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Survey says buildings in need of repair: School board told that communities not unified

Dave Bergeron and Lori Christensen, consultants with ICS Consulting, the firm hired by the district to help assess its facility issues and needs, present information to the Brandon-Evansville School Board at Monday night's meeting.

The results are in: the Brandon-Evansville School District has great teachers and staff, but the buildings are in need of repair and modernization. In addition, residents like the smaller class sizes found in the district, but there are some challenges when it comes to students and staff having to travel between two buildings, one in Evansville and one in Brandon.

Another big challenge is the two communities not being unified, according to information provided by Dave Bergeron and Lori Christensen, consultants with ICS Consulting, the firm hired by the district to help assess its facility issues and needs.

Bergeron and Christensen provided an overview to school board members at its Monday night meeting of the listening session results, as well as results from an online survey and overviews of the district financials and facilities.

They also provided information on a potential path moving forward.

Listening sessions

ICS held the listening sessions with district residents, along with staff, students, board members and administrators. In all, about 160 people took part.

According to the results, the majority of residents attended a session because they wanted to listen, gather information and add input, saying they are concerned about the future of their children and schools.

The overwhelming response for what is great about the district was the caring, passionate, dedicated teachers and staff. Although when the students answered, that answer tied with great sports teams.

Challenges included cost of needs and tax impact, old/tired and outdated buildings, lack of classroom space, staff and students split between two buildings, gym space, and two strong, "stubborn" communities coming together and respecting each other's differences and compromising.

The facility needs summary included improving educational spaces (classrooms and gyms), improving safety and security of both buildings, indoor air quality improvements and improved heating ventilating and air conditioning systems.

ICS will be hosting a community meeting, Christensen said, where she and Bergeron will go over all the results with district residents. The meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Online survey results

The online survey was available to district residents from Sept. 21 through Oct. 6, with 464 people responding to 45 multiple choice questions. Of those responding, 144 provided additional comments, which Bergeron said were mostly positive.

Only one survey was allowed per computer, and it would have been "difficult to skew the results," he said, adding that 430 people consistently answered all of the questions. He also said that the survey results were not meant to give the district definite answers, but to provide feedback.

Bergeron did not go over every single question, but highlighted a few. More than 40 percent (40.2) of respondents have lived within the school district for more than 30 years, with 17.0 percent living in the district between 21-30 years, 21.6 percent between 11-20 years, 10.1 percent between 5-10 years and 9.1 percent less than five years.

Another question asked how the respondents would rate the quality of education provided by the district. Only 14 percent (64 people) rated it fair or poor. Nearly 80 percent (356) rated it as excellent or good.

The quality of the school district's buildings and facilities were rated poor or fair by 76.8 percent (351 people), good by 19.3 percent (88) and excellent by 1.5 percent (seven).

There were 284 people (66.0 percent) who strongly agreed or agreed that district leaders are working hard to find a plan that benefits students, staff and both communities, while 83 (19.3 percent) neither agreed or disagreed, and 63 (14.7 percent) who either disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Pros and cons

ICS consultants performed a walk-through of each building to come up with their own analysis. Christensen provided a pro and con list of each of the buildings, noting that it was difficult to come up with the pros for the Evansville facility.

Brandon's positives included: exterior brick is in good condition; classroom size is close to standards; site size/location; new football field; heating system is already hot water; ADA accessibility; and updated restroom facilities.

Brandon's negatives were: no secure entrance; outdated infrastructure and ventilation; limited parking; asbestos floor tile; and multiple elevators.

The pros for Evansville included: office proximity to main entrance, which is an easy renovation for a secure entrance; corridor aesthetics; 1970 gymnasium space; city partnership; and baseball field appearance/condition.

The negatives for Evansville were: age of facility; not ADA accessible; outdated infrastructure and ventilation; unused space; and building envelope condition.

Moving forward

Bergeron and Christensen provided six steps in moving forward, which included:

• Developing a comprehensive district communication plan.

• Conducting additional surveys and assessments.

• Developing project scope options and alternatives.

• Having the public review the options.

• Bringing the prefered plan through the referendum process.

• Implementing the plan.

The consultants would like to see a district demographic analysis done by a third party that would show student enrollment projections, along with a district educational adequacy assessment, which is a complete analysis of each school building based on nearly 20 categories chosen by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The cost to the district to hire ICS for the second phase, which includes all but the plan implementation, is $23,400. The four-member board (three board members were not present) at Monday night's meeting unanimously approved a contract with ICS for the second phase.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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