School Board votes to convert Ordean to eastern high schoolAbout 500 district residents, mostly opposed to the long-range facilities plan, turned out for the vote.
By: Sarah Horner, Duluth News Tribune
After looking into the faces of about 500 mostly angry community members, the Duluth School Board voted Tuesday to approve schematic designs for the eastern high school to be built at Ordean Middle School, the most controversial project included in the district’s long-range facilities plan.
A seat was a hot commodity at the meeting, where sometimes wildly passionate citizens spilled out of the board room. Before approving the plans in a 6-to-1 vote, people booed, shouted and broke into thunderous applause as about 40 people addressed the School Board for two hours. About two-thirds spoke in opposition of the plan at Ordean or the red plan in general.
Deb Anderson, a former district employee, warned board members that the Ordean site would create extremely dangerous traffic conditions.
“You may or may not listen to me tonight, but let the blood of the first dead or maimed child be on your heads,” she said.
Other community members said the site was far too small for a high school and that construction would threaten the livelihood of wildlife, particularly bald eagles, that live in the area. Many said the district should locate the eastern high school at Central instead.
“There are several things that scream out that this is not the right site,” said Karen Newstrom, a neighbor of Ordean. “Be brave enough to admit that you’re wrong.”
Most people were against far more than the plan at Ordean. Several people accused the board of ignoring the community and demanded the right to vote.
“I believe you will be known as the school board who really messed up the schools in Duluth. … You definitely have chased hundreds of students to open enroll out of Duluth,” said Betty Marsaa, a Duluth parent who said she has taken both of her daughters out of the district.
Not everyone spoke against the red plan. Supporters asked board members to stay the course and reminded them that this decision has been a long time coming.
“We have had Band-Aid fixes on our schools for years, and I think it’s time that we put a plan together and follow through with it,” said Jim Stebe. “There has got to be sacrifices when changes are made.”
Others said the plan gives valuable work to the local construction industry and will attract more people to the city.
Standing among the sea of adults at the meeting was a contingent of Central students in attendance to defend their school.
“We will not go down until things are right. Central will survive and move on. We are the Duluth Central Trojans,” said Brandon Pesta, a freshman at Central.
The high turnout at Tuesday’s meeting was likely the result of heavy recruitment efforts by anti-red plan group Let Duluth Vote, which said time to stop the red plan was running out.
Harry Welty, a spokesman for the group, said he was pleased so many people took the time to come out.
“I think this was long overdue. I’ve rarely seen so many people packed into one room” he said. He added that he wasn’t surprised board members weren’t swayed by the turnout because the School Board has ignored the will of the people throughout this process.
Before voting on the Ordean plan, board members explained the benefits of the Ordean site and said it made far more sense to put the eastern high school there instead of at Central.
“[The site] is exactly where the density population resides. … We will go back to that again and again,” said member Ann Wasson.
In addition to approving schematic designs at Ordean, board members, with the exception of member Gary Glass, approved preliminary design plans for Lester Park/Rockridge and Laura MacArthrur elementary schools. With those designs now approved, along with plans at Denfeld High School approved earlier this year, the board moved the district closer to construction on work totaling nearly half the total cost of the red plan.
Before shovels hit the dirt, though, board members will have to vote on final design plans for each school and will also have to award bids to contractors.
If those votes are approved, construction on the projects could start as early as late summer.