering it through a porous compound before it travels back to the lake.

Asbestos abatement will be done by the time classes begin. All the tile floors in the current building, except the gymnasium, will be waxed concrete.

"It will be pretty much as normal except you'll have concrete floors instead of tile and there will be activity off the north end of the building," Gallagher said. "But everything else will continue on."

By November, Gallagher said, construction crews aim to have the brick exterior and windows of the new school in place, cutting down the noise for the students next door. He said bussing patterns that were put in place last year will remain the same.

The next big landscape changes will come at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. When school ends, the old Cooper building will be demolished to make way for a parking lot, ball field and soccer field.

The new two-story school is expected to open in fall of 2018.