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School officials present process background, history

A comprehensive long-range facilities plan for Brainerd Public Schools includes recommended actions for each building in the district. At a listening session at Harrison Elementary School Tuesday night, Superintendent Laine Larson and Steve Lund,...

Brainerd Public Schools Superintendent Laine Larson (left) places notes on a board during a listening session Tuesday at Harrison Elementary School. Also pictured is facilitator Eric Kaiser from Foster, Jacobs and Johnson. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch Video
Brainerd Public Schools Superintendent Laine Larson (left) places notes on a board during a listening session Tuesday at Harrison Elementary School. Also pictured is facilitator Eric Kaiser from Foster, Jacobs and Johnson. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch Video

A comprehensive long-range facilities plan for Brainerd Public Schools includes recommended actions for each building in the district.

At a listening session at Harrison Elementary School Tuesday night, Superintendent Laine Larson and Steve Lund, director of business services, spent about a half-hour going over the planning process.

The Brainerd School Board approved the plan in November of 2016. The recommendations in the plan include a combination of right-sizing, renovation, reuse, repurposing and replacement.

Right-sizing involves making sure the school has the right number of students, based on the available space in the school. For example, the right-size capacity for Riverside Elementary School is 500 students, but the current enrollment is 620 students, according to the district.

The recommendations are:

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• Brainerd High School: renovate,

• Forestview Middle School: maintain,

• Baxter Elementary School: replace with a new school; repurpose for programs from Lincoln Education Center and Brainerd Learning Center,

• Garfield Elementary School: right-size and renovate,

• Harrison Elementary School: replace with a new school,

• Lowell Elementary School: right-size and renovate,

• Nisswa Elementary School: right-size and renovate,

• Riverside Elementary School: right-size and renovate,

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• Brainerd Learning Center: reuse for early learning programs,

• Lincoln Education Center: vacate, relocating programs to current Baxter Elementary School,

• Washington Educational Services Building: renovate.

Visit www.bit.ly/2fsCJWZ to view a final draft of the comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

Costs and enrollment

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.

There are 12 facilities in the district, comprising 1.2 million square feet and 289 acres of land. The district's boundaries encompass 516 square miles. The oldest building in the district, Washington Educational Services Building, was built in 1929. The newest building, Forestview Middle School, was built in 2004. The average age of the district's buildings is 44 years old.

From 1929 to the construction of Brainerd High School north campus in 1968, the district built new buildings about every 10-15 years, Lund said. The district then halted construction until Forestview Middle School was built in 2004, a gap of about 35 years.

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"We can't have replacement cycles of 35 years," Lund said.

One part of the plan involved evaluating future maintenance costs for district buildings. Future maintenance involves renovating buildings and updating the structures reaching the end of their useful lives, Lund said. It addresses deficiencies the district hasn't fixed, like handicap accessibility issues. There are also standard fixes, like roofs, boilers, air-handling systems, windows and more.

To measure these costs, the district worked with Kraus-Anderson, a national construction company and leader when it comes to constructing schools, Lund said. They were able to provide a rough order of magnitude estimate, he said, which adds up construction costs, contingencies and soft costs.

Washington Educational Services Building, the oldest building in the district, had the highest future maintenance costs, coming in at $20 million. Forestview Middle School had the lowest cost, at $1.1 million. The total future maintenance costs for all buildings in the district is $88 million.

However, Lund stressed it's important to look at the maintenance costs broken down on a per-square-foot basis. When figured this way, Harrison Elementary School's cost was highest at $254 per square foot, with Lincoln Education Center close behind at $244 per square foot.

The process included a review of the district's enrollment forecasting, which revealed figures close to what the district projects. Based on an average growth projection, the district could expect to add 473 students over the next 10 years. The current capacities of Brainerd High School and Forestview Middle School can accommodate this growth, Lund said, but the district will need to add capacity to its elementary schools in order to keep up. In terms of enrollment, Brainerd Public Schools is the fifth-largest district in the state outside of the seven-county Twin Cities area, he said.

Using the plan

Larson walked through how the district is implementing the comprehensive long-range facilities plan. The district hired Foster, Jacobs & Johnson Inc., for facilities program management services. The estimated costs of the services is $125,000.

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.

After community feedback is gathered in the second phase and other data has been gathered in the third phase, the school board will decide whether to propose a bond referendum to the voters, Larson said. She doesn't know what the board will decide to do, she said, but the next few months will be spent gathering information so the board can make a decision, which will likely happen in the fall.

Live look

Following the listening session, Principal Cathy Nault and Earl Wolleat, district director of buildings and grounds, led Brainerd Dispatch reporters on a tour of the school's lowest floor. Nault highlighted how the school has used any available space it can, resorting to turning a janitor's closet into an office shared by two employees. A shower room was converted into a special education classroom, as was a locker room.

A broom closet-sized speech therapy room sits across from the cafeteria and kitchen, which means lots of ambient noise seeps into the office, Nault said. The media center will soon be subdivided to include two Title I reading and math intervention rooms, she said, resulting in less space in the media center. There has even been talk of converting space under a stairwell into a classroom or storage space, she said. The school is not handicap accessible, which means if a student is in a wheelchair, they can't attend Harrison.

The school's cafeteria and kitchen share space in the same room, with no division between the two areas. The cold storage freezers, small prep tables, dishwasher and lunch tables all share limited space in the room.

"This is so inadequate," Nault said.

The budget for long-term facilities maintenance throughout the district is about $1.2 million annually, Wolleat said. The money has to be spread across 12 buildings, which means many buildings go without necessary repairs, he said.

"It's not feasible to do it with the existing monies that we have," Wolleat said. "Bonding is the only answer."

FACTBOX

Listen in

Comprehensive long-range facilities plan neighborhood listening sessions

• 4-5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Washington Educational Services Building

• 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday, Garfield Elementary School

• 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, Lowell Elementary School

• 5:30-7 p.m. May 18, Baxter Elementary School

• 7-8:30 p.m. May 23, Brainerd High School

• 6-7:30 p.m. May 24, Forestview Middle School

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