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Nisswa: School needs outlined; public input sought

An estimated $12 million to $13 million in renovations and additions have been identified for Nisswa Elementary School to successfully serve students into the future.

That's part of an estimated $228 million identified in improvement proposals for 12 buildings in the Brainerd School District, a small group learned Thursday, Oct. 12, during a listening session with Superintendent Laine Larson and Steve Lund, director of business services, at the Nisswa Community Center.

The Brainerd School Board is working on a long-range facilities plan with help from the communities the school district serves. Before scheduling a bond referendum in the near future, the school district is seeking community input on school building proposals to reach a final plan.

Larson and Lund said the district will find other sources of funds and will not ask voters for a $228 million bond. Lund said he is convinced there will be operational efficiencies, particularly at the high school, and a combination of existing funds and taxpayer funds would be used. The bonded portion sought from taxpayers would be the largest part.

"It's $228 million when looking at all 12 buildings. In the prioritizing stage, how do we get that number down and still achieve the objectives?" Lund asked.

Larson said a spring bond referendum is being eyed, but no date has been set yet. Also yet to be decided is if the ballot will have one or two questions, though Larson said she guesses there would be more than one possibility for voters to look at on the ballot.

"The goal is to put together the best plan with the least amount of impact to the taxpayer," she said.

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Brainerd School District residents are encouraged to review the district's proposed facilities plan and tax impacts and share their thoughts.

Visit www.blueprint181.org.

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Lund said the goal is to develop the right plan so when looking at the tax impact, voters will see some value.

"If we can put the right plan together at the right taxpayer cost and create value, then we've done our jobs right. We aren't there yet," Lund said.

Nisswa School

Nisswa School currently has a capacity for 250 students, but current enrollment is 299 students.

"It's sized perfectly for that (250 students) in terms of the cafeteria, media center, gym, outdoor playground," Lund said. "Nisswa is growing at a faster rate than some of our other schools are growing. When we look at Nisswa, we have to do something right away.

"We are seeing explosive numbers with early childhood needs," he said, so space for those students must be incorporated as well.

Other needs include a safe and secure entrance, and functional core spaces like the gym, library and music room.

Specifically, plans call for:

• Improved security and supervision.

• Renovate the existing building to modernize it throughout and provide dedicated art/science technology space.

• Reconfigure the kitchen to improve food service efficiency.

• Additions for classrooms and gym.

• Enlarge existing classrooms and music room.

The Nisswa Community Children's Library would return to what it was built for and would not be used for classroom space. In total, 18 classrooms are proposed compared to the current 13. The school is at capacity now with 300 students, and that capacity would increase to 400. The building would go from 40,638 square feet to a proposed 59,218 square feet.

Larson said there is plenty of land for the needed improvements at the school, which has eight acres.

"We will be sure Nisswa gets an equitable building," she said.

Shawn Hansen said Nisswa School was potentially going to be closed 10 years ago, so it was amazing to be talking about expanding the school. The city recently updated its comprehensive plan, and a key part of the plan is the importance to the community of keeping the school.

Larson said the school board and administration are committed to Nisswa and heard loud and clear some of the space problems.

"I want you to know we are committed. We are one district and Nisswa is not leaving our district," she said.

Kate Stumvoll asked about the possibility of providing early childhood options at Nisswa School instead of having to go to Brainerd.

"The goal is to always provide in Nisswa what we are providing in-town," Lund said.

Larson said that would be something to consider.

"We know Nisswa is a long way from Brainerd ... maybe there has to be something here to provide equity throughout the school district. I think that's a conversation we have to have."

History

Lund said the school district has had an increasing need for space for a while because of increasing enrollment, increasing special education needs and changing instructional best practices.

Increased enrollment at elementary schools has resulted in the need for space competing against programming, he said.

Also, the district has seen increased maintenance costs with aging schools, and hopes to achieve energy savings and cost efficiencies with modern updates.

Thus, the comprehensive long-range facilities process began in 2014, when a team of community members began evaluating all 12 school district buildings.

What's next?

The Brainerd School Board will meet at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 30, as well as Monday, Nov. 27, for updates on the long-range facilities plan.

"The only way we will have the best plan is for people to share needs and values to ensure we have the right plan when we move forward," Larson said, noting they are narrowing in on a plan that maximizes student opportunities, while focusing on how to best use existing assets.

Public input has been critical and will continue to be important as the right plan is developed that reflects the community's values, and at the best value.