Brainerd School Board Heaps Praise on Districtwide Construction Crews

The article originally appeared in the Brainerd Dispatch.

While the Brainerd School District prepares for an unusual and challenging 2020-21 school year, construction crews have been rushing to install $39.5 million in new construction on facilities across the district.

The Brainerd Warrior football team practices below the high school Monday, Sept. 14, as high school principal Andrea Rusk (left) talks with school board member Bob Nystrom during a tour, led by Scott Whittemore and Damien Williams of ICS, of new construction at Brainerd High School. The tour was part of a visit to Harrison Elementary School and the high school to show construction progress for school board members and administrators. PC: Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

While the Brainerd School District scrambles to overhaul its curricula for hybrid learning this 2020-21 school year, it may be easy to forget the district’s facilities have been getting a significant overhaul of their own.

Voters approved a $205 million bond referendum in April 2018 and while 2020 has been an unusual year full of upheaval, crews continue to work in what is now the midway point of a four-year districtwide construction initiative. During the Brainerd School Board meeting Monday, Sept. 14, Damien Williams, a project manager with ICS, gave a status update on construction projects affecting many major facilities in the district.

“Local contractors and our team successfully installed about $39.5 million of construction in the last 16 weeks — no easy task,” Williams said. “August was a challenging month, but we really want to commend the district staff. They’ve done a great job working with our teams, getting these buildings ready for school. We couldn’t be happier with the results.”

Brainerd school board members Bob Nystrom, (left), Sue Kern and Ruth Nelson listen to Scott Whittemore with ICS talk about the construction Monday, Sept. 14, in the new performing arts center at the Brainerd High School. PC: Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Among the highlights, Williams noted that after renovations Garfield, Nisswa, Harrison and the new Baxter elementary school buildings are now occupied, with only a few small-scale finishing projects, mostly on the external parts of the building, to complete. While still far from completion, portions of Brainerd High School are now occupied and the crew broke ground on the 36-foot dig that will house the facility’s pool. The project is expected to commence at the Warrior Early Learning Center — overhauling the old Baxter Elementary School — with an expected start date of Sept. 29 this year. Crews continue to install new infrastructure at Riverside Elementary School and Lowell Elementary School, with roofing, electrical, plumbing and air ducts constituting a common area of focus at this time.

Board member Charles Black Lance noted the new Baxter Elementary School facility is a resounding success — at least, in the eyes of his son.

“I don’t want to be overly dramatic with this, but I have a 9-year-old son who’s in fourth grade at Baxter Elementary School, and you have the two thumbs up,” Black Lance said. “A beautiful building.”

Black Lance asked if there would be any gender neutral bathrooms in Brainerd High School. In response, project manager Scott Whittemore said there would be single-use bathrooms throughout the facility.

Board member Bob Nystrom had effusive praise for the architectural-engineering teams behind these various projects and lauded them for their dedication above and beyond stipulations in a contract.

“I just want to thank you and your team for the excellent work that you guys have done, it is phenomenal,” Nystrom said. “When you told me the story today about how some of the project managers did work where a contractor had failed on their own time — I mean, that is dedication and hard work! Thank you, I’m very grateful.”