The Brainerd School Board took a long look at installing a new playground at the Warrior Early Learning Center during its Monday, July 19 meeting.

Staffers noted the new facility presents challenges in terms of funding, but that it would serve as a great resource for younger students in the kindergarten through early elementary grades.

“The challenge we have in front of us is getting play equipment over at the Warrior Early Learning Center that is suited for those kids,” said Reid Thiesse, grounds and buildings director. “This is just understanding the scope of what we'd like to install out there.”

 A 3D graphic illustration of the proposed playground that could be installed at Warrior Early Learning Center in Baxter. Screengrab / Gabriel Lagarde
A 3D graphic illustration of the proposed playground that could be installed at Warrior Early Learning Center in Baxter. Screengrab / Gabriel Lagarde

Thiesse noted bids for renovations on the Warrior Early Learning Center, located on the former Baxter Elementary School site by Fairview Road, came in a little high, which forced district officials to cut some features from the design so it could fit budget parameters set in the $205 million bonding referendum. A playground was one of those cut features, Thiesse said, and plans by the district’s project oversight team to install a playground have often been discussed in terms of cost.

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There was, for some time, speculation about using playground equipment from the old Baxter Elementary School site, Thiesse noted, but the Baxter playground is equipped to handle students aged 10-12, not younger children that typically roam the halls of Warrior Early Learning Center. Thus, plans to install a brand new playground were initiated. A ballpark figure of $250,000 was estimated, Thiesse said, and staffers were instructed to find ways to trim that figure down until a happy medium between costs and returns could be determined.

The result is the proposal presented to board members, which entails $173,983.90 — $152,683 for the playground, with the remaining $21,300 for installation.

The plans entail an area just to the north of the Warrior Early Learning Center, featuring two enclosures, with its footprint divided between a mulched area for explorative play and a poured rubber surface that’s accessible for students with disabilities. Thiesse said the equipment, which includes slides, landscape structures, shade pavilions, climbing pieces and other associated amenities, is suitable for children aged 2-12 and the playground would have a max capacity of 124.

In a morning section, the site could see roughly 375 students going through, staffers noted, with roughly 500 children utilizing the playground on any given day. Staffers also noted the Warrior Early Learning Center is expected to experience growth in terms of education offerings and student enrollment. As such, with projections of growth and budgetary concerns, adding pieces to the playground could be a long-term, ongoing project.

Reid Thiesse, grounds and buildings director for ISD 181, addresses the Brainerd School Board during a meeting Monday, July 19, 2021. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch
Reid Thiesse, grounds and buildings director for ISD 181, addresses the Brainerd School Board during a meeting Monday, July 19, 2021. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

Board member Tom Haglin thanked Thiesse and his team for finding a nice balance between the district's goals and what is financially feasible.

“It seems like it's kind of a nice compromise that gets us there for what we need,” Haglin said. “We've got some growth opportunities with it. This brings us more in line with what we had in mind from a budget standpoint.”

“I think we absolutely need to support this,” board member Bob Nystrom later added. “There's not another age group that probably really needs this other than kindergarten through Grade 2 and we need to move forward, we need to make a commitment to them.”

There was some discussion regarding how the district could pay for this, either dipping into roughly $500,000 of unallocated referendum bond, using some general fund monies, or other forms of capital investment. Board members suggested the district could turn to private or public partners, like the Lion’s Club for example, to help in this effort.

Thiesse estimated that, if the district started immediately, portions of the playground could be ready for use by the beginning of the school year. An indoor gymnasium in the facility, he said, which wasn’t available before renovations to the Warrior Early Learning Center the past few years, means students can be ushered inside for play if need be.

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at gabe.lagarde@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch.