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Brainerd school officials talk plan with city planning commission

Brainerd School District Superintendnent Laine Larson speaks Wednesday to the Brainerd Planning Commission at city hall about the district's long-range facilities plan. Jennifer Stockinger / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
Steve Lund (right), the Brainerd School District's business manager, speaks Wednesday to the Brainerd Planning Commission at city hall about the district's long-range facilities plan. Jennifer Stockinger / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

Brainerd Public Schools presented its proposed long-range plan for its facilities, which includes two new elementary schools, Wednesday with Brainerd officials—after taking care of a little business.

Superintendent Laine Larson and Business Director Steve Lund spoke to the Brainerd Planning Commission about what the district has been planning since 2015. But first, the planning commission had a public hearing on rezoning property of interest to Brainerd schools. The 1.5 acre property in question is owned by Adventure Advertising Properties and is located next to Riverside Elementary School on Northwest Third Street and is south of the railroad tracks. The school district has a purchase agreement with Adventure Advertising Properties so the property can be used for the school district's use. The parcel is currently zoned as a B-2 business district, which includes relatively expansive uses, Lund said at an earlier meeting this month. However, school use is not an approved use in B-2 zones, he said, so the district would have to rezone the property. The existing Riverside site is zoned R-3, high-density residential, which includes schools as a conditional use.

The district would like to use the property for possible expansion of the parking lot for staff at Riverside. The property also would serve as a "cornerstone piece" for possible expansion of the elementary site through possible acquisition of adjacent property owned by BNSF Railway.

Lund was the only person to speak at the hearing. He said the property has a lot of limitations for the district, especially if it stays as a neighborhood commercial district. Lund said the district was granted easements for ingress and egress, along the south portion of a vacated WIlliam Street. He said without the easement, the property would be landlocked. Lund said the rezone would help the district control the use of the property and provide flexibility for expanding the parking lot.

The planning commission will recommend approval of the rezone for the Brainerd City Council to consider. The council will review the first reading at its next meeting on Nov. 6 and if approved, the final reading would be Nov. 20.

The planning commission recommendation includes several findings of fact, which include the district owns the property to the north and west which is developed as the elementary school; and if the rezoning occurs and the purchase does not occur, Adventure Advertising would become a nonconforming use.

After the discussion on the rezoning, the district spoke for about an hour on its long-range facilities plan, which includes building a new elementary school for Baxter and Harrison and major renovations of all of its other schools.

None of the plans are set in stone and, ultimately, it will be up to district voters to decide what will be done. The school district plans to go to its voters with a referendum but, thus far, the Brainerd School Board has made no decisions on the plans or how it will go to voters with a referendum. The district could present the referendum to voters as one ballot request for funding or it could break up the funding with multiple ballot questions. Costs could be as much as $228 million, if the highest estimates of all proposed projects went forward.

Below are the estimated costs of each plan:

• Brainerd High School—South Campus: $10 million-$11 million.

• Brainerd High School—North Campus: $78 million-$83 million.

• Forestview Middle School: $1.5 million-$2 million.

• Baxter Elementary School: $24 million-$26 million for a new school.

• Baxter Early Childhood Hub: $9 million -$10 million to be built in existing school.

• Garfield Elementary School: $9 million -$9.5 million.

• Harrison Elementary School: $20 million-$21 million to update existing school or $25 million-$27 million to build new.

• Lowell Elementary School: $12 million-$13 million.

• Nisswa Elementary School: $12 million-$13 million.

• Riverside Elementary School: $10 million-$11 million.

• Brainerd Learning Center: $1.5 million-$2 million.

• Lincoln Education Center: $500,000 to demolish it.

• Washington Educational Services Building: $1.5 million-$20 million (Plan is based on a lot of factors at this time).