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School Board: Board seeks more community input on facilities plan

The sign welcoming people to the Washington Educational Services Building, where the Brainerd School Board meets. Jennifer Stockinger/Brainerd Dispatch

In a seven-hour meeting Tuesday, the Brainerd School Board reviewed progress on the six-phase process of refining the district's comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

The marathon meeting featured updates from district consultants and input from principals from each district school.

The district hired Foster, Jacobs & Johnson Inc., for facilities program management services. The consultants are tasked with leading the district through a six-phase process Superintendent Laine Larson developed. The process includes:

• Comprehensive district communications planning,

• Stakeholder engagement, including internal and external listening sessions,

• Potential surveys and assessments,

• Develop project scope options and alternatives,

• Bond referendum election process,

• Comprehensive construction management services.

Tuesday, the board took action on a few items in phase 3 of the process, potential surveys and assessments. The board approved spending $18,000 on a scientific public survey to gather community input. The purpose of the survey isn't to predict whether a referendum will pass, said Todd Rapp of Himle Rapp & Company. Rather, a survey is the only way for the district to get an accurate representation of community input.

"What you're doing is you're using this as an investigatory tool," Rapp said. "You're trying to understand better the foundations for how people think about the school district."

The survey will start around Sept. 20 with results available by mid-October. There will be 85 questions asked over the phone in 26- to 28-minute survey. The sample size will be 400 people. There will be a separate online survey of 15-20 questions any resident can take.

The 400-person sample size will be able to provide an accurate representation of voters in the district, Rapp said. The survey will identify the intensity and flexibility of support or opposition to a referendum, he said. The Morris Leatherman Company, a Minneapolis-based market and research firm, will conduct the survey.

Board member Ruth Nelson asked Rapp if now was the right time to do the survey, before a plan and referendum questions have been approved. A survey is a better tool when it's done before formal decisions on a referendum, Rapp said.

The survey will give the district direction on where to go with its plan, Larson said. It will provide information on how residents feel about the school district, she said.

"I think any information that we can get will be beneficial to us," board chair Bob Nystrom said.

When it comes to questions about tax impact, it's important to be as balanced as possible about the impact, Rapp said. The goal is to provide factual information and present both sides of the issue, he said. The board will review and approve the survey questions before the survey is conducted.

The board tabled action on three other items related to phase 3 and also on a geographic information system student mapping action at a cost of $11,900.

A GIS map would plot all current district students on a map based on their addresses. It would help as the district looks at locations for neighborhood schools, said Dave Bergeron of Foster, Jacobs & Johnson.

Technology Director Sarah Porisch said Consolidated Telecommunications Company did something similar last year. It would be best to look at this data before spending money on another GIS study, Larson said.

The board tabled action on developing 3-D architectural renderings of what new facilities could potentially look like. The renderings would cost about $7,500 per building and include a floor plan and exterior 3-D rendering. Kevin Donnay, architect with Widseth Smith Nolting, said a rendering helps tell the story to the voters about what the district is planning.

It might be too early to start rendering potential new buildings, board member Tom Haglin said, because the district doesn't know yet which buildings would be included in the referendum. It would be better to wait until the survey results come back, Larson said.

The board tabled action on an update to enrollment projections included in the comprehensive long-range facilities plan. Those projections are a couple years old and updating them would cost $7,000-$12,000, Bergeron said. The projections so far compare closely to actual enrollment, he said, so updating the projections probably isn't necessary.

"I'm not sure you really need to update that information," Bergeron said.

Planned is another special board meeting for 9 a.m. Sept. 20 to go over budget estimates and the preliminary financial approach to financing any construction projects.

In mid- to late October, the board will be able to review survey results and more refined plan options. In early or mid-November, the board could approve a plan, submit it to the Minnesota Department of Education for review and comment and begin the referendum process.

There are five potential referendum dates in 2018 and the first two dates are Feb. 13 or April 10. Other dates include the second Tuesday in May, primary day in August or Election Day in November.

Board member Chris Robinson was absent Tuesday.

The district started the long-range facilities planning process in July 2015. The past two years have included compiling and reviewing data on the district's facilities, demographics, enrollment trends and more. The process 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 Brainerd School Board approved the plan in November 2016. The recommendations in the plan include a combination of right-sizing, renovation, reuse, repurposing and replacement.

Spenser Bickett

Spenser Bickett covers the Brainerd City Council and education. A native of the Twin Cities, Bickett attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he majored in journalism with a minor in political science. After graduation, he worked for the International Falls Journal as a staff writer before coming to Brainerd.

 
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