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Brainerd School Board: New Baxter Elementary coming into focus

A satellite image of the primary site for the future Baxter Elementary School. Knollwood Drive is situated on the left portion and the Jasperwood opening is at the bottom. Screenshot / Google Maps1 / 4
Members of the Brainerd School Board are updated on ongoing plans for the Baxter Elementary School -- a $26 million proposal taxpayers will vote on April 10. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 4
Steve Lund, business services director for the Brainerd School District, walks the school board through developments in the ongoing planning process for Baxter Elementary School. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 4
A screenshot of the secondary site for the proposed Baxter Elementary School -- a location, business director Steve Lund noted, that may entail significant infrastructure changes. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 4

The site of the future Baxter Elementary School is slowly taking shape—although many question marks still swirl around the issue and are likely to remain until key decisions in February and the April 10 referendum vote give their respective verdicts.

For months, district officials and civil engineers have been whittling down a roster of 12 potential sites to two: a primary option and secondary option. Both sites are located near Forestview Middle School.

It's been a delicate process, not only to address the immediate space and facility needs of the school, but also to incorporate any changes to nearby infrastructure needed to handle the influx of traffic. Business Services Director Steve Lund said planners are working under the expectation this would require about 20 acres.

Beyond that, Lund said during an update at Thursday's special Brainerd School Board meeting, it's been a matter of positioning plans now to address future developments down the road. No small task.

"So, when we're looking at these site plans, we're not only looking at what we need. We've looked a little beyond that, because If we're going to design something, let's design something that could potentially facilitate future growth for field space," Lund said. "Maybe not up front, but something that still has that long-range plan to it."

The primary site

The primary site is located just to the east of Forestview Middle School, on the other side of Knollwood Drive. It's a plot of land owned by the city of Baxter—which, notably, bought the property around 2000 with specific stipulations that the site would be designated for civic use.

This property has some terrain challenges, including elevation changes and wetland areas sprinkled throughout. The locations overlap within the shoreland district may prove challenging—despite good "high land" territory, Lund said—for developing ball fields or properties that don't infringe on the Mississippi River and building restrictions in proximity of it.

The area factored into the long-term plans of the city of Baxter and, as a result there are a number of utility and infrastructure improvements already in place the district can utilize.

Lund said there are concerns regarding infrastructure changes, with the Jasperwood Drive connection being most prominent. Future plans for Jasperwood Drive divides the property in halves—a distinct "East" and "West" segmentation, Lund noted. If the city decides to purchase the property they will have to account for this in their plan.

Lund added a roundabout, potentially on the intersection of Mapleton Street and Knollwood Drive, may be necessary to mitigate the combined traffic for both Baxter Elementary and Forestview Middle School.

The secondary site

The secondary site is located just to the north of Forestview Middle School, near the point where Mountain Ash Drive and County Highway 48/Highland Scenic Road meet. This is property the Brainerd School District already owns.

If the district decided to choose this site, Lund said, it would require a significant upgrade to the intersection of Mountain Ash Drive and County Highway 48/Highland Scenic Road to deal with the traffic.

Much of the planning is dictated by what Lund called a "lack of green space" in that part of the city of Baxter—essentially, a question of how much of the property can be used for field space or other education amenities.

Going forward

Whatever site is chosen, Lund said, the district must always keep the neighboring roadway infrastructure as a key component of the plan.

While the planning process is still in mostly conceptual stages, once planners progress to a point where more tangible, concrete plans are made—which will be determined by the April 10 vote—Lund said a traffic study must be done. He added this was especially important in light of the close proximity, or "marriage" between Forestview Middle School and the future Baxter Elementary—two schools that will share the same roadways and, in the case of families with children enrolled in both, the same commuters.

Once there is a clear understanding of traffic patterns, coupled with a clearer picture of final construction costs, the district can move forward.

"The starting point is to identify what those site development things are, the roadway developments. Put a solid cost on them. Then start talking money," said Lund, who noted planners and engineers are getting more "comfortable" estimates of what those costs may entail.

Lund said planners are working to present a "framework by February for the consideration of the district and the city of Baxter—with tentative plans that the western half of the primary site is where plans will be focused from here on out.