While a few Brainerd School District buildings are preparing for major renovations, engineers and consultants are readying Forestview Middle School for smaller-but still significant-updates as well.

School board members saw preliminary plans Monday, Jan. 28, for the two projects planned at Forestview-revamped drop-off/pick-up areas outside and a new secure entrance.

Buses will continue to drop off and pick up students on the south side of the school. Eleven bus stalls will be added, joining the existing 11, to accommodate the shift of buses moving in and out, Tim Ramerth, of Widseth Smith Nolting, told the board.

The current parent drop-off/pick-up site at the center of the building will undergo a makeover, with two access points for a one-way entrance and a one-way exit to the two-lane horseshoe configuration. The lane closest to the school will be used for parents to park while dropping kids off, while the second lane will allow cars to maneuver around those parked, thus freeing up spots for other vehicles to pull in and park.

This design will create about 850 feet for vehicles to line up, Ramerth said. The addition of a second parent drop-off/pick-up site on the north side of the building will add another 650 feet, roughly quadrupling the current amount of stacking space at the school right now, Ramerth estimated, and eliminating the safety risk of traffic lined up on Knollwood Drive.

Traffic will not be able to access either the north or south parking lots through the drop-off areas. They will all have separate entrances to alleviate congestion.

As a Forestview parent, board member Charles Black Lance noted some concerns with the designs. In many instances, especially in cold weather, he said, parents want to drop kids off as close to the school as possible. For that reason, he does not think parents will make use of the full horseshoe configuration at the central drop-off site but will instead stop in the middle closest to the doors, thus backing traffic up at that point. Ramerth noted the addition of a second lane in the drop-off area, though, will give parents the option of driving around parked vehicles to find an open space.

While designs may include designating the south parking lot as staff only to deter parents from dropping students off there, Black Lance said many parents, himself included, will likely still use the north parking lot instead of the driving lanes to drop students off because of its close proximity to doors. He suggested, instead, turning that north parking lot into a third drop-off/pick-up area.

Though also noting an improvement, Black Lance questioned whether the designs do enough to provide an adequate response to constituents' concerns about the outside configuration at Forestview.

Erica Marcussen, of WSN, noted student safety was one of the referendum's primary concerns. "There's a great vast amount of improvement as far as safety to the flow of this site now in comparison to where we are now," Marcussen said. "That's one of the priorities that we were tasked with upon the approval of the vote, so that's what we focus on."

Ramerth said he understands there is no way to please everyone.

"We just have to try to lay out the best option that we can," he said, noting it will be hard to stop parents from using that north parking lot as a drop-off point.

Board member Ruth Nelson said she sees no problem with parents dropping off in the parking lot but added they may see the new drop-off configuration functions more efficiently.

There will be a learning curve, Marcussen added, and suggested the district do its best to make sure parents understand how the new drop-off/pick-up systems work. Information, she said, could be communicated at open houses or through other channels.

"It's a major improvement," Nelson said. "It will make a huge difference."

Secure entrance

Consistent with updates to other district schools, during school hours, only one set of doors at Forestview will be open for visitors. Upon entering those doors, visitors will have to wait to be buzzed in to a check-in area. Only after being verified and checked in will they be able to gain access to the rest of the school.

"I love these efforts. As a parent, I love the movement toward that," Black Lance said, though also noting schools don't seem to have measures to stop anyone from entering buildings with students and staff before school hours.

"Maybe that's not what you're sanctioned to do," Black Lance said to Marcussen and Ramerth, adding it's a challenge to the board and district officials to do everything in their power to ensure student safety.

Marcussen noted there are staff members at each entrance while students arrive in the morning and said, logistically, it would be somewhat of a nightmare to get all of the students through a secure checkpoint at the beginning of the day.

Buildings and grounds director Earl Wolleat said there are no foolproof methods, but these measures will help immensely.

The district plans to put the designs for both the drop-off/pick-up zones and the secure entrance on www.blueprint181.org Tuesday and open them up to feedback for two weeks. Comments on the plan will be forwarded on to board members for consideration before designs are voted on at the next meeting Feb. 11. Marcussen said engineers and consultants will fine-tune design details for the next meeting and provide an outdoor rendering of the secure entrance.

Property acquisition

Board members authorized the property acquisitions for four properties near Garfield, Lowell and Harrison elementary schools: 1203 11th Ave. NE; 1207 11th Ave. NE; 620 Third Ave. NE; and a lot near the corner of Southeast 16th and Oak streets.

The board then adopted a resolution mandating the district and property owners to negotiate payments, relocation assistance and any other needed benefits.

Natalie Hoff, of ICS Consulting, told board members property acquisition efforts are going smoothly and she looks forward to being able to make offers to property owners so they can begin moving efforts.

In other business Monday, the board:

Congratulated Henry Hopkins, an eighth-grader at Forestview Middle School who won the district spelling bee last week and will compete in the regional bee Feb. 19 at Sourcewell.

Congratulated the eight high school knowledge bowl teams, which took first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth places out of 35 teams at the first meet of the season Jan. 23.

Congratulated the Brainerd cheer team for qualifying for the UCA National Championships in Orlando, Fla., for the first time in Warrior history.

Authorized the hiring of the following non-certified staffers: Gina Kosloski, an assistant cook/dishwasher at Forestview Middle School; Tiffani Ouradnik and Jessica Teasck, long-term substitute special education paraprofessionals at Nisswa Elementary School; Christine Paumen, an assistant cook/dishwasher at Baxter Elementary School.

Accepted the following donations to the district: Knitted hats and mittens from First Presbyterian Church for student needs in the district; $476.90 from Box Tops for Education for student activities at Riverside Elementary School; and $1,000 from Dorcas Ministries Thrift Store for the food pantry at Brainerd High School.

Looked at a preliminary calendar for the 2019-20 school year. The calendar includes no spring break but two long weekends instead. Superintendent Laine Larson said the purpose for this schedule is for the school year to end a week earlier for a longer summer construction season. The board will vote on the calendar at its next meeting. Larson said spring break will likely be reinstated after construction projects are completed in the coming years.