Johnson High to undergo internal, external construction

The new entrance and addition will be made of glass and metal to reflect Johnson High School’s aerospace program. (courtesy of St. Paul Public Schools)

The Johnson High School addition will add spaces for more student support services and additional classrooms on the second floor.

The changes will take place during the summers of 2016 and 2017

Clogged toilets, wandering visitors and a gloomy entrance that’s not handicap accessible are just some of the building-related issues that have plagued Johnson High School. 

However, long-awaited building improvements are finally on the horizon. At a District Five Committee for Planning and Economic Development meeting on April 5, community leaders learned of some changes coming to Johnson High School. 

The high school is scheduled for two phases of construction during the 2016 and 2017 summers. 

During the first phase of construction, the school will be undergoing internal renovations, such as updates to the electrical, security and plumbing systems. The roof will also be replaced and boilers will be updated.

During the summer of 2017 the school will be undergoing some external changes. The plan is to build an addition to the school, creating a two-story glass entrance and adding administrative offices and classrooms. 

Overall the addition will be 4,000 square feet. 

These changes will occur on the east side of the building, which faces Arcade Street.

Leslie McMurray, executive director for the District Five community council, said she is concerned that neighbors and community members are not aware of the pending changes. 

“I was concerned that maybe the community as a whole, which has a strong affinity for Johnson High School, wasn’t familiar with the somewhat dramatic exterior change,” McMurray said.

“Has there been outreach from the school district to the immediate neighbors just about what the plan is?” asked Ryan Kapaun, chair of the District Five Committee for Planning and Economic Development. 

“I do not believe at this point we have sent out flyers or done anything around the neighborhood. I think what you’re describing needs to be communicated,” said Jean Ronnei, chief operations officer for St. Paul Public Schools.

McMurray added she has spoken with project manager Angela Selb-Sack, and that there will be open houses for the community to see the upcoming construction plans. 

“Johnson did rise to needing to do this because of infrastructure issues, the plumbing, the roofing. And so we’re able to marry some of the projects that made sense to the building and the aerospace program,” said Ronnei, explaining that the district’s Facility Master Plan makes it easy to complete the interior and exterior changes together.

“I just know that the plumbing in itself was a major problem,” Ronnei said.

That is a problem that Johnson High School principal Micheal Thompson can attest to. 

He explained that whenever there is a clog in the bathroom, “it takes long time to fix.” He said students and staff are looking forward to the bathroom renovations.

While exterior changes are more noticeable, he said the needed interior changes have been “really delayed.” 

Thompson said the new entrance will make security better at the high school, which has about 1,600 students. He explained that security concerns are very different from 1963, when the building was constructed. 

He said currently people can enter the school and go upstairs without going past security or the main office. 

Thompson said he is also looking forward to how the new entrance will highlight the goals, accomplishments, the past and future of the school.

He explained the reconstructed front entrance will house the school’s trophies and photos as well as a real airplane from the flight simulator class to reflect the school’s successful aerospace program. 

The addition will also create new classrooms on the second floor as well as more office space for student support services, which Thompson said has been greatly needed. 

Ronnei said the main goal of the entrance expansion is to make the entrance safe and accessible. Johnson’s entrance, which has staircases leading to the main level and front office, does not meet ADA standards. A security guard sits in front of the entrance, with the main office off to the left.

Overall, there were no major objections from the District Five Committee for Planning and Economic Development. Committee member David Syers said from his experience as a developer, it makes sense to do the two projects in one sweep.

Ronnei added that construction crews will abide by noise restriction ordinances, so as to not disturb residents and businesses near the school.

“We’re not prettying up the building just for the sake of prettying up the outside of the building; that isn’t the case. 

“Security is an issue that we have in our schools and one that we’ve done some great work around creating warm and welcoming entrances for our students and families and community, but making sure those are safe entrances,” Ronnei said.


Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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