Still in the drawing board portions of the planning process, it looks like the city of Brainerd’s initiatives to address its aging facilities are getting a last-minute tweak.

The Brainerd City Council voted Monday, July 15, to move forward with design plans for the renovation of city facilities, while designating certain portions of the multi-building project to be implemented earlier than initially slated. This means the projects would take place in 2020-21, rather than three to five years down the road. This move was billed as a means to streamline the process and save taxpayer dollars.

Among the improvements stipulated in Monday’s resolution are interior finishes to city hall including new carpeting, wall painting and electrical work to bring the 100-year-old structure up to modern standards and to expand the employee break room to account for other renovations across city facilities.

Improvements largely pertain to Brainerd City Hall, the Brainerd Fire Department and the Brainerd Police Department, among other buildings. Finance Director Connie Hillman said all high-priority items are expected to cost about $1.6 million over the next five years.

A 2017 citywide facilities study indicated a number of deficiencies -- largely tied with space needs, as well as defective amenities in aging structures, including city hall, storage buildings, the fire department, the police department, garages and parks and recreation buildings long overdue for upgrades and repairs.The city’s facilities improvements are planned to be constructed in three phases, with high priority improvements in one to five years, mid-priority items to be dealt with in five to 10 years, and low priority improvements to be completed in 11 or more years, mostly slated for 2030-35.

“We’re making these decisions on the improvements over the next 15-20 years projecting zero increases in the capital levy,” Council President Gabe Johnson said. “So, this is great. We don’t have to take on new debt. We don’t even have to increase the levy to get these projects done. It took this council a couple years to get up to $1.5 million reserves, but we got there. I’m really happy to see this.”

Hillman discussed the fate of the Parks and Recreation Department building in Lum Park -- namely, whether or not to demolish, repair or convert the structure for other purposes, as many of its offices and amenities are slated to be incorporated with other facilities in the city.

Hillman pointed to electrical work and carpet replacement -- more invasive portions of the project -- that would easier and cheaper to undertake while other portions of the project are being installed, such as a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC system. Simply put, she noted, it’s cheaper to put in wiring when the walls and ceilings are already opened up.

Council member Jan Lambert expressed approval for shifting these items to the fore.

“I think it makes sense to have the break room expansion and other recommendations,” council member Jan Lambert said. “Do it now, so we don’t have to do it over again.”

“Are we saving money doing all our priority projects next year and depleting 100% of our capital reserves?” Johnson said. “Or would it be the same to do it over three years instead of one year?”

Mike Angland, of architectural-engineering firm Widseth Smith Nolting, said it would likely be in the city’s best interest to move forward and make a decision that would save the city money now, without committing to changes down the road that will have to be revamped otherwise.

“I would say it would work to your advantage,” Angland said. “It’s really an opportune time for that.”

2020-2021 Improvements rundown

Of the five options first presented June 16, city council members chose to move forward with one including the following projects and cost estimates:

• Replace city hall's cooling tower and heat pumps for the new HVAC system, $660,000.

• Upgrade city hall's HVAC controls, $26,000.

• Repair city hall's exterior south stairs, $25,500.

• Replace city hall's fluorescent light fixtures with LED lights, $120,000.

• Remodel the police station's interior, $192,000.

• Upgrade the police station's HVAC controls, $15,000.

• Complete a fire department needs study, $25,000.

• Upgrade fire department HVAC controls, $15,000.

• Remodel sewer and street department's interior and construct an addition, $234,500.

Also included were five "a la carte" projects, any of which the council could choose to include. Members agreed to add all of them, which are:

• Replace city hall's ballasted roof, parapet walls and roof drains, $85,130.

• Tuckpointing city hall's brick, stone and mortar, $95,000.

• Install new guardrail and interior finishes for city hall's stair enclosure, $28,000.

• Upgrade city hall's security system, $45,000.

• Replace city hall's windows, $78,000.

With design/construction contingency, general conditions and architectural/engineering fees, the total cost estimate comes to just over $2.47 million.

The option chosen is in the middle of the five options given in terms of cost, with Option 1 (which didn’t include a new HVAC system) starting at $844,000, and Option 5 climbing to $6.2 million with the remodel of the city hall's annex building included.