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Brainerd Public Schools: Board approves updates to drop-off area at Forestview

Updates to Forestview Middle School include revamped parent drop-off/pick-up areas and a new secure entrance. Image courtesy of ICS Consulting and Widseth Smith Nolting

With several building projects moving along in the Brainerd School District, the school board approved a set of site standards for district construction projects Monday, Feb. 11.

Chris Ziemer, project manager with ICS Consulting, presented the standards Monday, noting they were developed in part by district administrators, board members, teachers and building administrators to promote safety and consistency throughout district facilities.

Safety, Ziemer noted, is the biggest priority.

"We're really trying to make the sites safer for kids, parents and bus drop-off and pick-up," he said. "So the effort has been to separate all of those items as sites allow."

Another element of safety in the standards, Ziemer added, is adding secure entrances to all schools and making sure playground and outdoor activity spaces are up to code and properly fenced.

In terms of consistency, Ziemer said the goal is to have all buildings noticeably identified as Brainerd schools by using the district's blue color and "B" logo.

Elementary schools will also take on the Brainerd Warrior mascot to promote continuity across all facilities. They will, however, be provided spaces in each of their buildings to display historical items/information relating to any previous mascots. Right now, all elementary schools have their own mascots.

Site standards also include classrooms in each grade level in the elementary schools being organized around learning commons. Classrooms will have the capability of being locked down from the learning commons, and learning commons can be locked down from main corridors.

Forestview Middle School

In other construction business Monday, the board approved the schematic design for updates to Forestview Middle School on a vote of 5-1, with board member Charles Black Lance opposed.

Designs include a reconfiguration of the parent drop-off/pick-up area at the school's main entrance and the addition of another such area on the north side of the school. The center drop-off will have two access points for a one-way entrance and 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.

The design will create about 850 feet of stacking area for vehicles to line up, while the second drop-off area will add another 650 feet, roughly quadrupling the current amount of stacking space and eliminating the the need for cars to line up on Knollwood Drive.

Buses will continue to drop off and pick up students on the south side of the building. Eleven bus stalls will be added, joining the existing 11 to accommodate the shift of buses moving in and out.

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.

Board Chair Sue Kern said she heard from parents asking if there would be any traffic-slowing measures like stop signs or roundabouts on Knollwood Drive.

Ziemer said those issues have been discussed with the city Baxter, and they can be again, but he believes the city's goal is to stay away from those measures to reduce traffic backup on the road and rather keep it on school property.

Board member Ruth Nelson suggested flashing lights when school is in session, and Ziemer said he could look into that.

Superintendent Laine Larson said many online comments about the Forestview plans asked about signage to make clear where cars should enter and exit and where they need to go to drop-off/pick-up students versus park.

"I that that's something, from what I read from the comments, that will be really important to the public that we're really thoughtful as far as making that signage there and also teaching the practices when we first open up the new entrances," Larson said.

Secure entrance

Consistent with other schools in the district, a secure entrance will be installed at Forestview and be the only doors open for visitors during the school day. Upon entering, visitors will have to wait to be buzzed in to a check-in area. Only after being verified and checked in at the office will they gain access to the rest of the school.

Feedback

After showing hesitation on the preliminary designs for the pick-up/drop-off areas last month, Black Lance reiterated some of his concerns.

While applauding the use of blueprint181.org to gather feedback, he said he worried about how many parents actually saw the designs and wished there would have been some other kind of push to get the information out, just like several informational sessions took place before the referendum.

The district put the preliminary site plans on the Blueprint 181 website right after the board's meeting Jan. 28 and allowed comments on the designs until Monday.

As far as the designs themselves, Black Lance—also a Forestview parent—again questioned whether parents will actually use the full horseshoe configuration in front of the school instead of just stopping in the middle and dropping kids off as close to school as they can.

"I'm still not seeing how that's going to be prevented, and that's a struggle I have," he said.

He also noted many parents, himself include, will likely still use the north parking lot to drop students off instead of the driving lanes because of its closer proximity to the building.

Ziemer said no design will come without a learning curve and necessary education.

"Whether that's staff or someone out there," Ziemer said, noting, overtime, parents may learn to designate a specific low-traffic spot within the drop-off area to meet their child. "There is no soluble answer, I'll tell you that, but I am confident that this will be much better than what you have right now."

Black Lance praised those responsible for developing the designs, saying they did a wonderful job but still said he had concerns.

Forestview principal Jon Anderson backed the design, noting engineers and planners looked at more than a dozen different configurations, taking many factors like traffic and building layout into account before settling on this final design. Once the final design is in place, Anderson said it will be the school's job to monitor traffic to ensure everyone's safety.

Black Lance stood as the lone dissenting voice when board members voted on the final design. When asked after the meeting if he had any further comments on his opposition he said his comments during the meeting are sufficient.

"Ultimately, I'll continue to be a team player," he told the Dispatch Tuesday, "while still advocating for our students."

Work at Forestview is projected to be completed before the 2019-20 school year.

Other schools

The board approved the release of $169,540 worth of bond funds Monday payable to the city of Baxter to begin engineering services on the proposed Jasperwood Drive addition and other associated improvements needed for the new elementary school in Baxter.

Appraisals on the property are due back in the coming weeks, then triggering a review appraisal and allowing planners to start creating a development agreement with the city of Baxter.

Ziemer and his team will ask for board approval of construction documents and authorization to solicit bids for the new elementary project in March, along with the Brainerd High School project as well, which includes the new 1,200-seat performing arts center.

Approval of construction documents and bid solicitation authorization will go before the board at its next meeting Feb. 25.

Work at the three elementary schools is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2020, while the high school's updates, including the performing arts center, have an estimated completion date of fall 2021.

All projects, Ziemer said, are currently tracking on or under budget.

Theresa Bourke

I started at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and the Brainerd School District. I follow city and school board officials as they make important decisions for residents and students and decide how to spend taxpayer dollars. I look for feature story ideas among those I meet and enjoy, more than anything, helping individuals tell their stories and show what makes them unique.

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