Excitement is in the air in the Brainerd School District, and it's not just because of the new school year.

Staff unveiled plans for four of the district's building projects to community members at an open house Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the Washington Educational Services Building.

"We are very excited," Superintendent Laine Larson said. "We're really pleased with all the work that all of our consultants and architects have completed to make this a reality."

Schematic designs for updates to Brainerd High School's north campus, Harrison Elementary School and Nisswa Elementary School were on display Wednesday, along with drawings for the new elementary school in Baxter. Community members got to learn about the new buildings and give their feedback.

Designs for all buildings include new, secure entrances.

"I think one of the things that our teachers and our members from the different buildings are most pleased about is the fact that they felt that they've been heard," Larson said.

Staff members at the various buildings definitely agreed.

Harrison Elementary

"Our staff cried when they showed us this, literally," Harrison Elementary Principal Cathy Nault said of the designs for the new school.

Those tears, of course, were joyous ones, as staff saw plans for a secure, north-facing entrance on Norwood Street; more parking for cars and buses; a bigger cafeteria; a new gymnasium; and a state-of-the-art media center, something the school doesn't have now.

Nault said the well-developed plans are due to staff members from all buildings who worked diligently over the summer and architects who took everyone's needs into consideration.

"Between the architects and our staff, we have our dream school," Nault said. "Our goal is we want this to last a minimum of another 50 years, and it will now."

Gail Henke and Anna Blomberg, who have children at Harrison, shared Nault's enthusiasm and said they're especially excited about the new security measures and enlarged learning spaces.

"Everything about it is just incredible," Henke said.

Nisswa Elementary

In Nisswa, Principal Molly Raske can't wait for some more much-needed space.

"Right now we're crammed. We're in every single area of the school. And right now our students are getting interventions in hallways, and so having more classrooms-as well as these great educational environments that fit the needs of our students, as well as are consistent district-wide-it's going to be amazing," Raske said. "As the summer went on, it just got better and better. I couldn't have even dreamed that it would turn out like this. We can't wait."

Baxter Elementary

Karen Schroeder-Stave, a first-grade teacher at Baxter Elementary, can't wait for her new school either. Some of the highlights she mentioned for the brand new building are a new stage and learning communities for each grade level.

The stage will be connected to the cafeteria on one side and the gym on the other. Students can be using the gym while others gather in the cafeteria for a presentation on the stage, and vice versa.

The learning communities are communal spaces among each grade's pod of classrooms.

"You could have a group of four chairs together, and kids are reading, having a book club," Schroeder-Stave said. "Or you've got an assistant or somebody breaking with three or four students catching up on homework."

Right now those activities take place in the hallways, which can be loud, making it hard for students to focus.

Large windows to allow for more natural light will be another refreshing change.

"My window faces the east, so we'll see the sun come up and by about 10 a.m., that's it," Schroeder-Stave said, as her classroom only has one small window.

Baxter Principal Tammy Stellmach noted how nice it will be to have three separate outside areas for parent drop-offs, buses to pull up and staff to park.

Amy Bogart, who previously had a student at Baxter Elementary and will have another one in the near future, is glad to see the upgrade from the currently outdated building.

"There were just so many things that needed to be updated, that were missing from Baxter space-wise," she said. "I'm excited to see the difference from my first kid to my second kid. ... It looks like it's going to be pretty nice and safe."

Brainerd High School

Plans for an updated north campus at Brainerd High School are more preliminary than those of the elementary schools but primarily include a new performing arts center, a competition swimming pool, two additional physical education spaces and improvements to technical education course spaces.

"We have had such a collaborative approach to this," high school Principal Andrea Rusk said. "We've invited a lot of people from our community to be part of the meetings, collecting a lot of feedback. And we've gone on site tours. And I think I'm most proud of the fact that the community has stepped up, not only to support this but also that they are giving us their input."

What's next?

The designs for Harrison, Nisswa and Baxter elementary schools may go in front of the school board for approval Monday, Sept. 10, depending on how administrators feel after meetings later this week. If the board approves the designs, Larson said they can then start fine-tuning the details.

Community members can visit blueprint181.org to view designs for all the buildings and give their feedback.