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GRAND MARAIS — The North House Folk School here has begun a $5 million expansion project that will increase the number of traditional crafting classes available — and create a dynamic point of entry to the quaint harborside campus.

Construction began on the new three-story, 6,000-square foot building three weeks ago, soon after the Grand Marais folk school's annual mid-September Unplugged event and fundraiser. This year, instead of taking down the big top, a reclaiming of space that is usually a bit of a relief to staff, the school turned the tarped area into a construction site.

Chairs were taken out; loads of timber were brought in.

Former students and instructors from the school's timber framing classes began shaping the frame and will soon lift the bones of the new building, handing off most of the rest of the work to general contractors — and some of it to the campus blacksmiths.

"It's a great opportunity for people who come to our classes and want to stay involved where they can," said instructor Tom Healy, who has been involved with the Folk School since it opened in 1997, despite having lived in Montana for decades.

Skill levels run the gamut — from folk school hobbyists to Peter Henrikson, a Grand Marais carpenter who returned months ago from assisting in the rebuild of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris after it was damaged in a fire in 2019. Everyone contributes where they are comfortable, said Healy.

North House Folk School opened with more than 20 classes in traditional crafts, including Inuit kayak building and Scandinavian bowl carving. Twenty-six years later, the school hosts more than 300 classes — in fiber arts, sailing, wood turning, bread making, book binding — and 3,000 students a year. About 60% of the students who visit the campus come from Minnesota, according to director Greg Wright, who became the school's first fulltime employee when he was hired in 2001.

He doesn't see the growth slowing at the nonprofit organization located "on the edge of forever," as he says.

"We're not going to get less busy — we're going to get busier," Wright said.

The school has had students from nearly every state and six countries, Wright said, and there are free classes available for elementary schoolchildren, and high school students in Cook County who want to learn timber framing.

The North House Folk School campus sits on the edge of Grand Marais' downtown area — a brightly colored craft village: the green building is administration, blue is the front office, red is classroom space. There was a long-standing yellow house that held the school's store, but it was falling into disrepair. It was whisked away on a trailer this summer and a community member plans to make upgrades and turn it into a rental on County Road 7.

The new building, which will stand in a similar place near the harbor, will also be yellow.

The project, dubbed "Framing our Future," includes additional space for interns in the administrative building in addition to the new welcome center, which will include two crafting classrooms and the school's store — and become the face of the campus. The school will be able to add 100 classes.

"We need a front door because the world is coming here," Wright said.

The timber framing crew from North House Folk School is known for putting its skills to local use. The Memorial Chime Tower at St. Olaf College has its roots in the Folk School, as does the YMCA Camp Menogyn's canoe shop, the Chapel Trailhead and covered bridge at St. John's University, and the blacksmith shop on the Folk School's campus.

Work is scheduled to continue through the winter, with a ribbon-cutting timed to coincide with one of the school's major community events in 2024 — either the Wooden Boat Show, held every June, or the 2024 Unplugged fundraiser.