The Brainerd School Board Facilities Committee Thursday recommended board approval to pursue a partnership with the Brainerd Family YMCA to create a joint parking lot near the Washington Educational Services Building.
The school district has been required by the Brainerd City Council to build a 55-stall parking lot at Washington by the end of the year as part of its conditional use permit obtained in 2005 when Washington was remodeled.
The school board previously voted in March to construct the lot this summer on half of the former Washington school's ball fields, located about a block southeast of the building on Pine Street.
The school district had purchased three lots years ago between the YMCA, 602 Oak St., and Washington school building, 804 Oak St., for future plans of creating a joint parking lot. Steve Lund, director of business services, recently checked into the possibility of utilizing these lots and building a lot there instead.
Lund visited with adjacent property owners - there are about four rental properties owned by individual owners in between Washington and the YMCA. All expressed a desire to sell their properties, or in one situation, trade a property with an unoccupied duplex currently owned by the district, said Lund. The YMCA also owns one property.
Lund said if the district stuck with its original plan of paving the ball fields behind the building, it would cost about $160,000 and eliminate green space for the neighborhood.
A second option, which the committee voted to pursue, would have the district purchase property owned by Linda and Rick Pickar at 614 S. Eighth St. for about $87,500 and trade Dave Pueringer for his corner rental property at 624 S. Eighth St. for the district's duplex located a block away, also paying him $45,000 for his property. It would cost the district a total of about $263,500, or about 75 percent of the total cost, to construct this near half-block parking lot, including building demolition costs and property purchases. It will create about 70 parking spaces, which could be shared between the YMCA and Washington.
This is about a $100,000 increase over constructing the lot at the ball fields.
The YMCA would chip in $62,500, or about 25 percent of the total cost. YMCA executive director Randy Klinger and two YMCA Foundation board members, Pastor Andy Smith and Paul Bloom, also spoke in favor of this project. Klinger said if the YMCA decides to expand in the future, this parking lot would likely help the YMCA to obtain its own conditional use permit from the city.
"Our board is very enthusiastic about this," said Smith. "The board sees it as a long-term solution and even as a beautification of the neighborhood."
Lund said the district has $160,000 in its capital reserves fund for a parking lot and the extra $100,000 could be obtained from the fund the following year to pay for the project.
Lund said district officials have not had any discussions yet with the city. He said the district would need to apply for a zoning change for this parking arrangement and find out if it satisfies the city's CUP requirements.
Lund said he would like city officials to entertain the idea of contributing the $25,000 cost for angled parking as part of the city's Eighth Street reconstruction project because this parking lot would serve two organizations within the city, in addition to surrounding businesses.
A third plan would be to also purchase two properties at 602 and 606 S. Eighth streets from Ralph Strakka for about $175,000 to completely pave the entire half block, which would cost the district about $440,000 for the entire project. The district has held meetings with the Strakkas since 2000 to discuss purchasing the properties. The Strakkas attended Thursday's meeting. When asked by board member Bob Nystrom, the Strakkas said they would be open to the possibility of a contract-for-deed purchase of their properties to complete the half-block parking lot.
Board member and facilities committee chair Lew Hudson said he has had mixed feelings about the issue but ultimately felt the joint parking lot would be a better option.
"It is my firm feeling that we have an opportunity to do a project right, instead of doing a project cheap and in my experience, I've always leaned toward doing it right instead of the opposite," said Hudson. "And that's where I stand right now."
Hudson said board member Molly Kurtzman, who was unable to attend the meeting, told him the night before she was leaning toward paving the ball fields instead of paying $100,000 more for the joint parking lot but didn't have much of the information presented at the committee meeting.
Board member Reed Campbell said he would rather the district sold some of its existing properties to construct the joint parking lot.
"If we sell other properties, this will be a wash," said Campbell.
Board member Ruth Nelson said she has mixed feelings about supporting this plan when it comes to the board.
"There is long-term good for the community and for the YMCA, but I don't know if it's for the long-term good for the school district," Nelson said. "Three to four years ago if I were sitting on this board I would go for this plan but we are very financially strapped. Our mission isn't to build parking lots, our mission is being committed to quality schools. I see it in the long-term vision of the community and not the school district. ... I guess I'll have to think about this a little bit more. I don't know if I will vote yes to Plan A or not."
Board member Kent Montgomery said it isn't an easy decision but the joint parking lot would preserve a block of green space and would be the best way for the district to use its lots purchased west of the building.
"We need to look broader than our finances and longer than two years," said Montgomery. "Unless I hear compelling arguments, I would be in favor of building a parking lot to the west of the building."
Nystrom said the dream of a new performing arts center in Brainerd may never happen and parking is an issue when people attend events at Tornstrom Auditorium.
"I strongly support going to the west, even in these tough, economic times," said Nystrom. "I just think we need to make this happen. I really believe we have to look at the big picture and this vision has really gone on for 10 years."
Nystrom asked if Lund could check with Pueringer and see if he would consider a trade with a house at 714 S. Sixth St. that the district also owns, which has been converted to office space.
The committee of Campbell, Hudson and Nystrom unanimously recommended approval of this joint parking lot. The school board likely will consider the recommendation at its July 13 meeting.
The committee tabled discussion on the arena lease for the Brainerd Area Civic Center and is waiting to find out what happens between discussions between the city and the Brainerd Amateur Hockey Association on management of the facility.
Committee members also received a listing of the district's real estate holdings but there was no discussion or action.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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