The Brainerd School Board signed off on a bunch of projects slated in the 2018 referendum.

Members approved final designs to revamp Nisswa, Lowell, Garfield and Riverside elementary schools, renovations and additions to Brainerd High School, as well as renovation of a new early childhood education center.

The district has been in something of a balancing act -- trying to juxtaposition high-end cost estimates with more frugal, cautious plans so as to best meet the needs of the district without going over budget, said Superintendent Laine Larson.

“When we brought forth anything in terms of construction documents we wanted to stay as close to cost-neutral as we could, knowing full well they’re still estimates,” Larson said.

In particular, she pointed to the construction of the new Baxter Elementary School, which is coming in $1.8 million under budget, with the decision to approve the addition of a $2.5 million gymnasium to the site. As such, between the various projects in question, the final bill should largely level out when it’s all said and done, she noted, in keeping with the original $205 million referendum voters approved in April 2018.

In addition to referendum-related business, the board authorized district officials to sign a $50,000 settlement with a district employee and their spouse, but did not go into details with regard to the beneficiary, nor the particulars of the legal issue itself. The settlement would be paid out by the district’s insurer, Larson said, and has been a matter of previous confidential updates from the district’s legal counsel.

During a brief overview with representatives of ICS Consulting Inc, Larson and board member Charles Black Lance pointed out designs for signs on some properties -- large block letter “B” signs -- were inconsistent in terms of style, housing and color, and directed consulting firms to ensure the designs incorporate a uniform color and style.

Previously, the district discontinued mascots for its elementary schools, instead bringing them all under the Warriors banner already used by the district’s middle and high school institutions. This was, as officials stated at the time, intended to promote unity and a communal sense of pride throughout the Brainerd School District.

These projects are expected to be bid out in November. Work has begun on Nisswa, Harrison and the new Baxter elementary school. Renovations to Harrison and Nisswa elementary schools, along with the construction of the new Baxter Elementary School, are expected to be completed for the 2020-21 school year.

Garfield Elementary

Building additions at Garfield will create space for a full-sized kitchen, administrative suite and more classrooms, making the school a three-section elementary.

Two first grade classrooms would be added, along with an addition by the kindergarten area to make the three rooms comparable in size, as they’re all very different right now.

The new administration suite at the front of the building would include the school’s secure entrance, a nurse’s office and a teacher workspace.

Two small additions in the existing courtyard would add two special education rooms.

Other updates include a larger cafeteria and restructured flexible learning, art, science and technology spaces situated around the media center, along with a 29-spot parking lot created from acquired properties.

Proposed new lockers play into the over-budget estimate right now. Sara Kelzenberg of Wold Architects said new lockers weren’t in the initial plan, but because the flooring by the lockers needs to be replaced, designers figured it would be a good time to upgrade the lockers as well. Right now, the lockers at Garfield go all the way down to the floor, while smaller ones would allow for shoe and boot storage underneath.

The lockers do not have to be part of the project though, and could be considered as an alternate to be added if bids are favorable.

The original budget for construction was just under $7.36 million, with the project now estimated at just over $7.5 million.

Lowell Elementary

A two-story classroom addition at Lowell Elementary will add two kindergarten and two fourth grade rooms, allowing the school to house three sections of kindergarten and four sections of first through fourth grades.

The addition wrapping around the east and south sides of the building will also include a new gym, storage spaces, lockers and an administrative suite, which will include a secure entrance, reception area, staff workroom, conference rooms and office spaces.

The new gym is planned to be the same size as the school’s current multipurpose gym space but could be upgraded to full-size gym as an alternate, depending on bids.

Much of the rest of the school will see heavy remodels, including Spanish and special education spaces, the kitchen and first, second and third grade classrooms, along with learning commons areas in the middle of each grade level’s classroom pod.

With the project at an estimated $550,000 over the $9.19 million construction budget right now, project managers are crossing their fingers for favorable bids. If bids come in especially high, though, the plans can be revised with smaller projects potentially taken out to lower the cost.

Riverside

The Riverside Elementary project is tracking about $112,000 under its $9.87 million construction budget.

While much of the five-section elementary building will remain as is, an addition on the east side will house a new multipurpose gym; staff lounge; art, science and technology space; and a cafeteria receiving area.

Kindergarten and special education rooms will be remodeled, along with the kitchen, commons area and reception/entrance area, which already has a secure entrance.

A new playground and basketball court will be built outside, as the new gym addition will take up the space of the existing playground.

Because of the low projected costs, Adam Barnett, of JLG Architects, said some alternates could be added into the project, including new cabinets in the kindergarten rooms and other smaller things noted by teachers and staff members during oversight meetings.

Early Childhood Education Center

While a new Baxter Elementary School is under construction, plans are moving forward to convert the existing building into an early childhood facility.

Brainerd School Board members approved final schematic designs for the $5 million project Monday, June 10.

The new main, secure entrance will be on the north side of the building, along with parent drop-off and pick-up. Parking will remain on the north side of the building and be expanded with the demolition of the two-story fourth grade wing on the northwest side of the building.

Buses will drop students off on Fairview Road on the south side of the building. The bus entry will be locked during school hours.

Inside, the current library and media center will be opened up for more hallway space to help with flow and navigation for the young students.

School readiness areas will be spread throughout the building, and parent education rooms will be mixed in with early childhood family education rooms.

The "appendix" on the northeast side of the facility will house the Kinderclub area.

The project is currently tracking slightly over budget, but Jason Maaninga of ICS Consulting said he believes there is still time to get it back on track.

"We feel like we're in striking distance of the budget," Maaninga said. "We're working at trying to reduce things across the board."

Construction is set to begin in the fall of 2020 and be completed in 2021.

Brainerd High School

Board members approved construction documents for the Brainerd High School project and authorized construction managers to solicit bids for both the school renovations and the new performing arts center construction.

Work on the $87 million BHS north campus project is set to begin in September, with construction estimated to be completed in the summer of 2022.

After renovations at the high school, all students will be housed under one roof on the north campus instead of being spread between north and south campuses.

The east entrance on the main level will become the school's secure main entrance.

Designs include more special education space, new health and wellness spaces, three common areas and a new media center.

A new eight-lane competition swimming pool will be added, along with 500 spectator seats separated from the pool deck. The pool area will also include locker rooms, shower facilities, physical education offices and a diving well separate from the pool.

Additional career and technical education spaces are included in designs, with separate areas to be designated for woodworking, metal working, agriculture/greenhouse, family and consumer science, robotics, small engines and business.

A northern addition to the high school will house the new 1,200-seat performing arts center, complete with high-visibility balcony seating; dressing rooms; band, choir and orchestra rehearsal spaces; instrument storage; and a secondary teaching space for music theory classes and guitar lessons. The lobby will be large enough to accommodate crowds for sold-out events.

The high school project is currently tracking slightly under budget.

Outside, the school's northern parking lot -- near the performing arts center -- will have 164 stalls. Two lots east of the school will contain a combined 260 parking spots, with 172 spaces in the northern lot and 88 in the southern lot. All parking lots include American with Disabilities Act compliant parking stalls.

In other business, the board:

Approved the purchase of bleachers from Irwin Seating Co. for Brainerd High School in the amount of $331,200.

Approved a contract for psychological services with Northern Pines for 2019-20 at the mid-level alternative program and Brainerd Learning Center. In addition, the district agreed to contract with Northern Pines for an on-site social worker.

Approved a one-year contract for nursing services with Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center. Finance Director Marci Lord noted the deal presents a short-term solution until both sides can come to a longer agreement down the road.

Approved a contract with Reichert bus services for transport of students for the school years of 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Approved a 2019-20 security services contract with the Brainerd Police Department for 2.5 security officers at Brainerd High School.