Turning Franklin Junior High School into a performing arts center was one idea that kept surfacing at a community meeting Thursday at the school.
The Brainerd School District plans to close the Franklin school when the middle school in Baxter opens. Brainerd School District voters approved a $59.9 million building bond last spring to construct the middle school and make other school renovations.
Nearly 50 residents attended the meeting Thursday hosted by the district's 12-member Franklin Junior High Task Force. Those attending were given the opportunity to voice their suggestions about the future use of the Franklin building.
The residents were split into small groups and were taken on a tour of the building.
Bernie Finch, of north Brainerd, said she has so many ideas for the school and said the space the Franklin site offers would be fantastic for a performing arts center. She said the artists could live there and have their gallery on site.
"I'd love to keep the auditorium," she said.
She said her son is an avid skateboarder and he'd love to have a skate park in the back of the building.
"I could come up with a hundred ideas."
Mary Farmer of rural Brainerd said she is excited about the art space concept. But said she needed to hear more possibilities.
"I just hope they don't compromise the building, where they change it so much that it loses its architecture," she said.
Vivian Bexell and her daughter, Jennifer, live right next to the school on 10th Street North. Vivian Bexell said she does not want to see Franklin turned into low-income housing.
"I have lived here for 14 years and had two children go through this school," she said. "We will move if it is turned into low-income housing.
"We quit construction in our house to see what will happen."
Bexell said a few of her neighbors may move because Franklin is closing as a school and one has already sold their home.
Janet and Jim Guin, who also live on 10th Street North, also do not want to see Franklin turned into low-income housing or apartments. They said then they'd be concerned about parking, especially in the winter.
"I don't want to see the building torn down, as long as they make good use of it," said Berniece Hedquist of Brainerd.
Hedquist said Brainerd has already torn so many neat buildings down, such as the old railroad depot. She said other towns have preserved the buildings and she'd like to see Brainerd do the same.
Hedquist said she was happy the school district hosted a meeting to keep the public informed. She said at first she was concerned about why the school district wanted to build a new school and close Franklin. Now she understands why because of the cost to maintain the building as a school, including the cost of a new indoor air quality control unit.
Greg and Bettye Guenin, who live on Eighth Street North, suggested that the school could be turned into a craft store or the Grace Unit for St. Joseph's Medical Center. They also said any additional space could be used by the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce.
"I don't want to see it as a group home," said Bettye Guenin.
Other suggestions included using Franklin for a teen center, athletic facility, day-care center, college housing or a business incubator center.
Bob Nystrom, school board member and member of the Franklin Task Force, said the task force will make two or three recommendations to the school board in March.
Franklin was built in 1932 and is 152,768 square feet in size. The school sits on 21 acres and includes the athletic field behind the school.
When Widseth, Smith and Nolting, an architecture and engineering firm, conducted its analysis of the school last year, it found that the school would need $7.27 million in repairs and renovations for continued use as a school.
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