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Brainerd School District: Baxter Elementary takes focus in public forum

Aaron Sinclair, assistant superintendent for the Brainerd School District, speaks Thursday to a group interested in the upcoming school referendum. The informational presentation by district officials was hosted in the current Baxter Elementary School gymnasium. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 3
Photo of a map of the new Baxter Elementary School proposed in the upcoming referendum.2 / 3
Photo of a map of the proposed updates to the Brainerd High School.3 / 3

BAXTER—When it comes to the 2018 referendum, members of the Baxter community may be looking at one of the more significant proposals—both in terms of developments, as well as expenditures.

Plans for a new Baxter Elementary School are in the works, a focal point of a presentation officials of the Brainerd School District hosted Thursday evening in the current Baxter Elementary School.

On April 10, residents of the Brainerd School District will consider three ballot questions involving improvements to all the elementary and secondary school buildings and the addition of a performing arts center, for an estimated total cost of $205 million.

Costing $26 million and posing as the single largest item of expenditure for primary education in the 2018 referendum, the proposed new school includes:

• A new facility to be built across Knollwood Drive from Forestview Middle School, able to accommodate a maximum of 625 students in kindergarten through fourth grade;

• The implementation of security measures up to modern standards—including controlled entrances and the ability to monitor visitors. Assistant Superintendent Aaron Sinclair noted older school models—which are often featured in the multiple district buildings built between 1938-68—place the main office in the center of the building where it can serve as a central hub. New buildings are constructed in a way that places the main office by the entrance, where it can serve as a gatekeeper to the facility;

• Designs that would be wheelchair accessible and meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act;

• Creation of technology-integrated classrooms and place them within a 21st-century layout for modern instruction practices;

• Creation of dedicated space for science, technology and art instruction;

• Overall building design that is energy efficient and durable; and

• Additional green space and parking areas.

The referendum also features plans to convert the current Baxter Elementary School into an Early Childhood Education Center, a project totaling $5 million, which includes:

• Installing a controlled entrance and the means for staff to monitor guests entering the building, and

• Addressing the most-pressing long-term maintenance needs—the building was originally built in 1955.

"It's exciting because I know this school will be used again for early childhood, but we're getting something far into the 21st century for us," Lundberg said.

Baxter Elementary Principal Steve Lundberg said the new facility would be able to house five sections of every grade, versus roughly four of every grade in the present building. Space needs—whether it was the size of hallways, the gymnasium, classrooms or the cafeteria—featured prominently in his advocacy for a new facility. The current facility is roughly 58,000 square feet, while the new building is planned to be 74,000 square feet.

An upward trend in enrollment means the old school is no longer able to meet the capacity needs of families in the area, Lundberg said. Currently, the school is 60 students over capacity. The referendum, in part, looks to address and preemptively meet those trends.

In a public forum portion of the information session, a woman questioned why Harrison Elementary School—originally built in 1938—would be renovated and repaired for $19 million, when a new school could be built for a similar price tag.

Cori Reynolds, the director of community education for the Brainerd School District, said initially, and for much of the planning process, plans were to replace Harrison Elementary School with a new facility—until public feedback overwhelmingly pointed to keeping the old school.

"We heard overwhelmingly and unanimously," Reynolds said. "They said, 'We know there are problems here, we want the school to stay here and be with us in the neighborhood.'"

Brainerd School Board member Bob Nystrom spoke up from the audience to note the Harrison developments do not only constitute maintenance and repairs, but also expansion and new construction as well.

If anyone has a question or wants to submit a comment regarding the referendum, they can visit the Brainerd School District website at www.blueprint181.org and or call 218-454-6900.

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