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Whittier offer extended to city of Brainerd, Essentia

The Brainerd School District is talking with two entities in hopes of a resolution for the former Whittier school building.

At the School Board meeting Monday, officials unanimously approved a committee recommendation to approach the city of Brainerd and Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center, to see if either are interested in acquiring the Whittier building.

The move comes after the future of the old school building was again left unknown after a November Brainerd City Council meeting in which the council voted against a proposed amendment that would have allowed community centers in residentially zoned districts. The move was largely because neighborhood residents spoke out against it.

The school board initially gave the nod to Northern Pines Mental Health Center to repurpose the old Whittier school building into the Whittier Elementary Community Center for Health and Wellness. But before Northern Pines could move forward with plans, the city of Brainerd needed to look into how to rezone the north Brainerd property, which is located in a residential district.

A letter was recently sent to the Brainerd City Council about the offer, but the group held off discussion at its last meeting since several council members were absent. The council will talk about Whittier at its upcoming meeting.

School leaders met with representatives from Essentia Monday about the offer. Superintendent Steve Razidlo said Essentia officials will take time to consider the offer.

Razidlo said he will bring an update from both entities at the Feb. 21 committee meeting.

Should neither want to take the building, school officials will advertise the building as being for sale, which it hasn’t done yet.

But they won’t advertise it very long, as the bills for the building are proving costly to the district.

Since 2008, the building has been vacant and has racked up $200,000 in heating and maintenance costs. In about eight years, the building will need a new roof, said Earl Wolleat, director of buildings and grounds for the district. That could bring in a $120,000 bill.

In other school board news:

Approved a proposal from Capital One Public Funding to finance the lower site project at Brainerd High School (BHS) at a fixed interest rate of 3.87 percent. That’s below the 4.25 percent district staff projected earlier that they would see. Two firms sent proposals to fund the $2.8 million project, which will be re-paid over 15 years. Accepting the Capital One Public Funding proposal means $253,000 in annual payments.

Voting against the move was Chris Robinson and Reed Campbell. Campbell cited a preference to go with a local bank.

Delayed making a decision on potential school make up days for when school was cancelled because of the cold. Officials will wait until March 17 when more winter has passed until they reach a decision. Easter Monday has already been named to make up one of the four days.

Heard that commencement services will be Friday, June 6 in the Brainerd High School gym, due to construction at the lower site. Kinderfriend Day will most likely be held indoors as well, but alternate sites are still being looked at.

Voted to not contribute an additional $75,000 to a Safe Route to School project around Garfield Elementary. When the city of Brainerd was awarded the grant late last year, officials from both the school and city tossed around the idea of each contributing an additional $75,000 to extend the project’s reach. The Brainerd City Council voted several months ago not to contribute the extra funds. Voting against the motion was committee member Chris Robinson, who said additional funds would improve safety around the school. Instead of contributing $75,000, school officials will look more into what additional improvements could be made to the site and how much it will cost.

Approved a letter of support for a grant application the city of Brainerd is completing for sidewalk along Business Highway 371. The grant application is to the Transportation Alternative Program. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is planning improvements in 2017 from Highway 210 to Joseph Street. The grant application request will include a sidewalk from south of Joseph Street to connect with Buffalo Hills Trail at Industrial Park Road. The preliminary cost estimate is $547,000. There will be no financial obligation from the school district.

Approved a renewal agreement with Lifetouch for school photos for 2014-2016. The contract is for fall pictures and retakes only. Spring photos will be removed from the contract on a trial basis, in effort to take away from unneeded class disruptions.

Approved a field trip to the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs Stars state competition from April 9-10.

Approved a field trip to Sandstone, Minn. to visit the Environmental Learning Center from May 6-8.

Approved a field trip to BWCA from June 8-12.

Accepted the following certified staff retirements: Sandy Agre; Sally Erickson, FMS language arts; Peter Holleque, audiologist, Paul Bunyan Education Coop; Carol Lang, FMS English; Beth Medin, BHS visual arts, Jennifer Owens, Garfield kindergarten; Nancy Thielen, Riverside music; Sally Ward, Riverside speech language pathologist; Marnie Whalen, FMS math.

Accepted the following certified staff resignation: Bonnie Dick, Baxter second grade teacher.

Accepted the following certified staff hire: Joleen Zerwas, birth to three teacher, Washington Educational Services Building (WESB).

Accepted the following non-teaching employee resignations; Scott Henrickson, FMS custodian; Brenda Whirley, transportation.

Accepted the following non-teaching employee hires: Katrina Powers, FMS educational assistant; Michael Prozinski, FMS custodian; Philip Winterfeldt, transportation.

Recognized the following student achievements: Former student Savannah Cole, Miss Minnesota Pageant participant with an epilepsy platform; Clark Hickman, United States Presidential Scholars Program; Forestview Middle School students Kimmy Hall, Mallory Maine, Thomas Anakkala, Preston Owen and Erika Christansen, State Wide Honor Band; High Kick and Jazz teams, going to the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) State Tournament; Noah Baker, qualified for the MSHSL State nordic ski tournament; Five Warrior Alpine Skiers qualified for the MSHSL State Tournament: Hannah Moen, Ashley Fitterer, Grace McGuire, Emily Aga and Payge Fitterer.

Heard Elk’s Veteran Day Writing Contest winners Molly Wells, Laura Wadsten and Nick Porisch read their submissions.

Accepted $14,111 in grants and donations.

During open forum, Doug Kern spoke against “Of Mice and Men,” a required reading book in some classes. He argued the text was offensive and “brings (Jesus’) name down to nothing but a swear word.”

The book will be reviewed by the district’s book review committee in the future.

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