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BRAINERD SCHOOL BOARD: 10-year capital plan discussed

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Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

If the Brainerd School District performed all of its capital improvement projects — many of which have been deferred for years because of lack of funds — on its 13 facilities, those costs would snowball into a $15.4 million capital budget shortfall within the next 10 years. 

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The Brainerd School Board Facilities Committee learned more Tuesday about the district’s developing 10-year capital improvement plan, which prioritizes building projects throughout the district. 

The plan was created with assistance from Earl Wolleat, director of buildings and grounds, and his staff, along with administrative input, said Steve Lund, director of business services. 

Lund said the plan was categorized into three general areas: Projects that need to be done in the next three years, those that need to be done in the next three to six years and those that need to be done in six to 10 years at each school building and facility. 

Total costs during the 10-year plan are $21.262 million, broken down to $1.956 million for the first few years, $5.125 million for the next three to six years and $14.181 million for the next six to 10 years. 

Superintendent Steve Razidlo told the board that the district’s four oldest facilities, Whittier, Harrison, Lincoln and Lowell schools, account for half of the $21.262 million in capital needs identified over the next 10 years. Whittier School remains closed while the other three schools educate not quite 700 students, or about 10 percent of the district’s students, Razidlo said.

“I don’t have a solution to that, but we wanted to get that out there,” said Razidlo. “The comforting part is that we can use the next three years to prioritize, but we’ve got to start thinking about what we’re going to do in the next 10 years.”

According to the capital plan, it would cost the district over the next 10 years $3.613 million to make capital improvements at Whittier School, if it were to reopen as a school; $2.9 million at Harrison School; $2.626 million at Lincoln Education Center; and $2.8 million at Lowell School. 

Many of big budget items for the capital improvement projects for these four schools involve air quality improvements and boiler upgrades. The newer elementary schools have already had heating and cooling improvements. 

Capital improvement total costs projected over the next 10 years at the other district-owned facilities include: Alternative Education Center, $322,000; Baxter School, $780,000; Brainerd High School South Campus, $834,000; BHS North Campus, $3.518 million; Forestview Middle School, $392,000; Garfield School, $710,000; Riverside School, $677,500; BHS farm site, $64,000; Washington Educational Services Building, $359,800; Franklin Arts Center (lease), $75,000; Paul Bunyan Cooperative building, $494,000; Franklin Arts Center, $152,500.

Lund said the district’s options to address its capital needs are to borrow money and do some of the projects; prioritize projects and let other projects go, resulting in deterioration of some facilities; or ask for a bond levy from voters to fund specific capital projects. 

Board member Jim Hunt said he struggles with the idea of keeping Whittier School on a long-term basis.

“I just have a hard time looking at putting $3.6 million into that building. At the high school, where we’re looking at major improvements at the Lower Site, we’re only talking about $3.5 million there,” Hunt said. “We need to think in terms of what are we going to do with Whittier.”

Razidlo said if the district maintained Whittier School where it could be used as a school, boiler and air handling work would need to be done, which would be costly. 

Razidlo said the district needs to engage the community in a discussion involving the district’s four oldest buildings, asking what is a sensible capital investment knowing that these buildings make up half of the $21 million in capital needs costs. 

Razidlo said the buildings are well-maintained. He also explained that none of these costs include any technology upgrades that are needed, too. District staff members are in the process of assessing its technology needs in each building, a technology audit that will likely be discussed with the board at a June board retreat.

Wolleat warned the board that energy costs will likely be dramatically increasing over the next 10 years. He said a major component of any building improvements needs to include energy conservation and efficiency so the district can afford to keep its buildings heated. 

JODIE TWEED may be reached at jodie.tweed@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5858.

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