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Brainerd School Board: Board sets election date, reveals proposed numbers

Brainerd School Superintendent Laine Larson updates the Brainerd School Board Monday about the district's comprehensive facilities plan. The board approved the referendum bond election date and will approve a final plan at its next meeting in December. Jennifer Stockinger / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
A graphic created by Brainerd Public Schools on the proposed cost of its comprehensive facilities plan if presented in three questions. Screenshot2 / 2

Those who live in the Brainerd School District should mark April 10, 2018, on the calendar.

That is the date for when the school district will go to its voters to seek bond referendum approval. The Brainerd School Board approved the date Monday in a special school board meeting.

School officials have been busy finalizing the comprehensive facilities plan geared to meet the district's future needs of its students, staff and community. The plan is proposed to impact all the school buildings, which could be part of the referendum.

Superintendent Laine Larson said April 10 is the best of five possible dates the school could choose to have a special election. After three-and-a-half years of planning "we feel we are ready to go out to the public," Larson said.

The administration team went back and forth with either an April or May of 2018 election—but when looking at the design and construction schedule and how busy May is with academics, sports, concerts and other activities, April 2018 was the best choice, Larson said.

"We want to make sure people are weighing in on their decision," Larson said, and to not be occupied with other things in their lives. The school board agreed.

The April election also allows more time for the school to plan for a November 2018 election if the referendum fails.

With an election date in sight, board members were also offered a proposal of how the ballot questions may be presented to the public and what the dollar amount could be for the referendum. However, no action was taken. Board members are expected to vote on these items Dec. 11—to give them time to think about the proposal.

The administration team is recommending three ballot questions. Aaron Sinclair, assistant superintendent of schools, said multiple ballot questions are more successful than one question, and one question may be too overwhelming.

The three ballot questions involve improvements to all the elementary and secondary school buildings and the addition of a performing arts center, for an estimated total cost of $204 million. Voters will not have to pay the entire amount. The voter-approved portion would be $145.8 million, if approved.

Steve Lund, director of business services, said building projects are paid through three funding sources: existing funding the district already has, the school's existing bonding authority and voter-approved dollars. Lund said the district's existing authority is a funding mechanism with which the school board has the authority to sell its bonds to pay for a building project if it qualifies under state requirements. He said when the district made site improvements to Riverside Elementary School and the Brainerd High School lower site, those projects were paid by existing authority, with which the district sold bonds to pay for them.

Lund said the district has not issued a lot of new debt. He said the only new debt the school has is from the lower site, when the district renovated Adamson Field. Beyond that, Lund said the district has debt from when it built Forestview Middle School, however, those bonds will retire in the next four to five years.

The three ballot questions broken down may be:

• Question 1: Concerning investment in the elementary school buildings and Early Childhood Family Education program for a total cost of $104 million; voter-approved cost is $68.4 million.

• Question 2: Concerning investment in the secondary buildings for a total cost of $93 million; voter-approved cost is $69.4 million.

• Question 3: Concerning investment in a performing arts center for a total cost of $8 million, which would be fully supported by voter-approved dollars.

The third question is contingent on the second question passing; meaning if Question 2 fails, so does the third.

The tax impact of the three ballot questions for a current median home value of $156,200 in Crow Wing County is $36 per year for Question 1, $39 per year for Question 2 and $12 per year for Question 3—for a total of $87 a year. This would be the tax increase from taxes payable in 2018 to taxes payable in 2019.

The tax impact for a current median commercial property value of $219,900 in Crow Wing County is $99 per year for Question 1, $106 per year for Question 2 and $33 per year for Question 3—for a total of $238 per year.

Question 1

The proposal calls for building a new Baxter Elementary School and repurposing the remaining five elementary schools. The existing Baxter school would serve as "Baxter Early Childhood Hub," with the building serving as the main location for early childhood offices and classrooms. Brainerd Public Schools would continue to offer its satellite classrooms in Nisswa and at the Washington Educational Services Building in Brainerd.

This proposal maintains "neighborhood schools" and "community feel" and invests in all the elementary school buildings, the district states. This proposal also will impact families less with minimal boundary realignments and less impact on staff for reassignments.

The $104 million breakdown:

• New Baxter Elementary School: $26 million.

• Baxter Early Childhood Hub: $5 million.

• Garfield Elementary School: $11 million.

• Harrison Elementary School: $19 million.

• Lowell Elementary School: $13 million.

• Nisswa Elementary School: $12 million.

• Riverside Elementary School: $13 million.

• Renew Washington Educational Services Building: $5 million.

Question 2

The proposal calls for updating the Brainerd High School south and north campus for $79 million to include adding more secure entrances for the safety of all students and staff; having a collaborative space for career and technical education, technology integration and workforce development; a health and wellness updated to include a pool and multipurpose room/gymnasium; a 950-seat performing arts center and more parking as the Lincoln Education Center would be demolished. The south campus would host the LEC programs, STARS transition program, transition plus program, district vehicle parking and servicing area, parking lot and the wrestling room and locker rooms.

The Brainerd Learning Center would be expanded to accommodate alternative programs and host the Middle Level Alternative Program and the Area Education Center. Forestview could see improved drop-off and pick-up areas and improved security to the building.

The $93 million breakdown:

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

• Brainerd High School—North Campus: $79 million.

• Forestview Middle School: $1.5 million.

• Brainerd Learning Center: $1 million.

• Lincoln Education Center demolition: $500,000.

Question 3

Question 3 would have voters decide whether they want the district to add $8 million to have an even better performing arts center than is proposed in Question 2. Question 2 must pass for this question to pass. The addition would mean the performing arts center would go from 950 seats to 1,200 seats. It also would have an orchestra pit and better lighting, acoustic and sound enhancements.