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Whittier school's future

Whittier Elementary School, the stately building just northeast of Brainerd’s Gregory Park is vacant now, but perhaps full of promise to enterprising visionaries.

On Thursday the Brainerd School District announced it’s accepting requests for proposals for the 2.08-acre city block. The approximately 27,000-square-foot school building, was closed amid budget cuts and hasn’t housed students in nearly four years. Whittier’s playground is still a popular destination for north Brainerd kids but it’s quiet inside the building now.

Figuring out a practical use for the building will be a challenge. As the guidelines for the requests for proposals spell out, the school district is looking for ideas that are appropriate for the surrounding residential neighborhood, financially sustainable and a project time table that ensures the property will not remain vacant and jeopardize the integrity of its current condition.

Proposals will be accepted by the school board until 4:30 p.m. Feb. 1.

What would be the best use for the building that housed generations of Brainerd students? An apartment building? An arts center? A museum? An office building?

It appears unlikely there will be a need to reopen the building as a school. School officials said that since Whittier closed in 2007-2008, the elementary population in the district has dropped by about 4 percent with projections based on birth counts showing that trend to continue.

The school district can’t afford to heat and maintain the building indefinitely. The projected cost to keep maintaining the building over the next five years is $150,000.

Now is the time for idea people to come forward with their proposals. It’s unclear whether the school building named after poet John Greenleaf Whittier can be saved, but it’s best if we consider all viable options before making a permanent decision on its fate.

Mike O’Rourke

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
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