Edison seeks high school site in DuluthAfter deciding a month ago that it wasn’t the right time financially to seek out a site for a new high school, Duluth Edison Charter Schools has changed course, and it has retained the AtWater Group for help.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
After deciding a month ago that it wasn’t the right time financially to seek out a site for a new high school, Duluth Edison Charter Schools has changed course, and it has retained the AtWater Group for help.
Parents have long asked for an Edison high school for the 1,300 students who attend the K-5 Raleigh Academy and the K-8 North Star Academy. A task force formed in January explored the idea and initially said this summer too many financial sacrifices would have to be made to K-8 programs if Edison attempted to launch a high school at this time. After that announcement, Tami Siebert, president of the board of directors, said they were approached by the commercial real estate firm, the AtWater Group.
“They came along and said they felt our vision,” she said.
Not only that, said Paul Goossens, president of the board of directors for the Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co., which owns property on behalf of the charter schools, but officials are more confident that financial issues can be overcome without dipping into the K-8 budget.
A month ago, he said, the expectation was that high school operations and facilities would have to be developed at the same time.
“Since that time we’ve determined that we needed to move forward on the facilities and create the foundation and security of our facilities,” Goossens said. “(We’ve) come to greater confidence that during the development period of the school in the next couple of years, we would figure out how to overcome the operating deficit without tapping into the K-8 budget.”
How that will be done, Goossens said, isn’t all planned yet, but there are external sources to be tapped and time for things to fall into place. He said there was never any question of whether a high school would be created; it was just a matter of when.
A formal decision to move ahead with a high school still would require approval by Edison’s board of directors. Following that, depending on whether a school would be built or extensively refurbished, a Review and Comment with the state Education Department would need to be submitted.
Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. is seeking the site with AtWater. State law prohibits charter schools from owning buildings, so the nonprofit company was created a few years ago to serve Edison’s interests.
AtWater is a good fit, said head of schools Bonnie Jorgenson, because of its expertise in real estate in the area.
“We know that finding a facility is one of our biggest challenges,” she said.
A site, whether in a repurposed building or built from scratch, would need to be between 60,000 and 70,000 square feet on 10 to 15 acres. AtWater President Brian Forcier said the Duluth school district’s Central High School is a possibility. He said the Corporate Office Tower that AtWater is developing on Superior Street is not being considered.
One obstacle to using the Central High School site is that Duluth School Board policy says “no property is to be released for the purpose or subsequent purpose of usage as a school other than ISD 709.” Most of the current Duluth School Board members have said they would not be in favor of changing the policy.
Goossens said Duluth school district officials have not been approached about a purchase of the Central site, which is on the market for more than $13 million.
Forcier said he expects to have viable sites chosen within the next six months.
An Edison high school would follow a programming style similar to the other schools, and would begin with freshmen only, building up to seniors one year at a time. Eventually, the plan would be to hold roughly 600 students. The majority of North Star’s eighth-graders now move on to public high schools, some to neighboring communities but most to Duluth Public Schools, Jorgenson said.
She said she anticipates some criticism for the decision to seek out a high school site.
“When you move forward with a vision, there always is,” she said. “We have had constant and continual demand from our parents for many years now to make this step.”
She cited a survey the schools had done that showed 90 percent of Edison parents wanted a high school setting.
“It’s important … to make this a reality,” she said.