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Northern Pines recommended to take over Whittier building

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Northern Pines recommended to take over Whittier building
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Northern Pines is the recommended choice as the next tenant of the Whittier school.

The Whittier Task Force chose Northern Pines out of three proposals at a meeting Wednesday.

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That recommendation goes before the school Facilities Committee next, and will ultimately be up to the Brainerd School Board as to whether or not the Northern Pines proposal will come to life in the building.

There is no set date or timeline for when either of the groups will hear about the proposal.

At the meeting Wednesday, task force members learned that each had ranked the proposals in the same order.

The ranking was done after an interview session with the proposers Feb. 18, as to which best met the three judging criteria.

Ranked first was Northern Pines Mental Health Center’s Whittier Elementary Community Center for Health and Wellness, second place was The Brainerd Lakes Area Science and Technology Center and third was the North Side Community and Athletic Center.

With a clear top candidate, task force members questioned if a recommendation should be made right away,

“Right now, there is only one (proposer) that has their financing in line and that is Northern Pines,” said task force member Sheila Haverkamp. “Do we want to just work with the Northern Pines proposal and identify accountability problems or give the other two more time?”

Daniel Thornton, who wrote the North Side Community and Athletic Center proposal, requested another 90 days for getting that information together. Laura Leckband and Richard Russell, who gave the BLAST Center proposal, are still looking into more investors.

Northern Pines Executive Director Glenn Anderson said at the interview session more than a week ago that the organization is able to take over costs right away for the building.

Giving more time opens up the possibility of a drug-out process and possibly more proposals coming forward, said task force member Jeff Torfin.

“The RFP process can continue on and on,” he said.

Steve Lund, director of business services for the district, said, “I want to make sure whatever we do is good and 10, 15, 20 years from now it’s still open.”

Task force member Kelly Bevans, Brainerd City Council member, said Northern Pines was the best choice for the building, since it couldn’t be a school — what the community overwhelmingly prefers.

“We’re charged with repurposing the building, though. That said, you have one proposal that has embraced the community need perspective in that they are willing to work with (North Side Community and Athletic Center),” he said. “That’s different than the BLAST proposal, that said ‘we can’t work with anyone else.’”

Bevans continued, “It shows a dedication to serving the community. That’s one of the more important parts of the proposal in my mind.”

Leckband spoke up during the meeting, saying she was being misquoted by the task force.

“I did not say I wouldn’t work with someone else; I’ve approached the Senior Center,” she said. “My proposal is being misrepresented. I didn’t ask for more time. I simply didn’t say those things.”

The task force needs to either discuss the proposals more or make a decision, Bevans said.

“In my mind ... on month 14 (of meeting), what are we going to do?” he said.

The task force agreed it would recommend Northern Pines.

With the recommendation, the task force is also suggesting other concerns be addressed:

- How to hold Northern Pines accountable to the uses the organization put in the proposal.

- What is the anticipated change to traffic patterns around the building?

- What sort of capital investment should come forward from Northern Pines?

- Asking Northern Pines to put out a plan for re-zoning.

JESSICA LARSEN may be reached at jessica.larsen@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brainerdnews.

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