Duluth School Board settles on Congdon site planThe fate of the Congdon recreation space, which currently has three rinks and a warming shack, has become one of the most controversial points of the school district’s Red Plan.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
The Duluth School Board made its decision on the $15 million Congdon Park Elementary construction plan Tuesday night, resulting in a recreation space that has room for two rinks and a recreational building rather than the three rinks sought by some neighborhood activists.
The fate of the Congdon recreation space, which currently has three rinks and a warming shack, has become one of the most controversial points of the school district’s Red Plan. A group — Save the Rinks — organized to preserve the space and has campaigned hard for it, even coming up with its own design that was part of the vote Tuesday.
The board voted 6-1 for the two-rink plan, with an amendment approved for an “add alternate” bid for a retaining wall to be built to allow for a third rink, if there is money to do so. Board member Art Johnston voted against the construction plans, because of the costs and not because of the rinks, he said, which he supports.
Three options were presented to the board, including the one proposed by Save the Rinks, which put the parking lot across Greysolon Place and moved the warming shack to allow for an accessible drop-off in back of the school. That option, Superintendent Bill Gronseth said, would cost about $1 million more and result in a design change of the school.
“We would have to start looking at aspects of the building that we don’t do in order to pay for development of that land,” he said, which would include purchase of a house from an owner who has said his price hasn’t been met by the district. “We can go there, but please know it will reduce work on the building and will change the timeline of the project.”
A second option included three rinks on the recreation space and a retaining wall. The option approved still requires a variance from the city for a buffer zone, and includes re-shaping of the hill to allow for more room. It no longer includes a retaining wall, but keeps 61 parking spaces. The district will sell the three properties it owns across Greysolon Place to help cover some costs.
The community would be on the hook for the recreation building, which must be moved for an accessible parent drop-off, and turf for the ice, as it would be for the Save the Rinks option. The city has offered to help with parks money to defray costs. On Tuesday, Kevin Strong of Johnson Controls, which manages the Red Plan for the district, said the company could help build the shack, “and we’ve talked about high school kids helping out to build it,” he said. “It could be a very positive thing.”
Board member Tom Kasper said he would work hard to get a shack built for cost.
Board member Mike Miernicki proposed accepting the idea from the Save the Rinks group, which failed 3-4, with members Johnston and Bill Westholm also supporting it.
Several people spoke in favor of the option to move the parking lot across the street, touting the history and benefits of the ice rinks and the need for three to maintain the hockey program, whose volunteers maintain the rinks.
“Option B (which was approved) reduced recreation space ... almost in half,” said Kathleen Annala. “The hockey community, with parents that volunteer and maintain space, would probably not survive. That would be a tragedy.”
Kristina D’Allaird said she no longer trusts the district after working with it and the board on the rinks issue.
“We were treated as adversaries, not partners,” she said.
But Mary Ann Harala, a teacher at Congdon Park, said that while her classes use the rinks, she doesn’t want to jeopardize learning space to make room for three.
“The whole reason we are doing remodeling is for better learning within our classrooms,” she said.