Duluth School Board rejects city's plan for Central campusIn voting no to a proposal brought by city planners, the board says the plan devalues the property by dividing it into too many small plots.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
The Duluth School Board voted Monday to oppose the city Planning Commission’s proposed vision for redeveloping the former Central High School site.
City planners met with the board Monday during a special meeting and filled them in on the proposal, which is set for a vote today after a public hearing.
Possible future uses of the site will be determined by the city’s comprehensive plan. Recommendations are to change the 77-acre site from “institutional” to a mix of uses, including classifications that would allow for a business park, neighborhood shops, parks and trails. The board voted unanimously on a resolution opposing that plan because it “randomly divides the approximate 77-acre property without regard for existing platting,” and that will “result in significant devaluation of the property and severely reduce property redeveloper interest in this site,” the resolution reads.
The district’s property and risk manager, Kerry Leider, is expected to deliver the resolution to the Planning Commission at tonight’s meeting. He presented to the board a different concept for the site’s use, which members said made more sense.
Board member Tom Kasper said the city’s plan looked as if it would “handcuff” the district’s ability to sell the property, because more than 30 acres would be preserved.
“I’m concerned with that loss of space,” he said. “As part of the long-range facilities plan, we need to get a certain figure to help taxpayers of Duluth.”
The school closed in June as part of the long-range plan. The original appraisal for the property was $13.7 million, including the Central and Secondary Technical Center buildings.
“We have a tax burden that is related to debt service on the long-range plan,” Leider said. “That’s what this is really about relative to the School Board. I want to make it clear our assessment was based on the highest best use (value.) This plan will not adequately get us to that point.”
Board chairwoman Ann Wasson said breaking the property into pieces limits the district.
“If it doesn’t bring in close to what we’re thinking, the burden will go straight back on taxpayers,” she said.
Keith Hamre, the city’s community development manager, said the city’s proposed land use, with its designated recreation areas, could positively impact the ability to sell.
But board members said more time was needed to talk about options, and Hamre told them a request could be made to hold off on a decision.
“I understand some board members’ frustrations and concerns,” Hamre said. “We welcome seeing another plan.”
The City Council has the final say on changes to the comprehensive plan.
Congdon plans revised
The board also saw changes to the Congdon Park Elementary School plans. The working drawings are set for board approval next week. Some major changes to the plans were made after a November meeting held by the Parent Teacher Association. More than 100 attended, sharing several design concerns.
“We took notes,” said Greg Repensky, an educational consultant for Johnson Controls, which manages the long-range plan. “We spent an entire day going through the plans to make sure we could meet every one of the needs.”
The school, which will receive two new additions, has a parent drop-off in the back, no longer on East Superior Street. The office area was moved to the main entrance to the school; kindergarten rooms were placed closer together; second- grade classrooms were moved from the third floor to the second, and there are now enough lockers for each student on the floor of the student’s classroom. The media center and computer lab are adjacent.
There were some complications, Leider said, because Congdon Park is an existing building. The design team was not able to get the cafeteria next to the playground. Other than that, he said, the school should be consistent with the other elementary schools.
There were many things presented to parents and employees at the November meeting that they wanted designed differently, said Sue Van Oss, co-president of the Congdon Park PTA.
“We got the designs changed in many ways,” she said. “We are very pleased.”
The plan’s approval will not include any action on plans for the three ice rinks that will be displaced for parking. The district has purchased three out of five homes it needs to move two of the rinks below Greysolon Place. So far, the lots they own are designated as green space. One home divides the properties the district already owns, and one sits at the end. One owner has said he will not sell and the other has said the district hasn’t met his price.
“At some point we’re going to have to talk about this green space,” Kasper said, and “make some decisions.”
Pending state approval of the additional funding needed for the long-range plan — which last summer brought the total to $311 million — construction could begin in June.