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Community chats about Baxter school

Steve Lundberg, Baxter Elementary School principal, welcomes community members to a listening session at the school Thursday night. Spenser Bickett/Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER—Community members came to a listening session at Baxter Elementary School Thursday night to learn more about the Brainerd Public Schools comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

In welcoming community members to the listening session, Principal Steve Lundberg said the school is coming to a breaking point when it comes to available space.

A comprehensive long-range facilities plan for Brainerd Public Schools includes recommended actions for each building in the district. The recommendation for Baxter is to replace it with a new school and repurpose the building for programs from Lincoln Education Center and Brainerd Learning Center.

The school is bordered by a cemetery, a SuperAmerica gas station, Highway 210 and White Sand Lake. There's not much outdoor green space for children to play, said Karen Hermanson, a second-grade teacher at the school. But the building could be used for programs for other types of students, she said.

When funerals at the cemetery feature a 21-gun salute, students ask the teachers what the shooting is for, said Tamie Swanson, a first-grade teacher at the school. The boom of a train horn was audible during the session when a train passed by the school on the nearby train tracks, which are on the opposite side of Highway 210 from the school. Swanson also saw both of her children attend Baxter during their time in the school district.

The existing classroom space in Baxter doesn't work well for changes in elementary education, Hermanson said. There also isn't enough space to fit the growing community, she said.

"This community is growing," Hermanson said. "This is where the growth is."

Strengths of the community include health care, lakes, the school district, quality of life and a small-town feel, attendees said. School district strengths include the variety of educational opportunities and high-quality staff, attendees said. They also noted Baxter Elementary School strengths include its staff, curriculum, parent involvement, tradition, communication, close access to Oscar Kristofferson Park and the bus drivers.

Challenges for the area include economy, a lack of good employment opportunities, traffic and a low-income population. District challenges include overcrowded elementary schools, high maintenance costs, limited support for teachers in classrooms, large class sizes and an increase in diverse student needs, attendees said. They also noted school challenges include the parking and pickup area, a lack of green space, no secure entrance and having shorter school days because of the bus schedule.

A 21st century school should have composting, renewable energy options, rooms for small-group teaching, flexible spaces outside the classrooms, space for students with special needs and a main office by the front door, attendees said.

When prompted to provide advice for the Brainerd School Board, attendees suggested seeing why other districts succeeded in passing bond referendums, making sure a bond referendum is presented positively and selling the referendum as a way to improve the whole community. Attendees also mentioned not forgetting about early childhood education and the need to build modern, energy-efficient buildings.

The district owns 181 acres of land by Forestview Middle School, which is a potential location for a new elementary school, Superintendent Laine Larson said.

The Brainerd School Board approved the comprehensive long-range facilities 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.

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

Baxter Elementary School was built in 1955 and contains 58,000 square feet on 6.5 acres of land. The estimated future maintenance costs for the school total about $5.7 million, or $97 per square foot.

FACTBOX

Listen in

Comprehensive long-range facilities plan neighborhood listening sessions:

• 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 Brainerd School Board. 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 interned for Sun Newspapers in Osseo and later worked for the International Falls Journal as a staff writer.

 
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