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Brainerd Public Schools: Board reviews preliminary designs for Nisswa Elementary - Public feedback sought

If all goes as planned, Nisswa Elementary School will open its doors for the 2020 school year with its updates complete. Project director Chris Ziemer and Jason Maaninga, both of ICS Consulting, along with Widseth Smith Nolting President Kevin Do...

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A rendering from Widseth Smith Nolting shows the front view of Nisswa Elementary School with the proposed updates and additions, expected to be complete in August 2020.

If all goes as planned, Nisswa Elementary School will open its doors for the 2020 school year with its updates complete.

Project director Chris Ziemer and Jason Maaninga, both of ICS Consulting, along with Widseth Smith Nolting President Kevin Donnay, shared schematic designs for Nisswa Elementary with the Brainerd School Board Monday, Nov. 12, during the board's regular meeting.

A new secure entrance south of the library is perhaps one of the biggest improvements. Nisswa Principal Molly Raske said she's excited for the front entrance to not only be secure but to also bear a big "Nisswa Elementary" sign so people know where to go in and don't have to walk around the entire school trying to find the right entrance.

Being able to close off certain sections of the building both during the school day and after school hours is another plus Raske mentioned at Monday's meeting.

"We're able to lock down different areas (of the school), because we do have a community library here, and so the community can still come in, use these spaces, yet other spaces are locked down," Raske said, noting certain sections of the school can also be open for night classes, while other parts of the building remain locked. "It's not only secure within the school day but after, which is comforting to me, my staff, our community."

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Draft designs also include a full-sized gymnasium with additions to the current gym, a two-story classroom addition, remodeling on the south end of the building, enlargement of the cafeteria and remodeling of the kitchen and office area. The second-floor addition will have room for more classrooms in the future if needed.

"The building surpasses any kind of vision that we would have even come up with at the beginning of this process," Raske said of the design. "All of our staff has been heard.

"I think it represents the learning needs that we have currently and then even to come. It's versatile so that we can change things as our learning environments change. ... I feel like this plan has given us everything that we dreamed of, and it encompasses the goals that the board set for our whole district. So we're very excited."

Improvements to the school's parking lots are "add alternates," or elements not included in the original scope of the project but that could be added if time and funds allow. If these improvements were to be made, Ziemer said the east side of the building would be designated parking for staff, and the west parking lot would be made more efficient by eliminating diagonal parking and adding 90-degree spots instead to add room for more vehicles.

Raske said the parent drop-off system at the school already works well, which is why parking lot improvements are not considered top priority among the other projects at the school.

Extra funding from the Minnesota Department of Education could make the parking lots or other additional improvements happen. MDE announced in early October the allocation of $25 million worth of safety grants to 90 public school districts and charter schools throughout the state. Nisswa Elementary received $195,000 worth of funds, which-according to the MDE's news release-can be used to pre-design, design, construct, furnish and equip schools with updated safety measures. Ziemer said he is working with MDE to determine exactly how the district can use the funds.

Timeline

The school board will review and approve the final design plans at its Nov. 26 meeting. Ziemer and his team will then come back with construction documents for the board to approve in early March and open bids later that month. If all goes as planned, construction on the additions will start in early June 2019 and wrap up in January 2020, when students and staff will be able to occupy the new space. Renovations of the current space are then set to start in June 2020 and wrap up before the start of the 2020-21 school year.

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The designs for Harrison Elementary and the new elementary school in Baxter will come before the board in late November and early January, respectively. The renovations to Harrison are also expected to be completed before the start of the 2020-21 school year, while the completion date on the Baxter school is not yet set.

Public feedback sought

The public is invited to review the building plans for Nisswa and provide input on them before board approval later this month by visiting www.blueprint181.org and clicking on Nisswa's page. For those who cannot access the website at home, a computer will be available for public use 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday at the Washington Educational Services Building, 804 Oak St., Brainerd.

The public input will be shared with the school board and the project oversight team for consideration.

The district will alert community members via social media, isd181.org and an email to those subscribed to the Blueprint 181 newsletter when designs for Harrison and Baxter are available online. Anyone can sign up for the newsletter at www.blueprint181.org .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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