Time's run out for Whittier
The wait-and-see period regarding the former Whittier Elementary School has expired — at least it has in our view. The venerable school building, beloved by many who attended school and sits along the perimeter of Brainerd’s Gregory Park, is an expensive anachronism that the Brainerd School District can no longer afford.
Vacant since 2008, the bill for heating and maintenance costs at the school since the closure is about $200,000. Ideas for renovating the former school abound. Concrete proposals with financial backing and widespread support of the community have been scarce or non-existent.
The school district should be commended for its willingness to explore multiple avenues through which the Whittier building might have a useful life. The 1939 building closed as a school primarily because of its small size and the expense of operating a building that served relatively few students. According to a 2012 estimate, the district’s elementary school population had dropped by about 4 percent since Whittier closed in 2007-2008. Projections based on birth counts showed that trend was likely to continue.
A plan for a community center at Whittier, put forward by The Center and Northern Pines Mental Health Center, ran into a roadblock when the Brainerd City Council voted against a proposed amendment that would have allowed community centers in districts that were zoned residential.
Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center told the school district it was not interested in the former school.
The Brainerd City Council Safety and Public Works Committee toured the building Tuesday and will discuss possible uses, but there doesn’t appear to be any practical reason for the city to purchase the building.
The Brainerd School Board has fully investigated possible ways to keep the school open and none appear to be workable. In its role as a good steward of public funds, it’s clear that demolition of the building is going to have to be the next phase for the Whittier building.