School board: Big changes for BHS and Harrison, Board talks options for district facilities

Major changes could be coming to Brainerd High School and Harrison Elementary School. The Brainerd School Board recently, in a seven-hour meeting, reviewed progress on the six-phase process of refining the district's comprehensive long-range faci...

A slide from a PowerPoint presentations shows multiples locations for a new Baxter Elementary School.
A slide from a PowerPoint presentations shows multiples locations for a new Baxter Elementary School.

Major changes could be coming to Brainerd High School and Harrison Elementary School.

The Brainerd School Board recently, in a seven-hour meeting, reviewed progress on the six-phase process of refining the district's comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

A large chunk of the Aug. 15 meeting was spent going over potential solutions for issues at each school in the district. Those solutions include a combination of right-sizing, renovation, reuse, repurposing and replacement.

Highlights of these solutions include:

• Brainerd High School: renovate,


• Baxter Elementary School: replace with a new school; repurpose for programs from other buildings,

• Harrison Elementary School: replace with a new school.

Erica Marcussen of Widseth Smith Nolting led the board through a presentation outlining the options for each school. Participants at a Harrison Elementary School community listening session were clear they preferred a new school be built at the same location, she said. Because of this, she presented two options for the school: a rebuild on the same site or a new school in a new location.

At the existing site, a new four-section school would have a capacity of 500 students, she said. A school at a new site would be the same size, she said, but be capable of expanding to 625 students in the future. The new site could include three early-childhood education classrooms.


A proposed 24,400-square-foot addition to the existing Harrison Elementary School would provide enough space, Marcussen said. According to city of Brainerd ordinances, the school would need to add 56 parking spaces as well, she said, unless the district received a variance to add less parking spaces. Between the two additions, there wouldn't be any space remaining on the existing block for green space or a play area for students.

Upgrades would include a larger gymnasium and fixes to make the school handicap-accessible and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The media center and music rooms would be moved to the main level from the lower level. Existing classrooms would be expanded in size and more classrooms would be included in the addition. The addition would add to the school's existing 35,000 square feet.

Marcussen provided four potential options for locations for a new Harrison school. The sites included areas near Jaycees Park, O'Brien Park and the intersection of County Highways 18 and 25, referred to as the old state hospital site. She also outlined how a new school would look just north of Buffalo Hills Park, on land the district already owns.


The land provides ample space for a 75,100-square-foot school, separate areas for buses and parents to pick up and drop off students, parking spaces, play areas and outdoor activity areas.

Consultants considered the feasibility of building a new school on the current Harrison site, Marcussen said, but community feedback showed a preference for adding to the current building as opposed to building a new school.


Marcussen presented two options for renovating BHS, both of which involved shifting programs and functions of other district buildings. Both options included keeping south campus intact but repurposing the building for other programs. They also include demolishing Lincoln Education Center and turning the block into about 250 parking spaces.

The first option includes repurposing Baxter to include early childhood education programs from the Brainerd Learning Center and Washington Educational Services Building. This option leaves the alternative middle school program and alternative education center at the Brainerd Learning Center.

The first option repurposes south campus to house the programs from Lincoln Education Center. Both options include a revisioned north campus, including a performing arts center on the north side and expanded athletics facilities on the south side. The main entrance on South Fifth Street would remain, but be renovated to become more welcoming, Marcussen said. A commons area would be located near the entrance as a place for students and community members to gather, she said.

The first option includes an addition on the north side of north campus for two programs currently housed in south campus, Marcussen said. Bus drop off and pick up would be relocated to the north side of north campus. More classrooms would be added and the media center and cafeteria would remain where they are. Students would be able to eat in the new commons area, she said.

The athletics facilities renovations include a new eight-lane swimming pool and a new gymnasium, Marcussen said. The existing pool area would become a gym, bringing the total number of gym stations to five. This would solve the issue of the adapted floor hockey team having to travel to Riverside Elementary School for practice, she said.


The career and technical education wing would be reconfigured for a more inviting look, Marcussen said. The greenhouse currently behind south campus would be moved to the north campus.

Board Chair Bob Nystrom asked if the proposed 1,000-seat theater in the performing arts center could be expanded to 1,200 seats. The Lakes Area Music Festival currently fills nearly every seat in Tornstrom Auditorium, he said, which is almost 1,000 seats. The theater could be expanded to 1,200 seats, Marcussen said.

"Because I know Scott Lykins would like more seats than the 1,000 in Tornstrom," Nystrom said. Lykins is the founding executive and artistic director of the festival.

According to the Tornstrom Auditorium renovation page on the WSN website, the auditorium has 950 seats. While festival concerts are well-attended, there are often multiple empty seats available.

The district should work with the city of Brainerd to vacate the portion of South Fifth Street from Oak to Pine streets, Nystrom said. Eliminating traffic from that portion of the street would make it safer for people walking from the parking lot to the high school, he said.

"That new parking lot would be the new entry, not only to the front part of the high school, but also for the performing arts center," Nystrom said.

The district owns some properties on the block south of Lincoln Education Center, directly across South Fifth Street from the high school entrance. Buying the rest of the properties on the block and turning the second block into a parking lot would add more spaces for people attending athletics events, Superintendent Laine Larson said.

"That's a huge piece for our guests and our fans," Larson said. "There's got to be adequate parking, because there isn't right now."

There are three homes on the block not owned by the district, Larson said. Two homeowners have expressed interest in selling their homes to the district at some point, Nystrom said.

"I think property owners have gotten the gist of it, because we keep buying houses," Nystrom said.

The first option overall frees up room by moving early childhood education programs to the existing Baxter Elementary School, Marcussen said. It creates room at the Brainerd Learning Center for programs for middle school and older students. Removing early childhood education programs from Washington frees up about 13,000 square feet of space, she said. Early childhood education programs would be housed at the existing Baxter and Nisswa elementary schools, as well as at a new Harrison Elementary School.

Because of the geographic size of the district, it's best to have early childhood education programs at multiple locations, said Cori Reynolds, director of community education. It helps build relationships with families by having the programs connected to an elementary school, she said. Nancy Anderson, assistant director of Paul Bunyan Education Coop, said the same premise holds for special education programs.

The second option moves programs from Lincoln Education Center to Baxter and moves middle school and older student programs from Brainerd Learning Center to a reconfigured south campus. Brainerd Learning Center would keep its early childhood education program and add the early childhood program from Washington.

Much of the changes to north campus in the second option remain the same from the first option. In the second option, south campus would house a variety of alternative education programs. About half of the existing south campus building would be demolished to make room for parking spaces for athletics events, Marcussen said.

There are potential synergies in the second option with the Adult Education Center, moved to south campus, being across the street from the career and technical education portion of north campus, Marcussen said.


A new Baxter Elementary School would be a five-section school with a capacity for 625 students. This school would have four early childhood education classrooms.

There is no room to expand Baxter Elementary School at its current site, Marcussen said, so a new site in Baxter would have to be selected. She presented a map of the area with nine circled locations as plausible options, but focused on land the district already owns adjacent to Forestview Middle School.

She presented an option for a five-section elementary school at the intersection of Highland Scenic Road and Mountain Ash Drive, using some land currently set aside as the Dean Makey School Forest. The footprint for the new school would retain as much of the forestland as possible, Marcussen said. It would include separate pick up and drop off areas for buses and parents, as well as play areas and outdoor activity areas.

When asked if he had anything to add, Baxter Principal Steve Lundberg had a succinct response.

"I say let's just start building it," Lundberg said.

Consultants will continue to refine the facilities options presented to the board, said Dave Bergeron of Foster, Jacobs & Johnson. Board member Chris Robinson was absent for the meeting.

The district started the long-range facilities planning process in July of 2015. The past two years have included compiling and reviewing data on the district's facilities, demographics, enrollment trends and more. The process included data evaluation, site visits to other schools, reviewing enrollment data, reviewing the conditions of the district's facilities and looking at the costs and financial capacity of the district.

The Brainerd School Board approved the plan in November of 2016. The district hired Foster, Jacobs & Johnson Inc., for facilities program management services. The consultants are tasked with leading the district through a six-phase process Larson developed. The process includes:

• Comprehensive district communications planning,

• Stakeholder engagement: internal and external listening sessions,

• Potential surveys and assessments,

• Develop project scope options and alternatives,

• Bond referendum election process,

• Comprehensive construction management services.


For more info

Visit for more information on the Brainerd Public Schools comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

The site includes information on each school building in the district, as well as other resources.

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