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Brainerd Public Schools: Board reviews designs for Harrison Elementary update

The Brainerd School Board saw preliminary designs for the proposed updates and additions to Harrison Elementary School. The writing on the outside of the building will, however, read horizontally. Photo rendering courtesy of Widseth Smith Nolting

Preliminary designs are in place for the addition and updates to Harrison Elementary School, and they could alter the district's property acquisition plans.

Brainerd School Board members looked at the draft site plan during their board meeting Monday, Nov. 26, and are expected to approve the final plans in December.

Project director Chris Ziemer and Jason Maaninga, both of ICS Consulting, along with Widseth Smith Nolting consultant Erica Marcussen walked board members through the plans.

A new secure entrance off Norwood Street on the north side of the building will welcome students and staff to Harrison. The current entrance on Oak Street will primarily be used as an exit.

Other plans for the three-floor building will include a learning commons outside each grade's pod of classrooms, a new gymnasium, a media center and bigger cafeteria, which will occupy the space of the current gym. The stage will stay where it is—in the current gym—so the cafeteria will now be used for plays and other performing arts events.

The new proposed gymnasium is not a full-sized competition gym, but an addition to make it larger could be included, if the budget allows. Marcussen said the addition is not built into the project right now but could be added in later if bids come in favorably. Superintendent Laine Larson said she really wants to see a full-sized gym at Harrison and asked if things could be moved around to make it a definite part of the plan. Marcussen explained why the plans are laid out the way they are and said the team will continue looking at options for the full-sized gym.

On the outside, 15th Street on the west side of the school will be designated for parent pick-up/drop-off and special education bus drop-off. Marcussen said the district may ask the city to look into making that street a one-way. The bus pick-up/drop-off area will be on Norwood Street near the new entrance. A 40-stall parking lot is proposed for the corner of Oak and 16th streets, with a new playground located to the north of the lot, as the school's addition is designed to take up the current playground. These proposed exterior plans could mean only six property acquisitions near the school instead of the planned 10. A prior version of the plans included 20 more off-street parking spots and a different configuration of the playground area, but after some revisions, Marcussen said these current plans work better.

Larson applauded the changes.

"I think this is a really nice example of some of the work that came out of the joint meeting that we had with the city of Brainerd. They asked us to look to see if there were any ways that we could find some compromise," Larson said of the board's joint meeting with city council representatives Nov. 13. "This is kind of our first draft at doing that, but we're actually liking the change in how the synergy is working in this."

Ziemer and his team will bring final designs before the board Dec. 10. Construction on the addition is then expected to begin in early June 2019 with renovations on the current building slated for the following summer. Ziemer expects work to wrap up before the 2020-21 school year begins.

Costs for the project are estimated at about $12.9 million, with the gym addition bringing the price tag up to $13.4 million, but Ziemer said the costs could still change.

Other projects

After seeing preliminary designs for Nisswa Elementary School at the last meeting, board members approved the final designs Monday, with nothing having changed in the layout designs. The roughly $8.9 million project includes a new secure entrance, a full-sized gymnasium, a two-story classroom addition, an enlargement of the cafeteria and other remodeling projects throughout the school. The construction timeline is similar to Harrison, with work on the new addition beginning in early June 2019 and the whole project completed by fall 2020.

The board saw a sneak peak of plans for Brainerd High School and the new elementary school in Baxter Monday. Formal preliminary designs will be brought forth in December.

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