State gives green light for Duluth school district's last 2 Red Plan school projectsThe Minnesota Department of Education has approved revised versions of the Duluth public schools’ Myers-Wilkins and Congdon Park building projects, bringing the Red Plan cost to $315 million.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
The Minnesota Department of Education has approved revised versions of the Duluth public schools’ Myers-Wilkins and Congdon Park building projects, bringing the Red Plan cost to $315 million.
Whether the two elementary schools can open by fall 2013 hinges on how quickly bids can be turned around, said Bill Hanson, director of business services for the Duluth school district.
“September 2013 is still possible,” he said. “We’re not going to know until we get the bids out.”
The department had asked the district to submit a new “review and comment” under the Red Plan for both schools because the old one expired when no construction was done during a two-year span. That meant the amended plan to borrow an additional
$15.4 million, which the board approved in June — and which the state had yet to approve — was voided.
The new plan’s price tag was $19.3 million because expected revenue from the sales of the Secondary
Technical Center and four houses didn’t come through. The value of
those unsold properties was rolled into the amount to
The district had hoped to ask for bids by this month but was waiting for the state’s approval. The district submitted the amended plan in early March.
Before advertising for bids, the district must wait 20 days after publishing a summary of the new “review and comment” for the two schools in the legal newspaper of the district. Hanson said it’s expected to be published in the News Tribune next week. Bids could be solicited by mid- to late May, with construction beginning sometime in the summer.
No contingency plans have been made for the schools if they aren’t completed by fall of 2013, Hanson said, but moving during the holiday break in December would be one possibility. That wouldn’t mean as much for Nettleton Elementary, where the Myers-Wilkins students are now and could remain, but Congdon Park students are to be housed at Woodland Middle School next year. Developer Mark Lambert has purchased that property with plans to begin work on land close to the school building after the 2012-13 school year.
Board Chairwoman Ann Wasson said she isn’t yet worried about completing the schools on time.
“I know that the construction community has been hopeful and anticipating these projects,” she said. “I am hoping everything will be done, and we’ll get people moved into these buildings on time. I am just really thankful that the Department of Education took their time and processed this and gave us a positive review. These buildings need the same amount of attention that the other elementary buildings have been given, and the people in those buildings deserve that as well.”
School Board member Art Johnston sent a letter to the state education commissioner last month asking for a “negative” review. His efforts could have stopped the projects or forced them to be scaled back, which Superintendent Bill Gronseth said would have created inequity among the elementary schools.
“The expanded building program has an insufficient justification, has not been transparent to the public or regulatory agencies, and should not be granted a favorable review,” Johnston said in his letter to the commissioner, also signed by former board member Gary Glass. Johnston couldn’t be reached Friday night for comment.
Johnston maintained that the schools could be built for their original estimates. Since first planned about five years ago, Myers-Wilkins has grown from $15 million to $20 million and Congdon Park from $9 million to $15 million. Johnston said the district hasn’t explained its reasons for the increased project costs, though an itemized listing for expenses and their increases for each school is included in the documents of the new plan.