Heavy machinery roared, smells of fresh paint filled the air and bright yellow safety vests dotted the scene as Brainerd School Board members witnessed ongoing work at the district’s various construction sites.

Board members split into two groups Tuesday and Wednesday, May 5-6, to appropriately social distance while touring Harrison and Nisswa elementary schools, Brainerd High School and the new Baxter Elementary School.

Harrison Elementary

Harrison Elementary Principal Cathy Nault could hardly contain her excitement Wednesday as she and ICS project managers welcomed the group, including board members Sue Kern and Charles Black Lance, along with Reid Thiesse, the district’s director of buildings and grounds.

Right inside the current front entrance lies the new cafeteria taking shape where the gymnasium used to be. Immediately to the east begins the new construction, housing a kitchen, new larger gymnasium, classrooms, a secure main entrance off Norwood Street, new administrative offices and a large library staff is calling “the treehouse.”

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The top floor room rises above the trees — visible from the large windows — and will feature wooden ceilings, treehouse decorations and a cozy reading nook.

Brainerd School Board members, ICS project managers and Principal Cathy Nault check out the new Harrison Elementary School library, which staff members call "the treehouse," during a tour Wednesday, May 6. The room will have a wooden ceiling and be decorated like a treehouse. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd School Board members, ICS project managers and Principal Cathy Nault check out the new Harrison Elementary School library, which staff members call "the treehouse," during a tour Wednesday, May 6. The room will have a wooden ceiling and be decorated like a treehouse. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Another room Nault is particularly excited about is a multi-purpose work room, something staff at Harrison has never had before.

“This is where the admin from the school can set everything up and get the communications out,” Thiesse said. “Staff can come down here and plan curriculum and do anything they want down here. That’s what this space is going to be.”

The room includes staff mailboxes, a multitude of file storage and plenty of countertop space.

“It’s the little things. It just makes your job easier,” Nault said.

GALLERY:

The new principal’s office features large windows looking outside, and the nearby nurse’s office contains a door leading straight out to the playground, as that’s where many accidents tend to happen.

New special education classrooms are much larger than the current ones, which Nault described as closet-sized. They include a light dimmer switch and red, green and blue lighting, which Thiesse said is calming and beneficial for students with sensory issues.

A glimpse inside a science classroom shows power drops, which are cords and outlets coming down from the ceilings to be used for robotics.

“I’m so excited,” Nault said many times on the tour, thanking the community for its support of the project and adding how great all the construction workers and project managers have been to work with.

“It’s been a wonderful journey,” she said. “I just would like it to be done.”

The estimated $19 million Harrison project is slated to be completed before school starts in the fall. The project is moving along smoothly as the space was vacated sooner than anticipated with distance learning.

Nisswa Elementary

School board member Reed Campbell joined up with the group in Nisswa Wednesday, as Principal Molly Raske and site manager Greg Dalbec led the way through the school’s new construction.

The new full-sized gymnasium is much larger than what the school currently has.

Bright purple accent walls act as “wayfinding” walls for the first and second grade wing, Raske said, and green walls stand out in the third and fourth grade wing. Each wing has classrooms, staff and student restrooms and flexible space to be used as needed.

Nisswa Elementary School Principal Molly Raske shows off the plumb purple walls in the new first and second grade wing at the school during a school board tour Wednesday, March 6. Also pictured is board member Reed Campbell. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
Nisswa Elementary School Principal Molly Raske shows off the plumb purple walls in the new first and second grade wing at the school during a school board tour Wednesday, March 6. Also pictured is board member Reed Campbell. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Like all the projects, the remodeled Nisswa school will include a secure entrance with new administrative offices featuring large windows to give staffers a glimpse outside to see everyone who enters.

The new construction also gives the school flexible space that may be used as classrooms in the future as enrollment grows, but for the time being can be conference and work rooms. This space, Raske said, gives district administrators the opportunity to have meetings “up north” as opposed to always in Brainerd or Baxter.

Blue and gray tiles throughout the classrooms and offices match that of new projects across the district, giving all the schools a somewhat uniform look.

“I’m so excited,” Raske said toward the end of the tour. “It’s beyond what I could ever dream.”

The $12 million Nisswa project is planned to be completed before 2020-21 school year.

New Baxter Elementary

From Nisswa, the group moved back down south to Baxter and the site of the brand new five-section elementary school on a newly constructed portion of Jasperwood Drive.

Board members marveled at the bright Warrior blue tiling on the outside of the building, which will eventually match with exteriors at all the school’s throughout the district.

Reid Thiesse, buildings and grounds director for Brainerd Public Schools, talks about the exterior of the new Baxter Elementary School during a school board tour Wednesday, May 6. The outside of the building will feature a large "B," as will the rest of the schools throughout the district. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
Reid Thiesse, buildings and grounds director for Brainerd Public Schools, talks about the exterior of the new Baxter Elementary School during a school board tour Wednesday, May 6. The outside of the building will feature a large "B," as will the rest of the schools throughout the district. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

The group saw a large media center, commons areas with locker bays outside the classrooms for each grade level, and the cafeteria and gym No. 1, which are connected with a common stage. The stage can open to either the cafeteria for lunchtime announcements or to the gym for larger activities and gatherings. Each side can be closed off so noise from the cafeteria doesn’t drift into the gym and vice versa. A second gymnasium is in the works as well to cater to the large student body.

The kindergarten classrooms feature en suite bathrooms so the students don’t have to travel far and the teachers can easily keep an eye on everyone. Each grade level area has five classrooms and multipurpose flexible rooms that could be used as classrooms in the future should enrollment spike.

If all continues to go smoothly, the new $26.2 million school should be ready to welcome students this coming fall.

The current Baxter Elementary School will be transformed into the Warrior Early Learning Center.

Brainerd High School and performing arts center

Brainerd School Board member Ruth Nelson (left) and Brainerd High School principal Andrea Rusk walk on the sidewalk Tuesday, May 5, while on a construction tour of the high school. School board members, administration and members of the ICS team discussed the progress of the Brainerd High School construction project. (Steve Kohls  /  Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd School Board member Ruth Nelson (left) and Brainerd High School principal Andrea Rusk walk on the sidewalk Tuesday, May 5, while on a construction tour of the high school. School board members, administration and members of the ICS team discussed the progress of the Brainerd High School construction project. (Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Exterior walls are up and nearly finished at the new performing arts center on the northside of Brainerd High School. Site manager Scott Whittemore walked the group through the new space, which features a plethora of music rooms, storage space, rehearsal areas and, of course, the 1,200 seat auditorium with a stage and orchestra pit for various community events.

Inside, crews have torn out lockers in one of the locker bays to transform the space into a new media center.

Whittemore took the group through a section of new math and special education classrooms, which will first be used in the upcoming school year, as the B wing on the southside of the building is demolished to make way for the new eight-lane competition swimming pool.

Spacious rooms for special education students with developmental coordination disorders feature large windows to let in plenty of natural light.

The main goal of the high school project is to house all students under the north campus roof, while south campus eventually becomes space for transitional and special education programs, along with all programming now housed at the Lincoln Education Center.

Crews will work through the next two summers to complete the north campus construction and the performing arts center by the fall of 2021. Those portions of the project are budgeted at $87 million.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.