Duluth School Board OKs final Congdon Elementary projectsThe Duluth School Board approved final projects to improve access and increase outdoor play space at Congdon Park Elementary School during a special meeting Tuesday night.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
The Duluth School Board approved final projects to improve access and increase outdoor play space at Congdon Park Elementary School during a special meeting Tuesday night.
The board was tasked with choosing among eight remaining items for the $15 million construction and renovation project, and had up to $350,000 to spend at this point. The school is one of the final two remaining to open in the $315 million long-range facilities plan and is expected to be completed in August.
Choosing everything on the list would have cost the district up to $850,000. The most expensive choices, a $200,000 retaining wall, $330,000 worth of exterior masonry repair and a $100,000 sand field, were nixed.
The five approved items totaled an estimated $221,200. Three items — a sidewalk along 31st Avenue East connecting East Superior Street to Greysolon Place; replacement of the front sidewalk, railing and stair; and an elevator that would allow students with mobility issues access to the gym within the secured area of the school — had been in the original project plan. They were pulled out, Superintendent Bill Gronseth said, when earlier project estimates were $1 million over. The project ultimately wasn’t over budget, so the items had to be approved separately, he said.
The board voted 5-0 to approve the five items, with members Mary Cameron and Ann Wasson absent. It voted 4-1 to approve a Mike Miernicki amendment to remove the retaining wall item from the agenda. Member Art Johnston voted against the measure.
He said better project planning, such as not buying the three houses across Greysolon Place, which it has had to re-sell, could have prevented the board from having to make such decisions.
“We could have had it all,” Johnston said.
Miernicki said the district couldn’t afford the retaining wall, meant to create more recreational space.
Board Chairman Kasper agreed, apologizing to the users of the ice rinks that were displaced to make way for construction and handicap accessibility on the school site.
“I attended the meeting at the Congdon shack,” he said. “I heard the rallying cries and support and efforts and desires within that community about saving the heritage and the activities that occurred there. … It’s part of the community and it’s unfortunate we have to do this.”
Sara Vallie, president of the Congdon Park Hockey Club, which maintained the former rinks and recreation building at the school, spoke during the public comment period. She didn’t like that the wall was on the same list as accessibility features, giving the impression that they were in competition.
Safety and accessibility are most important, she said.
But what the hockey group has been working toward has been lost on some people, she said.
“We were never fighting for something more or better than what was already there. We were fighting because something was taken without being replaced,” she said.
And with the board’s decision, “at least for the foreseeable future, the winter landscape of what this neighborhood is known for in the last 80-plus years is gone,” she said.
The district’s property and risk manager, Kerry Leider, said he regretted the timing of the projects being presented together, as they weren’t intended to be weighed against each other. The administration had recommended that the board approve the accessibility features.
One feature not on the list that several speakers asked for was a switchback ramp providing better access to the school and playground from Greysolon Place, which runs along the back of the school.
A ramp isn’t possible, Gronseth said, because of the grade of the hill and space restrictions.
Also approved were basketball hoops and blacktop to replace the space lost to a kindergarten addition, and more playground equipment.
That was what fifth-grader Luisa Van Oss asked for during the public comment period.
Without that, she said, the second-largest elementary school will have the smallest outdoor play space.