Designs are in the works for the next Brainerd Public Schools building project — turning the high school’s south campus into space for special education and transitional programs.

With the ongoing renovations, classes for all traditional high school students will be housed at Brainerd High School’s north campus, leaving the south campus for the following three programs: STARS (Students Transition and Reach Success), Paul Bunyan Transition Plus and Level IV programs from Lincoln Education Center.

Level IV programs provide a separate school setting for students with significant behavioral or mental health issues. Students receive additional academic, behavioral and mental health programming in this alternate setting. Paul Bunyan Transition Plus and STARS are programs for adult students with disabilities aged 18-21. These students have completed their high school education and are taking the next steps into adulthood.

“One of the main goals here is to create a cohesive experience for all three programs,” Valerie Peterson, of Wold Architects and Engineers, told school board members Thursday, June 25. “They kind of feel very independently operated, and the staff are very excited to have kind of a larger group and a larger team. And one of the biggest drivers here is providing all students for success after high school.”

Another goal of the project, Peterson said, is to create the opportunity for growth and additional capacity for the programs.

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Schematic designs

The eastern portion of the building will be demolished to allow for parking and bus drop off, leaving 72,000 square feet of space for the three programs.

Peterson outlined guiding principles the core group of designers and staffers work with to develop designs for the project:

  • Designs should support the collaborative and positive culture of the three programs.

  • The building should be safe and secure while also feeling welcoming and inviting for students, staff and visitors.

  • The layout should be inclusive and accessible for all.

  • The building should create a separation between behavior-based and transition-based programs out of respect for student learning, while maintaining connections that allow staff to respond quickly to safety concerns.

  • The design should be fiscally responsible and consider longevity, durability and ease of maintenance.

  • The design should provide flexible spaces to support services and foster interaction between students, parents, visitors and community members, while maintaining supervision by staff.

  • Small group space learning is encouraged at all levels of activity.

  • Designs should create a cohesive experience for all three programs. Students and staff should feel they are a part of one team.

The design criteria Peterson laid out includes:

  • Flexible “take a break” spaces to promote de-escalation and limit the use of seclusion rooms.

  • Spaces designed with acoustics in mind.

  • Individual restrooms with centrally located handwashing stations for all students.

  • Student spaces easily monitored and accessible by staff.

  • Care and treatment classrooms positioned to allow for privacy and limited interaction with other programs.

  • Consideration of sensory stimuli.

  • Creation of a home-like and career-based environment for transitional program students.

Breakout rooms will provide staff or representatives from outside service groups to meet with students individually or in small groups.

Every classroom will have alcoves, which are spaces without doors but large enough for students to be separated from visual distractions or reset themselves. They will still be able to hear and perhaps see the instruction still happening.

Administrators for all three programs will share an office suite.

In terms of safety, there will be three secure entrances. Lincoln students will have their own designation entrance on the east side of the building, while STARS and Transitional Plus students will enter to the north of the building. This entrance will serve them throughout the day as students need to come and go. Those two entrances will be locked to the general public after the first bell rings. A third, main entrance on the northeast side of the building will serve visitors throughout the day. Visitors will be directed to the reception area upon entrance and must go through a check-in process before gaining access to the rest of the building. All interior and exterior doors will be lockable.

Feedback

Lincoln Education Center Administrator Amy Jordan praised the designs for their promotion of collaboration between the programs.

“If you’re looking at all three of the programs coming together, I just think that the design team has done such a nice job of thinking of the clients that we serve — think of the students that we serve in our district — and just really creating neat spaces for them to be able to continue to be a part of the education that they’re being provided every day,” she said.

Board member Ruth Nelson expressed her excitement for the designs as well.

“I’m so excited for all the staff and the kids that will be serviced by that. It’s going to be a vast improvement,” Nelson said just before board members put their stamp of approval on the schematic designs.

Public feedback is now welcome on the designs, as well. Those who wish to view the plans and and give feedback can do so at https://blueprint181.org/brainerd-high-school-south.

The $11 million project is expected to break ground in the spring of 2021, with construction estimated to be completed by fall 2022.

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