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School board: Board approves property purchase

A map shows property south of Riverside Elementary School in Brainerd, which the Brainerd School Board approved purchasing Monday. Submitted photo 1 / 3
A map shows property south of Riverside Elementary School in Brainerd, which the Brainerd School Board approved purchasing Monday. Submitted photo2 / 3
A map shows property south of Riverside Elementary School in Brainerd, which the Brainerd School Board approved purchasing Monday. Submitted photo3 / 3

The Brainerd School Board Monday night decided to purchase property south of Riverside Elementary School, in case of future expansion at the school.

Steve Lund, director of business services, presented the details of the sale to the board. The 1.5-acre property has been listed for sale since December 2016, during which time there have been two price reductions.

The purchase price is $230,000 and is subject to attaining a clear title, successfully rezoning the property to permit schools as an allowable use and soil testing for possible contaminants.

The purchase cost would come out of operating capital and long-term facilities maintenance, Lund said, which are the two funding sources the district has for capital expenses. There is a projected excess of $267,777 in these accounts for 2016-17, he said, which could cover the purchase cost.

The property includes two structures, one of which is in use and the other is inhabitable, Lund said. The property is most likely recognized as a former PORT Group Home, he said, and is currently used as office space for Adventure Advertising. The agency's website describes the building as a 100-year-old historic building.

"Because of that age and design, there really exists very few options of which we can use those properties for our use," Lund said.

The purchase agreement also includes a lease-back agreement with the current owners. Adventure Advertising wants to eventually move out of the building, Lund said, but wants flexibility on when to do it. Upon closing, the agency would lease the property from the district at a rate of $1,800 per month for a minimum of six months, with the option to renew if both parties agree. The agreement includes a limit on repairs and maintenance expenses to $3,000, because the district would most likely demolish the buildings in the future, he said.

"We know that we may have small repairs and maintenance expenses along the way," Lund said. "What we wanted to avoid was something that was relatively catastrophic."

Lund presented three reasons why the district should purchase the property. The district could control the use of a property so close to an existing school, provide immediate flexibility for possibly expanding staff parking and help with the possibility of future expansion if other adjacent property is purchased. Those adjacent properties are currently owned by BNSF.

The parcel is currently zoned as a B-2 business district, which includes relatively expansive uses, Lund said. However, school use is not an approved use in B-2 zones, he said, so the district would have to rezone the property. The existing Riverside site is zoned R-3, high-density residential, which includes schools as a conditional use.

The property is bounded on the north by Riverside, on the east by the Mississippi River, on the south by railroad tracks and on the west by property owned by BNSF. The east side of the property includes a steep dropoff down to the river.

According to Crow Wing County property tax records, the estimated land and building value for the property is $257,700. The district would be responsible for paying the property's real estate taxes, until the property is rezoned as tax-exempt, Lund said.

Adventure Advertising has offices in Brainerd, St. Cloud and Minneapolis, according to its website. The board unanimously approved the property purchase.

In other business, the board:

Approved a quote to conduct a traffic study for South Fifth Street along Brainerd High School. The district's comprehensive long-range facilities plan includes a substantial remodel for BHS. Two blocks across South Fifth Street from the high school could be turned into parking lots, which has led to discussion about vacating a portion of South Fifth Street.

A traffic study would need to be conducted to determine if vacating this portion of the street is feasible. Tim Houle, civil engineer with Widseth Smith Nolting, discussed the proposal with the board. The study would look at the impact of vacating South Fifth Street, from Oak to Quince streets, as well as vacating Pine Street, from South Fifth to South Sixth streets.

"Before you would vacate a street, close a street," Houle said, "where is that traffic going to go?"

The study would use video cameras to monitor traffic at intersections in the area for a 48-hour period, Houle said. This allows the study to monitor vehicle traffic, he said, as well as pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The data would be analyzed to determine where traffic is likely to go if the portions of these streets are closed.

Possibly closing streets has big-picture ramifications, Houle said, so it's important to study the impact earlier in the planning process. The study might reveal closing the streets won't work, he said, in which case, the district needs to come up with a different idea.

"You wouldn't want to get out in the community with something that may or may not work," Houle said.

The study costs $30,700. The motion to approve the study passed on a 4-2 vote, with board members Reed Campbell and Sue Kern voting against the motion. Board members were split on whether to approve the study now or wait until the end of the month when public survey data would be available. Superintendent Laine Larson recommended approving the study Monday.

Doing a traffic study now versus later in the fall or winter will give a more accurate representation of non-vehicular traffic, Houle said. It would also provide guidance on the best places for entrances and exits for people and cars, he said.

Mark Ostgarden, Brainerd city planner, said the future of South Fifth Street is a significant issue. He would recommend to the Brainerd City Council to hold off on any action about the street until a scientific study is completed.

Board chair Bob Nystrom said he supported the traffic study, because the district's consultants need study data to continue developing plans for BHS. If vacating these streets is feasible, the high school can expand its footprint eastward, he said.

"I think as we progress into this process, we're going to have to make some tough decisions," Nystrom said. "And I think one of those is right now. I think they need that traffic study, and I think it behooves us to support it."

Campbell said he was in favor of waiting to approve the traffic study until the public survey is completed.

"Because that study I think is going to tell us a lot," Campbell said.

Kern said she was in favor of waiting until a special school board meeting Oct. 30 to approve the traffic study.

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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