Pine River-Backus School District begins capital improvement talks

School board members seem to agree construction projects are necessary.

Pine River-Backus School Board.jpg
At a Monday, March 7, 2022, meeting of the Pine River-Backus School Board, Business Manager Jolene Bengtson talks to the board about upcoming capital improvement projects.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

PINE RIVER — No plans were made at the Monday, March 7, regular Pine River-Backus School Board meeting , but Superintendent Jonathan Clark prepared board members for upcoming building project discussions.

There were two main building projects included in the discussion: modification to elementary school Room 47 and the addition or expansion of a nursing room.

Modification of Room 47 is to convert the room to use as a developmental cognitive disorder classroom. The room was formerly a kindergarten classroom, and as such includes a bathroom. Business Manager Jolene Bengtson said the room will need a shower. It would also require changes to the wiring.

Bengtson provided a 2022-2023 budget projection that includes the project for an estimated $140,000.

Capital projects discussed at the meeting included other work, such as regular maintenance of ceiling tiles, floor tiles, fences, sidewalks, furniture and surveillance cameras.


"I don't think you're out of line," said board Chair Chris Cunningham. "I think a lot of the stuff here we've been looking at and we need to do."

Further down the road is the construction or expansion of the district's nursing offices. Clark said the coronavirus has highlighted the district's need for a larger, more centrally located and dedicated nursing space. Optimally that space would be designed with a location and ventilation that reduce the chance of spreading illnesses like coronavirus and flu.

Bengtson said the project would likely not begin until 2024. Early estimates suggest the cost could range from $750,000 to $1.3 million. Director of Buildings and Grounds Karl Flier said the cost to construct a new facility off the great hall similar to the district office would likely be near the higher end of that estimate.

Bengtson and Clark said the district qualifies for $1.5 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund dollars. Those funds must be spent by Sept. 30, 2024. While this project would likely qualify for those funds, Bengtson said she would prefer if the district did not draw down its ESSER funds completely with just one project, but instead that they would also supplement those funds including general funds.

"We do need to address the nurse station," Clark said.

Clark said another option is to expand the station that is currently attached to the elementary school office. Space there is limited and it would mean taking space from the office and perhaps other rooms.

Board member Dave Sheley said he appreciated how installing a station off the great hall would not disrupt school operations.

Cunningham said in light of the district's experience with coronavirus, he thinks it makes sense to have the station located where fewer people might come in contact with a person going to the nurse facilities.


This was merely a discussion item. No decisions were made on these projects.

In other business Monday, the board:

  • Discussed many recent successes in PR-B school programs, including Connor Tulenchik winning a state wrestling title, PR-B Knowledge Bowl advancing to state, PR-B robotics placing seventh in Duluth, PR-B speech team winning awards and more.
  • Agreed to hire Jennifer Deplazes as clerical staff, Nick Ackerman as elementary math teacher and Terry Brink as junior high baseball coach.
  • Accepted the resignations of Laure Marquardt, special education teacher; Cindy Grindahl, paraprofessional; and Nichole Bergmann, high school business teacher.
  • Learned the digital sign near the Cass County Fairgrounds was damaged by storms and will be replaced by May.
  • Learned Clark and Flier will review the district's remaining coronavirus mitigation efforts a week after spring break.
  • Learned the two district strategic planning meetings were rescheduled due to bad weather. A meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday, March 14, in the high school media center.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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