Monday night, community members learned about two options being considered as part of a long-range facilities plan for Brainerd Public Schools.

About 75 people came to Riverside Elementary School to hear what the district's committee has been working on since it started the long-range facilities planning process in July of 2015.

Steve Lund, director of business services for the district, said any facilities plan will include a combination of right-sizing, renewal, reinvestment, repurposing and replacement.

 

Elementary schools

Based on enrollment projections, a plan for the district's elementary schools should look to accommodate 2,600 students, Lund said, which is the midpoint of enrollment growth projections for the district.

Under both options, Baxter Elementary School would be repurposed to serve as a combination of the current Lincoln Education Center and Area Education Center. The site is a challenge, Lund said, but the building is a great structure that could be used for something else.

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To replace Baxter, under both options, a new 625-student elementary school would be built. Baxter's current right-size capacity is 425 students, while its current enrollment is 502 students.

Under option 1, Harrison Elementary School would be eliminated and a new elementary school, with a design to accommodate 500 students, would be built to replace it. The current right-size capacity of Harrison is 250 students, while its current enrollment is 274 students. The new school would also be built so it could be converted to a 625-student capacity school if needed.

Under option 2, Baxter is eliminated, but Harrison is renovated to accommodate 375 students. Because of this, only the new school to replace Baxter would be built. Also under option 2, Lowell Elementary School's right-size capacity would increase from 350 students to 475 students.

Under either option, elementary school boundaries would be redrawn to help alleviate space issues at certain schools, Lund said. This would help balance enrollment without having to add space to each school, he said.

 

Brainerd High School

The plan for BHS is focused on supporting academics, activities, athletics and the arts, Lund said. While some communities in the state have moved their high schools to the fringes, he said, the district considers the high school's location in the middle of Brainerd to be vital.

The South Campus has seen five additions, Lund said, and it can't be self-sufficient, due to the lack of common spaces like a gym. The option presented by the committee would bring grades 9-12 at the high school under one roof, as opposed to the current situation, with ninth graders using the South Campus.

The reimagined high school would use arts and athletics to bookend the building, Lund said. People coming to the high school for either would be able to use a designated entrance on either side of the building.

Two blocks across South Fifth Street from the high school would become parking lots, Lund said. The district has been acquiring property on those blocks over time, he said, in case it would ever need to use them for expansion. As part of this, Lincoln Education Center would be torn down.

 

Other buildings

Under either option, Washington Educational Services Building would continue to be used as a mix of educational space and district offices. It's the original high school, has lots of square footage and the district should cherish it, Lund said.

With the Area Education Center moved to Baxter, the current Brainerd Learning Center would be devoted entirely to early childhood education. The increased need and demand for early childhood investment is not going to decrease, Lund said, so it's important to increase the space for it.

 

Projected costs

The projected costs for each option break down as follows:

Option 1 total cost, $145 million:

• Reinvest in BHS, $65 million,

• No cost to eliminate South Campus,

• Necessary maintenance at Forestview Middle School, $1 million,

• Necessary maintenance at Garfield Elementary School, $5 million,

• No cost to eliminate Harrison Elementary School,

• Reinvest at Lowell Elementary School, $5 million,

• Necessary maintenance at Nisswa Elementary School, $3 million,

• Necessary maintenance at Riverside Elementary School, $4 million,

• Repurpose Baxter Elementary School, $7 million,

• Build a new elementary school to replace Baxter, $26 million,

• Build a new elementary school to replace Harrison, $22 million,

• Repurpose Brainerd Learning Center, $2 million,

• Necessary maintenance at Washington Educational Services Building, $5 million,

• No cost to eliminate Lincoln Education Center.

 

Option 2 total cost, $140 million:

• Reinvest in BHS, $65 million,

• No cost to eliminate South Campus,

• Necessary maintenance at Forestview Middle School, $1 million,

• Necessary maintenance at Garfield Elementary School, $5 million,

• Reinvest at Harrison Elementary School, $14 million,

• Reinvest at Lowell Elementary School, $8 million,

• Necessary maintenance at Nisswa Elementary School, $3 million,

• Necessary maintenance at Riverside Elementary School, $4 million,

• Repurpose Baxter Elementary School, $7 million,

• Build a new elementary school to replace Baxter, $26 million,

• Repurpose Brainerd Learning Center, $2 million,

• Necessary maintenance at Washington Educational Services Building, $5 million,

• No cost to eliminate Lincoln Education Center.

 

The cost figures used are rough order of magnitude costs, Lund said, which adds up construction costs, contingencies and soft costs. To come up with the costs, the district worked with Kraus-Anderson, a national construction company and leader when it comes to constructing schools, Lund said.

Because the district has been aggressive in paying its existing debt, it has the capacity to put together a large bond issue without increasing the tax impact, Lund said. Specifically, the district could issue $100 million in bonds over a 25-year term without any tax levy impact.

For every $5 million over the $100 million threshold, it would add $6 in tax each year per $100,000 residential value, Lund said. If someone had a home with a value of $100,000, then a $140 million referendum would see those taxes increase $48 per year, or $4 per month.

 

Feedback

Kevin O'Grady, who has a child at Riverside where his wife teaches, said he was surprised the district presented two options with similar total costs. A couple of options with more of a variance in cost would have been more helpful, he said.

Either plan will help alleviate existing space issues at Riverside, O'Grady said, which was encouraging. The information on the process is out there for people to digest, he said, and the district has done a good job of being transparent throughout the process.

"If people cared enough to show up to a meeting they could voice their concerns and get as much information as they want," O'Grady said. "I think they're as transparent as they can be."

After the presentation, there was nearly an hour of time for comments and questions, which district staff compiled for the committee. Community members asked about where any new elementary schools would be located, the relationship between teachers and students at smaller schools like Harrison, the district's population of students receiving free and reduced lunch, early childhood family education, land acquisition, transparency and more.

Committee member Kim Ellingson said the committee looked at different sites for a new elementary school, but hadn't recommended any options.

"In the long run, that's the school board's decision," Ellingson said. "That's not our decision to make."

District staff and committee members urged those who attended to talk to their friends and neighbors about the plan and provide feedback on the district's website. The committee's plan is to meet again and prepare a final recommendation for the board to consider at its July meeting, interim Superintendent Bob Gross said. Then, the board will weigh the recommendation and make a decision, he said.

Present at Monday's forum were school board members Bob Nystrom, Ruth Nelson, Chris Robinson, Tom Haglin and Sue Kern.

 

Enrollment

Part of the planning process involved reviewing enrollment data, reviewing the conditions of the district's facilities and looking at the costs and financial capacity of the district.

The process included a comprehensive review of the district's enrollment forecasting, Lund said. It wasn't surprising to see the review revealed figures close to what the district projects, he said. Based on an average growth projection, the district could expect to add 473 students over the next five years.

Lund pointed out the importance of considering changing student needs when it comes to projecting enrollment. In 1998, 12.6 percent of district students received special education services. Today, that figure is 20.4 percent. Classrooms for special education students look different than standard classrooms, he said, and often require spaces more focused on smaller group or one-on-one learning.

 

Background

The district started the long-range facilities planning process in July of 2015. The process involved a steering committee and a full committee, both of which involve representatives from the community and receive input from district staff and faculty members. The committee was guided throughout the process by the Cuningham Group, a Twin Cities-based architectural firm.

The process has included data evaluation, site visits to other schools, reviewing enrollment data, reviewing the conditions of the district's facilities and looking at the costs and financial capacity of the district.

 

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett.