After receiving criticism and hearing various concerns about its property acquisition endeavors, the Brainerd School Board heard from voices on the other side of the spectrum at its Monday, Oct. 29, board meeting.
Carole Paschelke, who owns a house near Harrison Elementary School, told board members during Monday's open forum she was originally very emotional when she heard of the district's desire to acquire her property in September.
Paschelke described her roller coaster of emotions at the thought of having to leave her home but said she came to terms with the idea after realizing it may be in the students' best interest.
"I was kind of mad that I didn't know before we voted (on the referendum), and now I'm not," she said. "Had I known before we voted, I wonder if my own personal feelings and selfishness may have had a play in how I would have voted-am I voting for ... what I want, or am I voting for the well-being of the kids in this community?"
The 27 properties near Brainerd High School and Lowell, Garfield and Harrison elementary schools on the acquisition list are rumored to be used as off-street parking for the various schools, though the district has not confirmed any concrete plans. Because of numerous concerns brought forward, the board delayed Monday's planned vote on whether to move forward with the acquisition process. Superintendent Laine Larson sent out a notice last week, saying the district wanted to better align with city leaders and take the time needed to get the decision right, as it is in the best interest of the community going forward.
Paschelke said she is still a little nervous about everything but noted the district representatives who have worked with her on the acquisition process so far have given her confidence that she will not just be kicked out of her house without any further help from the district.
"I would not want my selfishness about keeping my home and things the way I want to end up meaning there's not enough safe parking and traffic movement around that school building and then find something has gone wrong and somebody's been harmed because there wasn't something in place," she said. "Houses are houses, and people are people. And we need to look at the big picture and make sure that our decisions are motivated on what's best for the kids. ... If saving a few houses is going to mean an unsafe condition for the kids, that's not OK."
After Paschelke's testimony, board chair Ruth Nelson read a letter from Dave Felske and Cory Felske, president and vice president of Oakridge Homes and Woodview Support Services, who also own property on the acquisition list.
A portion of the letter read: "We want you to know that even though the project has been postponed, we are in full support of the proposed project. We understand the safety issues surrounding the current high school parking situation, the need for more parking to accommodate the new performing arts center and the growing class sizes. We also understand that the people in our communities voted for the referendum in order to accomplish these goals. ... We are ready to start the process of the acquisition when the school board is ready to proceed."
Meeting with the city
Later on in the meeting, board member Bob Nystrom suggested the board set up a joint meeting with the Brainerd City Council to further discuss property acquisition and other ongoing projects in the district. Nystrom cited the planning commission's recent recommendation for a year-long moratorium on the demolition of structurally sound buildings to create off-street parking in certain city zones as a concern for the future of some of the district's projects and said, after talking with a couple council members, he would like to see more communication with the city.
"We've been a part of this process now for three-plus years, and so we understand it. But even though the community voted for this, when they see some of this stuff, it's sort of a shock. And I think we need to slow the process down a little bit, especially with these property acquisitions, and involve the city," Nystrom said. "It's huge, the number of properties that we're looking at to acquire, the streets that we are looking to vacate. It does affect the neighborhoods, and so I'm just proposing that we would sit down with the city council and have a discussion."
He also suggested the board ask the city to delay its vote on the planning commission's recommended moratorium, which will likely be on the council's Nov. 5 agenda.
Board member Chris Robinson asked why the city administrator and planning and zoning administrator's presence at nearly all the district's referendum meetings over the last three or four years wasn't adequate representation of the city in the district's affairs.
Nystrom said the specific properties to be acquired and other details were not in those discussions.
Nelson questioned the need for such a large meeting with both full government bodies and instead suggested Larson and two board members meet with representatives of the council's choosing.
"Maybe we need to have a (full) meeting eventually. Maybe that would be good to have, but maybe we should start out with a smaller group because it's a lot of details," Nelson said. "I just don't think we're ready to have a meeting with all of us. I think there has to be some previous meetings before we do that, if we ever do that."
Board member Tom Haglin agreed, saying he wants to work with the city and is in full support of postponing any land purchases until concerns have been addressed but doesn't think the full board needs to be there for a joint meeting.
Nystrom volunteered to be one of the two board representatives.
Larson said she has a meeting with City Administrator Cassandra Torstenson scheduled Wednesday and will bring up the idea of a joint meeting then.