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Brainerd: Disconnect persists between city, district on parking plan

Brainerd School Board members discuss matters during their meeting Monday, Dec. 10, at the Washington Educational Services building. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Property acquisition will commence in the Brainerd School District, but not everywhere district officials hoped.

The school board agreed Monday, Dec. 10, to move forward with acquiring seven properties near Harrison Elementary School and two near Brainerd High School. The properties are:

  • 501 SE 16th St.
  • 505 SE 16th St.
  • 509 SE 16th St.
  • 515 SE 16th St.
  • 1601 Oak St.
  • 1616 Norwood St.
  • 704 S. Sixth St.
  • 710 S. Sixth St.

The Brainerd School Board will host a public hearing on one more property near Harrison Elementary Wednesday, Dec. 19, as the property was mislabeled on the original acquisition list posted in September.

Acquisitions are also in the works for two properties near Garfield Elementary School and three near Lowell Elementary School. Though the Lowell properties were on Monday's school board meeting agenda, the board did not approve them, as they were left somewhat confused after hearing a recap of discussion from Monday's city council meeting, which took place at the same time.

After looking at the district's parking and land acquisition plans in detail during a joint meeting last week, Brainerd City Council members discussed the plans at the beginning of their meeting Monday, while the school board put the issue near the end of the agenda so they could take council comments into consideration.

Cori Reynolds, director of community education in the school district, attended the council meeting early in the evening and then gave school board members a recap. She told the board council members seemed to be hung up on the district's proposal to make Southeast 15th Street near Harrison a one-way to better accommodate the flow of parent pick-up/drop-off.

A council motion to take another look at the conversion of 15th Street but otherwise support the district's revised parking plan—which now has 10 fewer property acquisitions—died for lack of a second.

After more discussion, Reynolds said, the council agreed on a split vote to advise the city's engineering department to work with the district and review the plan again.

District officials previously emphasized turning 15th Street into a one-way was not a done deal and can still be looked at with the aid of city staff.

Working off Reynolds' information, school board member Tom Haglin said he did not feel comfortable moving forward with the property acquisitions near Lowell. Haglin said those properties will primarily be used for parking and it is unclear if the council is on board with more parking. Because a large portion of the acquisitions near Harrison will be used for playgrounds and green space, and because BHS will definitely need more parking for the performing arts center, Haglin said he felt comfortable moving forward with those acquisitions. Superintendent Laine Larson added the owner of the two parcels to be acquired near the high school previously spoke to the district about wanting to sell. The property acquisitions near Garfield were not on Monday's agenda.

"This concern again about buying property. If for some reason, (council members) say no parking, we now have houses that we've got to do something with but can't. ... I feel bad for the property owners because we continue to leave them hanging," Haglin said, noting he felt like council members were on board with the district's plan after last week's joint meeting.

The council did not vote on parking or acquisition plans during that joint meeting, agreeing they wanted time for the public to weigh in.

A representative of Widseth Smith Nolting, who also attended Monday's council meeting, told the board he talked with City Engineer Paul Sandy and City Administrator Cassandra Torstenson and set up a meeting with them for Wednesday morning. He said he believes the council's biggest hang-up is with resident concerns about loss of on-street parking if Southeast 15th Street turns into a one-way. After the meeting with Torstenson and Sandy, he said the council will be able to revisit the issue during its Dec. 17 council meeting. Board members then agreed to table the Lowell property acquisition and revisit it at their Dec. 19 meeting.

The next school board meeting is noon Wednesday, Dec. 19, with a property acquisition hearing at 11:45 a.m. This meeting was moved, as the next regularly scheduled meeting fell on Christmas Eve.

City council meeting:

The Brainerd City Council opened its meeting Monday, Dec. 10, with a public comment period on the district's parking and acquisition plan.

Ed Shaw, who owns a law firm on South Sixth Street near the high school and has publicly spoken against the district's acquisition plans several times, did so again before the council.

Shaw's law office was originally on the district's acquisition list to be used for a parking lot but was taken off after plans were revised.

"The revised proposal is certainly an improvement over what we had before, no doubt there. Certainly I appreciate that my property is spared, but it's certainly about more than me and my particular piece of property and any of that," Shaw said, adding the board should not spend millions of dollars on property acquisitions for unnecessary parking lots.

"What I've heard from the district is the mantra of safety over and over again, but not actual evidence—as councilman (Dave) Badeaux and others have pointed out—that parking lots increase safety," Shaw said. "The facts and the evidence skew to the contrary."

Shaw urged the council to "stick to its guns" and keep negotiating with the school district to improve its proposal even more.

Council discussion followed, and many members—including Kevin Stunek, Jan Lambert, Sue Hilgart and Mayor Ed Menk—expressed concern over turning 15th Street into a one-way.

Menk said the district should reconsider acquiring two properties to the west of the school—which were originally on the acquisition list but taken off during revisions—for more space instead of making a one-way street.

Hilgart said she heard from a resident who lives on 15th Street and is worried about losing on-street parking for their home. Stunek said he has heard more resident concerns over that portion of the design at Harrison than any of the plans at other schools.

Lambert moved to support the district's revised acquisition plans and take a closer look at turning 15th Street into a one-way, but the motion died for lack of a second.

Council member Dave Badeaux reminded the rest of the council district officials already agreed the 15th Street project can be altered.

A motion subsequently passed on a split vote to direct the engineering department to work with the school district and revisit all the plans.

"If they're looking at 15th Street, why not just look at all of it quick?" Stunek said of the district's parking plans.

When Council President Dave Pritschet asked if anyone wanted to take action on supporting the district's property acquisition plan, no one spoke up.

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