With the construction of new facilities — including a performing arts center and several gymnasiums — the Brainerd School Board explored changes to facility rental fees during its meeting Monday, June 8.
Cori Reynolds, director of community education, brought an amended proposal forward, noting the change is part of an ongoing policy review and is also timely given the construction projects happening throughout the district.
Updates to Harrison and Nisswa elementary schools, along with construction of the new Baxter Elementary, are set to be complete in fall 2020. All buildings will be equipped with gymnasiums for public rental.
The performing arts center attached to Brainerd High School is scheduled to be done in the spring or summer of 2021. New facilities at Garfield, Lowell and Riverside elementary schools, BHS south campus and the Brainerd Learning Center will open in fall 2021.
The goal of the new policy is to provide more clarity about the reservation process, update fees and outline personnel changes.
In terms of staffing, the district has two part-time facilities coordinators right now — one to handle scheduling at Washington Education Services Building and the Franklin Arts Center, and one to handle scheduling at all other district facilities.
The new proposal, Reynolds said, includes a full-time scheduling coordinator to schedule events at all district facilities, which include gyms, fields, classrooms, auditoriums and the new performing arts center. Duties would also include serving as head of a community advisory board that would meet to coordinate the schedule and to handle billing for all rental spaces. This position would be part of community education, with a proposed salary of $43,680.
A full-time tech manager would then provide technical support for all events at the performing arts center and Tornstrom Auditorium and would recruit, train and supervise student tech workers. This position would be part of the technology department, with a proposed salary of $45,000. Complete with salary and benefits, the two positions are estimated to cost about $115,300.
Fees for the facilities are split into four tiers: district-sponsored groups, tax-exempt youth organizations, tax-exempt adult organizations and commercial or out-of-town groups. Under the proposal, fees only apply for district-sponsored events if the BHS varsity ball field and stadium or the Franklin fields are used. Tax-exempt youth organizations then have the lowest fees of the three remaining groups, while commercial and out-of-town groups would pay the most. That structure is on par with other comparable places, Reynolds said.
Reynolds said over the last five years, the district incurs an average of about $6.5 million in operational costs for its facilities, which amounts to about $5.20 per square foot. That cost translates to roughly $4.46 per hour. The lowest rental cost proposed under the new fee policy is $2.50 per hour for classrooms, conference rooms and locker rooms for tax-exempt youth organizations.
“My hypothesis would be that the space between that $2.50 an hour and that $5.20 per square foot is your recognition of the value that those outside organizations bring when they use our facilities as community gathering spots to provide out of school time activities, sports, programs for the community,” Reynolds told board members.
The bigger the space, the higher the cost. Reynolds said the district needs to find a balance between charging enough to be able to operate without over-charging so that groups who rent the spaces pass the cost down to their participants.
The proposed budget for the first year under the new fee schedule estimates costs would exceed revenue by about $98,000. In that proposal, Reynolds estimated $24,000 in revenue for performing arts spaces and $50,000 a year for all other facilities. Ideally, she said she hopes that revenue would increase over time as community members and even those from other parts of the state recognize the value of the district’s brand new facilities.
Board member Bob Nystrom said he believes revenue will be higher than expected, calculating the earnings from a large event like Lakes Area Music Festival to be in the ballpark of $18,000. Reynolds said she hoped that would be the case but wanted to be conservative with her revenue estimate, which came from looking at six years of revenue at the facilities and one year of the new rental fees.
But Board Chair Tom Haglin said the expenses seem a little low as well, stating he believes it would be hard to find a technical manager for $45,000 a year.
With so many unknowns, board member Ruth Nelson suggested trying the proposed fee schedule for a year and then regrouping to see what might need to change.
Nystrom also mentioned the idea of trying to find a regional partner — like Sourcewell — to help fund the tech manager and facilities coordinator positions because the performing arts center will be a community space; or eliminating fees for local youth organizations and increasing fees for commercial and out-of-town groups.
Ultimately, the board approved the first reading of the policy update but agreed to create a small group including Reynolds, Superintendent Laine Larson, Business Services Director Marci Lord and a couple board members to further look at the financials.
Reynolds added she continues to communicate with groups who typically rent spaces to keep them informed and get their feedback.