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Brainerd Public Schools: Construction now underway for new Baxter Elementary

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Brainerd Superintendent of Schools Laine Larson speaks Tuesday, May 21, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Baxter Elementary School in Baxter. Spelling out Baxter are sign holders Addelyn Bender, Greta King, Falan Dobis, Kaylin Vesely, Carver Clough, Abi Wind, Colin Dumphy, Asher Knoblauch, Lily Borders, Sam Manecke, Kennedy Christenson and Molly Flaten. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Gallery and Video 2 / 2

BAXTER—What's in the word "Baxter"?

For Brainerd School District Superintendent Laine Larson it's many things, including:

B—Books, building blocks.

A—Academics, arts, activities, athletics, achievement for all students.

X—(e)Xcellence.

T—Teachers, technology.

E—Excellence in education, everyone succeeds.

R—Reading, writing and arithmetic (the three Rs).

Larson shared what Baxter means to her during a groundbreaking ceremony for the city's new elementary school Tuesday, May 21.

Hard hats, yellow vests and even sparkling tiaras dotted the property where the new Baxter Elementary School will soon be located as students, staff, designers, architects and community members celebrated the occasion.

"Today we put our vests on, we put our shovels in our hands, we put the hard hats on our heads, and we wait to overturn the pile of sand, which will start the groundbreaking for Baxter Elementary School," Larson said Tuesday morning.

In between musical numbers, students sported their own yellow hard hats, staff and administrators proudly wore Warrior blue and 2018 Miss Brainerd and Baxter United States Pageant winners donned their crowns and sashes for the occasion.

Two years from now, Baxter students will be wrapping up their first year of school in a brand new building, which will sit on a soon-to-be constructed portion of Jasperwood Drive, not far from Forestview Middle School.

"I'd like to thank the Brainerd community for their support of this wonderful project," Baxter Elementary Principal Tammy Stellmach said Tuesday. "The community has been generous in saying, 'yes, yes, yes' to the Brainerd Public Schools. Because of that, we are sitting here today."

In April 2018, voters approved a $205 million bond referendum to fund improvements to early childhood, primary and secondary education facilities in the school district. The new Baxter school is a result of the referendum, which school board chair Sue Kern thanked voters for approving, thus choosing to spend their tax dollars on the school district when they could have easily gone elsewhere.

"But our voters have chosen to spend the money on educating our children and improving our facilities," Kern said. "We're so happy that the community values the importance of educating our next generation."

With the current Baxter Elementary building set to become an early childhood facility, the new school will be two stories and able to accommodate five sections of each grade and 625 students total. Under the $26.2 million project, each grade will have its own learning commons surrounded by five classrooms, and the building will include a full-sized gymnasium, a music room and an art/science/technology space built in conjunction with a media center.

"We are truly looking forward to this new space for many reasons," said second grade teacher Heather Bender, a member of the core design team, Tuesday. "As a teacher, you dream of an optimal space where you can give students the best learning experience as possible. And we will be able to do just that."

Though a new facility is forthcoming, a few things won't change, Bender said, like the school's dedicated staff, hardworking students and parents, and supportive community.

"Thank you so much for voting 'yes,'" she said. "Without all of your support, we wouldn't be here today."

For some, like Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kilian, that support was easy to give. He said he and the rest of the chamber had no qualms about supporting the school's referendum when it came about.

"It was a responsible investment, it was a financially sound investment, and it was an investment in the future of our kids and our community," Kilian said. "So we got behind it very proudly and very publicly."

With local businesses growing and trying to attract new workers to the area, Kilian said good schools are imperative.

"You have to attract good people, and you have to create and develop good people, and that's what our schools do every single day," he said. "I'm lakes proud to stand here today and help break ground on this momentous new building."

At Baxter Elementary, Stellmach said the mission is simple—to build foundations. School staff members work to build foundations in reading, math, physical education, music, character education and social/emotional learning, she said.

Parents, Stellmach added, provide support, energy and excitement for all that goes on at Baxter Elementary.

Jeanne King, president of the Baxter Parent Teacher Organization, is one such parent, who noted the referendum and the upcoming construction projects were community efforts.

Quoting Helen Keller, King said, "Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much."

"Today as I look around, I see how this community has come together to do great things," she added. "I see teachers and staff committed to our children's education. I see amazing parents that are always willing to go the extra mile. And lastly, I see children. I see children who are part of a dedicated community willing to put their education first. Together, we have done this. We passed a referendum, and today we start the build of our new school. Together, as a community, we have done so much."

And not to be forgotten are the architects and designers behind the construction plans, as many speakers noted Tuesday, expressing gratitude to firms including ICS Consulting and Widseth Smith Nolting for their help with design development, and Hy-Tec Construction, who will serve as general contractor for the project.

Other speakers showing excitement and thanks Tuesday included Dave Bergeron, of ICS Consulting, Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson, kindergarten teacher Melissa Schmeck and students Isabelle Schoeppner and Emma Dewey.

With construction now begun, the new facility is set to open for the 2020-21 school year.

"I can't say thank you enough," Kern told attendees Tuesday. "These facilities' improvements will benefit our children and community for decades to come."

For more photos, go to https://bit.ly/2M1naXW.

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.

Everyone has a story. Let us tell yours.

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