As many of you that have been here for a while know, local voters in my school district here in Central Minnesota approved a $200+ million dollar bond referendum to construct, renovate, and—to use their euphemism—“deconstruct” a historic neighborhood school in order to build a bigger parking lot at the high school.

While I was frustrated with the approach, I initially respected the notion that there were few good options available (as I explained, that is the nature of local school funding). I was prepared to support these proposals, until it became apparent that one of the dominant motivations for school district officials was to increase surface parking throughout downtown and the city’s core neighborhoods. The plan called for private homes and small businesses to be purchased and razed. A Depression-era brick school—a beautiful building in the core of the downtown—would also be razed for what turns out to be only 20 additional parking stalls.

I opposed all this parking lot stuff, but my voice represented a small minority of thought in a huge district where most everyone—including the entire school board and senior district administration—lives outside of the city and drives to school facilities. I lost, and lost at every stage in the process.

One of the primary arguments for tearing down the historic school for parking was that it was needed. Teachers drive. Administrators drive. Students drive. Staff and students testified to parking problems around the school and to difficulty finding parking.

I and others suggested there were more creative ways to solve these problems, that throwing money and a wrecking ball at what is really a parking management problem was unwarranted. We suggested carpooling. We suggested restricting parking to seniors only, or to those who get high grades or good attendance. We thought a late bus for kids in activities might be cheaper and more effective in the long run than millions in parking expansion. These ideas were attacked and criticized in all the predictable ways. Few were willing to hear alternatives.

My oldest will be a student at the high school beginning this fall. As a parent, here’s an email that I recently received (my emphasis added in bold):

Dear Warrior Students and Parents/Guardians,

Student parking for the 2019-2020 school year will be significantly impacted by construction projects at Brainerd High School.  We need students, parents, and staff to be patient and supportive during the challenges of construction, especially parking.  

Starting August 1, 2019 there will be no parking in the BHS north lot.  The area will be prepped to start construction by the end of the month.  

There will only be one student permit lot this school year and it will be the lower lot adjacent to Don Adamson Field.  As a result, only full-time seniors may apply for Lower Lot parking permits.   A link to the online parking permit application will be sent out to all senior students on Monday, August 26 and parking spots will be assigned only to full time on campus senior students. A follow up email will come again prior to August 26 indicating time of parking permit applications. 

Parking will be available for other student drivers on a first come basis in the lots off of South 4th Street, near the roundabout and practice soccer fields and off of East River Road, behind the high school baseball field. Permits will not be required in these two lots.

Student drivers are encouraged to carpool and plan for additional time to find parking. More details related to parking will be shared as the school year approaches. Thank you for your flexibility and patience as we undergo exciting facility upgrades at BHS.

We’ve all heard that money corrupts. While it certainly compromises morals and values, where it does the most damage is when it corrupts creative problem solving.

As demonstrated here, these were problems easily solved—without tearing down any buildings. Contrary to what was suggested, I was never against spending. I was merely against the incapacitation of our problem solving abilities that the temptation of transformational money induced.