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Three proposals offered for Whittier school

The Brainerd School District on Friday received three requests for proposals (RFPs) for the closed Whittier Elementary School in north Brainerd.

The three proposals are:

• Northern Pines Mental Health Center Inc. — Whittier Elementary Community Center for Health and Wellness.

• North Side Neighborhood (prepared by Daniel Thornton) — North Side Community and Athletic Center.

• Laura A.C. Leckband and Richard T. Russell — Brainerd Lakes Area Science and Technology Center.

Steve Lund, director of business services for the Brainerd School District, said Friday night he only had to time to briefly review the proposals. He said the Whittier Task Force’s next meeting is Feb. 13.

The criteria that has been established calls for:

• A use that’s appropriate and conducive to the surrounding neighborhood and meets the needs of the community.

• A use that is financially sustainable.

• A project time table that ensures the property will not remain vacant and jeopardize the integrity of its current condition.

The Northern Pines proposal was aired at an informational meeting last week, while initial details of the other two came to light Friday.

Among the three proposals was one from a neighbor who moved into a home across the street from the school 2 1/2 weeks ago.

Northern Pines Mental Health Center submitted its RFP on Thursday on the heels of Monday’s public meeting at the school where Glenn Anderson, the mental health center’s executive director, outlined his organization’s plan for a center for health and wellness. That plan would be a partnership with The Center (formerly the Lakes Area Senior Activity Center) and would provide office space for Northern Pines employees and space for children’s programs and a pre-school daycare center. Classrooms would be used community education and healthy lifestyle sessions. Northern Pines also planned to start a community garden at the site.

Anderson’s presentation included plans for the revamped school to be used for sports/recreational activities and stage productions.

A second proposal was submitted by Daniel Thornton, a north Brainerd resident who lives across the street from the 1939 school and moved into the neighborhood 21/2 weeks ago. Thornton said he is involved in real estate investment and is a marketing student at University of Minnesota. He said he just learned of the opportunity to submit an RFP for the school at Monday’s meeting. He is asking for 90 days to get financing for the proposal in order.

The school district announced it would accept RFPs for the school in November but Thornton said the call went unnoticed by many people.

He said Friday morning he didn’t know how he would secure financing and was not overly optimistic the school district would grant him the 90 days he is requesting.

“We know people who are certainly capable of coming forward,” Thornton said.

Comparing his own proposal with that of Northern Pine’s, Thornton said the possibility that people with mental health problems might come to the school was a concern.

“I think we all have concerns if you bring certain people who may have problems,” he said. “It concerns us that they could potentially bring people who could compromise our safety. That is one of our concerns.”

At Monday’s informational meeting Anderson said Northern Pines would use the school for its community work and not therapy.

Thornton said he thought there was some uncertainty on that point at the meeting. He said that while Northern Pines didn’t plan to have full in-patient treatment he felt people with mental health problems might go to the school for activities.

“They want to bring people in...That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s some kind of vagueness,” he said.

Thornton said he did not see the possibility of Whittier being brought back as a school as a realistic option. His plan calls for establishment of the North Side Community and Athletic Center. He wrote the proposal and said he has talked with north Brainerd residents about the plans. The neighborhood association, he said “has not been working in a consistent form,” but he hopes to revitalize it.

The plan calls for providing an indoor athletic venue for sports for young people. The gym, according to the plan, would feature two indoor tennis courts but could also be converted for basketball, volleyball and other sports. Other planned amenities include a fitness center, a fitness studio, a club room for private events and a daycare center.

Like the Northern Pines Mental Health Center proposal, Thornton’s RFP designates a room for North Side Neighborhood Association.

On the exterior of the building, Thornton’s plan calls for open park space, a neighborhood greenhouse, the existing basketball courts and playground and spade for concerts, neighborhood gatherings, an outdoor running track, neighborhood yard sales and art shows.

Details of Leckband’s and Russell’s proposal were not available Friday. Leckband could not be reached for comment Friday.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860