While the format of fall classes is still up in the air, construction crews throughout the Brainerd School District are working to make sure new and renovated buildings are ready to welcome students if able.

School board members, district staff and community members toured construction sites Monday, July 13, to check up on progress at Nisswa and Harrison elementary schools, the new Baxter Elementary School and Brainerd High School.

Representatives from ICS, the consulting firm managing the projects, led groups through the site and gave further construction updates during the board meeting Monday night.

Brainerd High School, performing arts center

Ongoing work at BHS includes finishing fixtures, painting, flooring, prep for kitchen equipment, framing and walls, and footings.

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

Those in the tour groups marveled at special education classrooms with large windows overlooking the football field, tennis courts and plenty of trees, letting in a lot of natural light. The rooms are for students who are developmentally and cognitively disabled.

“In our history, sometimes the classroom settings for those have not always been located in the best place in the school, and this is the best area that the school has,” Principal Andrea Rusk said, joking that she wanted to move her office up to that space.

The special education rooms, along with nearby math rooms, are on schedule to be finished by Aug. 24 so students can use them in the upcoming school year, as the north campus B wing on the south side of the building was demolished to make way for a new eight-lane competition swimming pool.

At the new 1,200-seat performing arts center on the north side of the high school, front windows are installed in the lobby, and the auditorium itself is taking shape, with work on the balcony seating to begin in two weeks.

Brainerd School Board and staff members stand in the lobby of the new performing arts center during a tour Monday, July 13. The center is under construction on the north side of Brainerd High School is expected to be finished in 2021. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd School Board and staff members stand in the lobby of the new performing arts center during a tour Monday, July 13. The center is under construction on the north side of Brainerd High School is expected to be finished in 2021. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Construction on the performing arts center and BHS north campus — budgeted at $87 million — are scheduled to be completed by fall 2021. The south campus project is in the design development phase.

“I am so excited,” Rusk said of the BHS projects after Monday’s tour. “I’m maybe a little nervous because there’s a lot of work to do before Aug. 24, but these contractors have been unbelievable. And they’ve worked so hard, and as you can see.”

The board approved a change order for the high school project Monday, authorizing $103,953.06 for walling and grade adjustments in three visual arts classrooms and miscellaneous electrical alterations, including blackout shades, wall mounts, electrical circuits and fixtures and controllers in the performing arts center lobby.

Nisswa Elementary

At Nisswa Elementary School, a two-story classroom addition is up, and space in the gymnasium has doubled to make it full-sized.

Sheetrock is up everywhere, site manager Justin Maaninga told the board, and drywall is expected to be finished by the end of the week. He said the $12 million project is moving right on schedule to be completed before school starts this fall.

The cafeteria is larger, and the kitchen and administrative offices have gone through extensive renovations. Flex classrooms, which will allow for any future increases in enrollment, will help with social distancing measures that might need to be taken in the upcoming school years.

Brainerd school staff and board members check out the full-sized gym under construction at Nisswa Elementary School during a tour Monday, July 13. The gray flooring shows the new addition to the gym, which will soon be finished to match the blue flooring on the existing portion. Theresa Bourke / Brained Dispatch
Brainerd school staff and board members check out the full-sized gym under construction at Nisswa Elementary School during a tour Monday, July 13. The gray flooring shows the new addition to the gym, which will soon be finished to match the blue flooring on the existing portion. Theresa Bourke / Brained Dispatch

The first and second grade wing features bright purple accent walls, while the third and fourth grade wing features green. Principal Molly Raske previously described them as “wayfinding” walls unique to each wing. Common space lies outside of classroom pods for each grade level, along with staff and student restrooms.

Raske is excited about having an office with windows for the first time, and is glad she’ll be able to gauge the weather and see who enters the building from the comfort of her office.

After the tour, she said she was overjoyed at seeing the project progress as it has with updating teaching spaces.

“There’s not really another word for it,” Raske said. “I’m so grateful that we get to teach in a space that matches what we do here.”

New Baxter Elementary

A brand new building, featuring the district’s iconic Warrior Blue, stands on a newly constructed portion of Jasperwood Drive in Baxter.

Crews are cleaning throughout the building and moving forward with landscaping and irrigation on the outside, Maaninga said Monday. Next week, they plan to complete testing and balancing of the building’s mechanical systems.

The new five-section elementary school features a large media center with windows letting in plenty of natural light, and space for students to collaborate on school work.

Commons areas with locker bays stand outside the pod of classrooms for each grade level. A stage connects the cafeteria to one of the two gymnasiums. The stage can open on either side for lunchtime announcements of big events in the gym. A second gymnasium is up as well to accommodate for five sections of K-4 students.

Baxter Elementary School Principal Tammy Stellmach shows off a science classroom in the brand new school building during a tour with staff and board members Monday, July 13. The five-section school is expected to open this fall. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
Baxter Elementary School Principal Tammy Stellmach shows off a science classroom in the brand new school building during a tour with staff and board members Monday, July 13. The five-section school is expected to open this fall. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Kindergarten classrooms include en suite bathrooms so teachers can easily keep one eye on the little students.

Principal Tammy Stellmach demonstrated different colored lights in one of the many sensory rooms located off special education classrooms and designed for students with sensory issues. Students can pick a color of light to help calm them in difficult situations.

“From the design in your head to the brainstorming and the collaboration, it’s so exciting. It’s amazing,” Stellmach said of the new school after Monday’s tour. “I can’t wait. It’s been great. It’s been a great journey and a great project.”

The $26.2 million school is expected to be completed before school starts in the fall.

Harrison Elementary

Exterior sitework like concrete, fencing and final grading is ongoing at Harrison Elementary School in Brainerd.

A two-story classroom addition will expand the building’s capacity, and another addition will house the main office and a new gymnasium. The old gym will become a media center, and the school’s front entrance will move from Oak Street to Norwood Street on the north side of the building.

Interior framing on the existing building is nearing completion, and stair infills are done. Interior finishes in the additions — like painting, ceramic tile and wood ceilings — are now being installed, and mechanical, plumbing and electrical work in the existing building is ongoing.

The $19 million Harrison project is scheduled for completion by this coming fall.

Other projects

The Warrior Early Learning Center, estimated to be complete by spring 2021, is an early childhood facility that will be housed in the current Baxter Elementary building on Fairview Road.

The roughly $5 million remodel project will create a new secure main entrance, expanded parking, expanded hallways to help with student navigation and space for school readiness programs like KinderClub.

Groundbreaking ceremonies took place this past spring at the remaining elementary schools in the district — Garfield, Lowell and Riverside. All three projects are scheduled to be completed by fall 2021.

Updates to Garfield include a two-room classroom addition, a kitchen addition and updates to the front entry and administrative suite.

Underground electrical and plumbing hookups are completed at Garfield. Ongoing work includes interior and exterior masonry walls, interior framing and Sheetrock, and classroom painting. Construction has just begun on a new parking lot.

Renovations to Lowell include a new gym, a two-story classroom addition, flex classroom space and remodeled special education rooms.

Crews have erected steel for the classroom edition and installed underground waste lines between the new gym and administration area.

Much of Riverside will stay the same, save for an addition that will include a second gym; staff lounge, art, science and technology space; and a cafeteria receiving area.

Walls are going up at the construction site, and crews completed soil corrections, which is engineering work necessary to clean, clear, remove, mitigate and/or remediate unsuitable soils from the site.

For more information on all Brainerd School District building projects, visit www.blueprint181.org.

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