Six new classrooms and an upgraded entryway at Riverside Elementary were given the green light.
At a special Brainerd School Board meeting Wednesday, the group approved the $2.09 million project, but it didn't gain full support. Voting against the motion were board members Chris Robinson and Tom Haglin.
The six classrooms and new entryway were recommended to the board by administration.
It's part of a larger effort to address the district's dwindling space. As enrollment is projected to increase, and nearly every school is at space capacity, district leaders are brainstorming what to do.
Most vital are Riverside and Lowell Elementary, where closets and old locker rooms are being used as instructional space and storage or meeting room is non-existent.
But just what that perfect sollution is has been tossed around by officials for some time.
District leaders first recommended adding four more classrooms to Riverside, as well as revamping the front office area to add space to allow for individual instructional areas. There would also be a safe and secure entry point. Combined, those two projects would cost $1.13 million.
At its Feb. 9 meeting, the board decided not to move forward on that right away, asking administration to look more into a plan that would both help Riverside's overcrowding and solve the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance issues at Lowell Elementary.
The new and final recommendation presented Wednesday called for six new classrooms at Riverside, along with the upgrade to the front office area.
That would give immediate space relief to Lowell and give more time for the district to address the ADA compliance needs at the school in a more comprehensive manner, district administration said.
The six classrooms would be an 11,178 square foot addition to the north side of the building.
With six more classrooms, the gifted and talented AGATE program at Lowell could be moved to Riverside. That would free up four rooms at Lowell. That's just an option right now and no in-depth talk has taken place on it yet.
The other two new classrooms at Riverside would serve as a music instruction space and another kindergarten room should enrollment warrant.
The plan has been "fully vetted through multiple administrators...to understand how we can alleviate pressure at Lowell and add more opportunities or options at the Riverside site," Willert said.
It provides short term relief, while still keeping in mind the long term needs, Willert said.
Riverside Principal Jodi Kennedy said the proposal of six classrooms would "help alleviate some of the space issues" in the building.
The school is about 10-15 kids away from having to add a section in any grade level now, so the additional classroom space would help, she said.
Lowell principal Todd Sauer spoke in favor of adding classrooms to Riverside, noting that it would give the district options in the long run.
Sauer added that he ultimately wants to keep the AGATE program at Lowell, but still wants to do what's best for the district.
School board member Ruth Nelson said she anticipates the district growing in coming years, which is why she supports adding more classrooms.
Haglin said he likes the direction the board is moving and likes the idea of adding more classrooms, but is still hesitant.
He wants to see more talk and exploration around definitive answers in relieving the issues at Lowell before moving on construction.
School board member Bob Nystrom said the board needs to "do something now."
Willert continued, "If we don't give ourselves some options right now, long term solutions would be somewhat limited."
"How do we look at the options we might have if we don't have a place to go with those options?" he said.
Willert stressed, "I really feel we have to do something."
In the $2.09 million project, $340,000 would come from General Fund Capital Funds and $1.75 million from lease levy.
Lease levy would be included in the 2016 tax levy and would have a tax impact of about $2.07 per year per $100,000 of residential value.
It's highly unlikely the addition at Riverside would be completed by the start of next school year, Willert said.
The next step is for district leaders to prepare and submit documents on the project to the Minnesota Department of Education for the review and comment process. That could take up to 60 days once it's submitted, and could be completed by early May.
If things run smoothly, the earliest construction could be completed is the second week in September, said Earl Wolleat, director of buildings and grounds for the district.
In other school board news:
Met in closed session to discuss a grievance and information collected at grievance level three appeal hearing.