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Whittier Task Force questions candidates

Three of the four groups with plans for Whittier Elementary school drew out their ideas during an interview process Monday night.

The Whittier Task Force questioned each of the proposers after evaluating each idea last week. The group was still left with questions on timelines, concepts and investments.

A proposal for a chemical dependency treatment program by Duane Halvorson was taken out of consideration after it placed last in a ranking system.

Whittier closed more than four years ago due to budget constraints. Since, the Whittier Task Force was formed to help bring life back into the building. Members put out a call for proposals on what the space could be used for.

North Side Community and

Athletic Center:

(Proposed by North Side Neighborhood, prepared by Daniel Thornton)

Thornton just starting research into financial aspects, investors and partnerships.

He said his efforts were at the “grassroots” level with no concrete research or studies, having put together his proposal in effort to get the voices of the neighborhood residents in.

He is asking for 90 days to get financing for the proposal in order.

“This is a neighborhood building, this should be something our community has to do for our area, not people from the outside,” he said. “Sustainability might be a weakness, but concept is the strength.”

He said he is open to partnerships with other proposers or with other tenants.

Several task force members commended Thornton for his efforts.

Superintendent Steve Razidlo said Thornton would need “significant assistance” in pulling together a more concrete plan in how to run the facility and more into what tenants would be brought in.

Whittier Elementary Community Center for Health and Wellness:

(Proposed by Northern Pines Mental Health Center and The Center, formerly the Lakes Area Senior Activity Center)

Glenn Anderson, executive director of Northern Pines, said the building would be used as office space for the behavioral health aide and in-home health juvenile programs. No clients would be brought to the building for the programs but the near two-dozen staff members would go to the clients’ homes.

The Center would, along with children from Northern Pines program, grow exercise programs with use of the gym.

The gym and stage area would be open to neighborhood use as well, Anderson said.

The two organizations will continue to search for more partnerships and community organizations to use the remaining space.

“We have the capability. We’ve been around for a long time, we know what we’re doing and we have a margin. If we see something that needs to be done, we can go do it,” Anderson said.

Task force member Kevin Donnay said some people are concerned about what could be brought through the building should the proposal be chosen.

Anderson said the use will always be “appropriate” for the space and neighborhood.

“We’ve got clinic buildings all over the place but what we don’t have is a school. That’s what I want to keep it as — an educational facility,” he said.

Anderson said he and Thornton have talked about working together to use the space should the Northern Pines proposal be chosen.

The Brainerd Lakes Area Science and Technology Center:

(Proposed by Laura Leckband and Richard Russell)

Russell, a former director of science, technology, engineering and math at the Detroit Science Center, said he would use his experience from Detroit to direct the BLAST center.

This proposal would require the entire building and would not be available for partnerships with other proposers, Leckband said.

“That doesn’t mean that some other uses aren’t compatible,” she said.

The gym could be rented out most of the year, she said, whether it be for fitness classes or fundraisers.

Leckband suggested instead of re-zoning the property to commercial use, she and Russell would request a conditional use permit that would continue to give the city control over what happens at the site.

She would also be OK with working with the school on what can and cannot happen on the property.

The task force questioned whether schools in the area would have the ability or willingness to send students to the BLAST center should it open.

Steve Lund, director of business services for the district, suggested at the task force’s previous meeting that the BLAST idea might be too big for the space and its limitations.

Leckband disagreed. “The size of building is consistent with the size of the program we’re proposing.”

Task force members ranked each of the proposals again after hearing the presentations. The group will meet again next week, Feb. 27 at 7 a.m. to discuss what was heard and any more concerns that come up.

There is no set date on when the task force will pass its recommendation of which proposal to accept along to the school board but task force members say they want it to be soon.

JESSICA LARSEN may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at