The next step in the Brainerd Public Schools comprehensive long-range facilities planning process is going to involve more public input, data gathering and possibly more help from an outside consultant.
The Brainerd School Board facilities committee Friday spent nearly two hours going over the first draft of volume I of the comprehensive long-range facilities plan, which includes:
- Background on the planning process,
- Information on the district's enrollment projections,
- An analysis of the district's facilities,
- Recommendations of proposed improvements.
Following that review, Superintendent Laine Larson informed the board what the next step in the planning process looks like. The final decision on what to do with the district's facilities falls to the school board, Larson said, but they rely on a complex web of district staff and community stakeholders to provide them with the information necessary to make a decision. More information is going to come from district staff, department heads, teachers, parents, students and community members, she said.
"We've got a comprehensive plan right now, but we need to have a whole lot more information," Larson said. "We need the nitty-gritty information."
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Read the Brainerd Public Schools Master Plan Volume 1- Draft - CLICK HERE
Or, read the embedded version at the bottom of this article.
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Larson has previously been a part of two large-scale school district building projects, she said, but doesn't have all the expertise necessary to lead the project herself. A group or entity with experience guiding a building project and a bond referendum will be needed to facilitate the undertaking, she said. The district needs someone with experience in communications, architecture, engineering, finance, construction management, facilitating stakeholder input and more.
"The next thing we need to do, is we need to dig deeper," Larson said. "We need to talk to a whole lot more stakeholders, we need to start bringing people to the table."
Ultimately, the district needs the help of outside consultants to bring all the pieces of the process together, Larson said. This outside consultant can help Larson bring the best recommendation she can to the school board, she said. She mentioned previous experience with Johnson Controls and Foster, Jacobs & Johnson, two companies with proven track records in putting complex projects together.
"That's the kind of entity that I believe that we need right now," Larson said.
The goal of any bond referendum should be to provide the best educational experience for each student in a school district, Larson said. But the district also needs to make the best use of any gift the district taxpayers approve in a bond referendum, she said.
Larson recommended more steps to the planning process before a final decision can be made by the school board. For now, she will work with consulting firm Cuningham Group to present a final draft of the comprehensive long-range facilities plan to the board at its Nov. 14 meeting. The board at that time could also discuss other options for finding an outside consultant to guide the process, committee chair Chris Robinson said.
The district's contract for consulting services with Cuningham Group totals approximately $165,000, said Steve Lund, director of business services. This includes all rough cost estimates and data analysis included in the plan.
"What we've asked them to do, they've delivered it," Lund said.
Review the plan
Lund spent about 90 minutes leading the board and about 15 community members through a summary of the draft of the comprehensive long-range facilities plan. Much of what he discussed had been previously presented at two community forums held in April and May. The recommendations he presented from the plan include a combination of right-sizing, renewal, reinvestment, repurposing and replacement. Those recommendations are:
- Brainerd High School: renew and reinvest,
- Forestview Middle School: maintain,
- Baxter Elementary School: replace with a new school; repurpose for programs from Lincoln Education Center and Brainerd Learning Center,
- Garfield Elementary School: right-size and renew,
- Harrison Elementary School: replace with a new school,
- Lowell Elementary School: right-size and renew,
- Nisswa Elementary School: right-size and renew,
- Riverside Elementary School: right-size and renew,
- Brainerd Learning Center: reinvest for early learning,
- Lincoln Education Center: vacate, relocating programs to current Baxter Elementary School,
- Washington Educational Services Building: renew.
Much of the renovations involved at the various schools involve adding safe and secure entrances and collaborative, open learning spaces in the 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. There's two options in the plan to accommodate those 2,600 students.
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.
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.
Brainerd High School
The plan for BHS is focused on supporting academics, activities, athletics and the arts, Lund said. The best way to support those endeavors is to bring the high school's north and south campuses under the same roof, he said.
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 in the plan 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, as well as the existing main entrance on the east side of the building.
The existing common courtyard at the high school would be partly filled in to add more space, Lund said, but not all the green space would be used. The plan would incorporate a larger indoor common area which would serve as the heart of the building, he said, and the main gathering place.
The plan includes new classrooms on the north side of the building, expanded career and technical education space, a new performing arts center, a new 8-lane swimming pool and a conversion of the existing swimming pool into more gym space.
Two blocks across South Fifth Street from the high school would become parking lots, Lund said, as would the area where the south campus currently sits. 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.
Future maintenance of the district's buildings involves renewing them and updating the structures that are reaching the end of their useful lives, Lund said. It also incorporates addressing deficiencies the district hasn't had funds to fix, like handicap accessibility issues. There are also standard fixes, like roofs, boilers, air-handling systems, windows and more.
To measure these costs, the district worked with Kraus-Anderson, a national construction company and leader when it comes to constructing schools, Lund said. They were able to provide a rough order of magnitude estimate, he said, which adds up construction costs, contingencies and soft costs. They also provided a replacement cost comparison, in order to determine what it would cost to build a new school when looking at repairing an existing one. These costs consider maintenance over a 10-15 year time frame.
Washington Educational Services Building, the oldest building in the district, had the highest future maintenance costs, coming in at $20 million. Forestview Middle School had the lowest cost, at $1.1 million. The total future maintenance costs for all buildings in the district is $88 million.
However, Lund stressed it's important to look at the maintenance costs broken down on a per-square-foot basis. When figured this way, Harrison Elementary School's cost was highest at $254 per square foot, with Lincoln Elementary School close behind at $244 per square foot.
The recommendations in the plan are broken down between new construction and heavy, medium and light remodeling. As some of those recommendations are completed, they will take care of some of the long-term maintenance costs, Lund said. For example, of the $15.7 million in future maintenance at BHS, $5.6 million would be covered under the renovations recommended in the plan.
All the recommended changes included in the plan total $148 million and covers $30 million of the $88 million in total future maintenance costs. Kraus-Anderson provided two tiers of maintenance, Lund said, with the first tier comprising fixes which should be completed within 10-12 years. The second tier includes maintenance which can be deferred longer.
Of the remaining $58 million not covered by the recommended changes, $31 million fall into the first, more immediate tier. The remaining $26 million falls into the second tier.
The district started the long-range facilities planning process in July of 2015. The long-range plan came about because the district was being reactive, not active when it came to facilities, Lund said.
Those past two years have included compiling and reviewing a lot of data on the district's facilities, demographics, enrollment trends and more. 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.
The draft plan serves as a starting point for the next stage of the planning process. The district will take the draft plan to the community to find out what direction the community wants the district to take.
There's 12 facilities in the district, comprising 1.2 million square feet and 289 acres of land. The district's boundaries encompass 516 square miles. The oldest building in the district, Washington Educational Services Building, was built in 1929. The newest building, Forestview Middle School, was built in 2004. The average age of the district's buildings is 44 years old.
The process included a comprehensive review of the district's enrollment forecasting. The review revealed figures close to what the district projects. Based on an average growth projection, the district could expect to add 473 students over the next five years.
Neighboring school districts in Pillager and Pequot Lakes have seen sizable enrollment increases in the last five years, Lund said. The plan needs to consider how the district positions itself relative to competing districts in the area, he said.
"We definitely know that several, the majority of those kids are actually Brainerd children that we are losing to those districts," Larson said.
Lund pointed out the importance of considering changing student needs when it comes to projecting enrollment. In 1997-98, 11 percent of district students received special education services. Today, that figure is 19.4 percent, while the state average is 15.1 percent. Classrooms for special education students look different than standard classrooms and often require spaces more focused on smaller group or one-on-one learning.
The published meeting notice for Friday's meeting said it was a meeting of the school board's facilities committee, though all members of the board were present and not just the three members of the committee.
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Read the Brainerd Public Schools Master Plan Volume 1- Draft - BELOW