Brainerd School District officials are still hopeful that within the next year, there will be a final solution for the Whittier school building.
“I hope that there will be something that provides healthy closure for all stakeholders involved,” said Superintendent Steve Razidlo.
The future of the old school building was again left unknown after a November Brainerd City Council meeting where the council voted against a proposed amendment that would have allowed community centers in residentially zoned districts. The move was largely because neighborhood residents spoke out against it.
The school board initially gave the nod to Northern Pines Mental Health Center to repurpose the old Whittier school building into the Whittier Elementary Community Center for Health and Wellness. But before Northern Pines could move forward with plans, the city of Brainerd needed to look into how to rezone the north Brainerd property, which is located in a residential district.
With the denial of the zoning ordinance amendment, school officials aren’t quite sure what the next step will be. They’ll discuss that at a Jan. 21 Facilities Committee meeting.
After first hearing the news of the zoning ordinance denial, Razidlo said he and other school officials were “frustrated.”
He said throughout the process of the Whittier Task Force meeting and selecting a proposal, the city and neighborhood were included in dialogue.
After the zoning ordinance amendment was shot down, the city council conducted a town hall meeting, where four ideas for the future of the building were listed as the top recommendations: A school building other than a District 181 school, demolish the building and extend Gregory Park, give it to a church, and a community center.
“To me, it’s interesting that a community center was No. 4,” Razidlo said. “I wonder what it means, if it’s a signal this (community center) idea might move forward?”
Razidlo added that he hopes that zoning ordinance amendment wasn’t shot down because of a stigma against mental illness.
Glenn Anderson, executive director of Northern Pines, said he is waiting for the school district’s next move, but is still committed to doing something useful with the building.
“We’re not throwing up our hands,” he said. “We’re hopeful the school district sticks with us and works with us on this.”