Pilgrim Lane school in Plymouth rises from the ashes to stoke new flames of education


Principal Randy Moberg poses in front of the newly renovated FAIR School Pilgrim Lane building Aug. 17. (Sun Post staff photos by Laci Gagliano)

Ribbon cutting ceremony is Sept. 19 for rescued campus that will host a second FAIR magnet school 

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The building that once housed Pilgrim Lane Elementary in Plymouth has come back from what many believed would be a certain death with the planned September 2017 opening as a FAIR Magnet school. A ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19.

Renovations are still underway in the building, which will begin hosting lower elementary students from FAIR School in Crystal, which will now be split between K-3 and grades 4-8. The initial school year will incorporate just K-1 graders, then the two following years will introduce grades 2 and 3, respectively.

The walls and flooring are complete, but construction workers are still present to put finishing touches on the details. The hallways and classrooms feature windows allowing in far more sunlight than the original building did. A brand new theater and dance studio as well as a gymnasium are highlights of the campus’s remodel. Bright green decks out many of the walls, giving the space a cheerful atmosphere.

When the district faced the decision to downsize in 2009, the original school was tapped to take on the burden of closure.

Principal Randy Moberg plays a xylophone located in the school’s breezeway entrance.

“On our side of town, it was our turn to close a building,” said principal Randy Moberg, who has headed the school since 1996. “It wasn’t cost effective to keep it open at the time. But then, with the vision of our superintendent and the school board, knowing that there’s a need to offer a magnet program focusing on the arts … it was a great niche to try to help with some of our growing population. Robbinsdale is on the rise again as a district, so it’s kind of rebirth on multiple levels, not only with the building but with the district as a whole in terms of our numbers.”

Moberg said the school is a good fit for the district, which has a strong arts focus overall. For instance, the school is developing a theater program with the nationally renowned Stages Theater, which already offers a program to the Crystal campus and will be tailored specifically to lower elementary students.

“Arts integration, academic and artistic excellence for all — that’s really kind of our modus operandi, and how we integrate that together into the classroom to help engage kids in learning and make it exciting,” Moberg said.

The school’s mascot is the dragon, a perfect representation of the accompanying motto spelled out through the acronym FIRE: focus, integrity, respect, and empathy; values Moberg said will guide the students and teachers.

He reflected on the historically strong sense of neighborhood pride that has helped shape the school since it opened in the 1960s. An annual neighborhood parade staged by the school is a beloved event that reflects that sense of unity.

Teachers Jen Berg and Javier Fischer, pictured in Berg’s classroom, are among the teachers who have worked hard on their own time to prepare for the new school year.

“This is a big deal in this neighborhood. For 30, 40 years they’ve had this parade through thick and thin. It’s a centerpiece,” he added.

Teachers are already beginning to come into the school on their own time to arrange their classrooms, like Jen Berg and Javier Fischer, who had classroom materials and decorations splayed out around them on a Thursday morning, enthusiastically parsing out the details of the approaching first day of school. Moberg said the excitement he’s seeing in his staff is palpable.

“There is an element of this building really being on fire. It’s kind of hard to explain, but when you begin to talk to people that are a part of this and what it could be, there’s so much excitement and energy that people are having a hard time sleeping,” he said. “We have seven classroom teachers. They feel such ownership of this — ‘How are we gonna make this thing come alive?’ We’re going to approach that through the mythical dragon. We’re going to be on fire here this year.”