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Learning more about Lowell

Brainerd Public Schools Superintendent Laine Larson addresses community members during a listening session Thursday night at Lowell Elementary School. Spenser Bickett/Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
Cori Reynolds, director of community education for Brainerd Public Schools, addresses community members during a listening session Thursday night at Lowell Elementary School. Spenser Bickett/Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

About 30 community members came to a Lowell Elementary School listening session Thursday night to hear more about the Brainerd Public Schools comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

District officials went over the process of how the plan was developed before opening the session up to attendees so they could provide feedback.

Attendees were asked about the strengths and weaknesses of the school, the district and the community overall. They were also asked to provide advice to the Brainerd School Board, which will be making a final decision about a bond referendum within the coming year, Superintendent Laine Larson said.

Devin Lord's son goes to kindergarten at Lowell and he will have another child go through the school in the coming years. He said he came to the listening session Thursday night to hear what the school district has to say about the building and learn more about the comprehensive long-range facilities planning process.

His son loves Lowell, Lord said, and the class sizes in the school are fine. His son gets the attention he needs, he said, and doesn't feel overlooked.

"I've got no complaints with that at all," Lord said.

Lord and his wife both came from smaller schools, so they were thinking of sending their kids to the Pillager School District, he said, because of its smaller size. But his son hasn't felt lost in Lowell's size, he said, and he thinks the overall building size is adequate.

"If you have a kid that's going to get lost, they're going to get lost," Lord said. "If you have a kid that wants to stand out, do his own thing, make his friends, they'll find a way to do it."

Highlights of the school district include the strong school pride, great teachers, community support, neighborhood schools and wide variety of activity options, attendees said. They also mentioned the strong academic standards, passionate leadership, invested parents and the knowledge Brainerd High School graduates are successful.

Challenges the district faces includes a lack of space, old buildings, a lack of technology resources, a lack of security in many buildings and a lack of handicap accessibility in some buildings, attendees said. They mentioned a lack of storage, not enough green space, parking issues and classrooms in basements with not enough natural light.

When asked what they would improve about Lowell, attendees suggested moving classrooms out of the basement, adding more active classrooms, creating a safe and secure entrance and building a larger gymnasium and cafeteria space. Attendees also mentioned building a larger parking lot, adding a wing onto the building for more office space, building a larger library and a room for behavior intervention.

On the district level, attendees suggested upgrading BHS into one unified campus, adding space for pre-kindergarten, relocating Baxter Elementary School, replacing Washington Educational Services Building and building a larger auditorium and theater space. Attendees also suggested expanding the BHS swimming pool, adding security personnel to schools and keeping elementary schools small.

When prompted to provide advice for the Brainerd School Board, attendees emphasized the need to make the right choice for students, even if the choice isn't popular. They also mentioned focusing on community involvement, thinking outside the box and involving retirees and summer residents to gain their support.

A comprehensive long-range facilities plan for Brainerd Public Schools includes recommended actions for each building in the district.

The Brainerd School Board approved the plan in November of 2016. The recommendations in the plan include a combination of right-sizing, renovation, reuse, repurposing and replacement.

Right-sizing involves making sure the school has the right number of students, based on the available space in the school. For example, the right-size capacity for Riverside Elementary School is 500 students, but the current enrollment is 620 students, according to the district.

The recommendation for Lowell is right-size and renovate.

Visit www.bit.ly/2fsCJWZ to view a final draft of the comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

Lowell Elementary School was built in 1938 and contains 42,000 square feet on 2.5 acres of land. The two-story school has a right-size capacity of 350 and a current enrollment of 400 students. The estimated future maintenance costs for the school total about $3.4 million, or $82 per square foot.

FACTBOX

Listen in

Comprehensive long-range facilities plan neighborhood listening sessions:

• 5:30-7 p.m. May 18, Baxter Elementary School,

• 7-8:30 p.m. May 23, Brainerd High School,

• 6-7:30 p.m. May 24, Forestview Middle School.

Spenser Bickett

Spenser Bickett covers the Brainerd City Council and education. A native of the Twin Cities, Bickett attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he majored in journalism with a minor in political science. After graduation, he worked for the International Falls Journal as a staff writer before coming to Brainerd.

 
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