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Duluth School Board acts to boost sales of Rockridge property

The now-closed Rockridge Elementary School in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood (2002 file / News Tribune)

The former Rockridge Elementary School property is now on the market in three parcels, and the overall price has been reduced.

The Duluth School Board voted Tuesday night 5-0 to set new parameters regarding the sale of the property at 4849 Ivanhoe St. after meeting in closed session. Members Art Johnston and Harry Welty attended some of the meeting but left before the vote.

The school and its 17 acres, which has remained unsold for three years, had been marketed for $1.45 million. Now, the school building and surrounding land is listed for $995,000; a small residential parcel is listed for $85,000 and a larger residential parcel behind the school property for $200,000. Grouped together, the three are selling for $170,000 less than the original listing.

The asking price changed, said district property and risk manager Kerry Leider, for a couple of reasons.

“We’ve been holding on to that $1.45 million for quite a while,” he said, and the previous zoning designation along with the fact that some buyers may not have wanted the entire property played a part in a failure to sell.

“Dividing it up will help us there,” he said.

A zoning change, approved by the Duluth City Council in June, changed the property from “residential-traditional” to “residential-planned.” It was a compromise expected to make it easier for the district to market the property, and to ease neighborhood concerns. First District City Councilor Jennifer Julsrud pushed for the compromise earlier in the year when neighbors were opposed to a different designation that would have allowed for development up to four stories high, blocking views from nearby Hawk Ridge, for example.

“It’s a beautiful site, and I want to see it reused,” Julsrud said of the school property. “As much as I love the soccer space there — and I am sad to see it go — I know we need housing for people.”

The city planning office has been hearing from potential buyers interested in the school site, she said, noting that any buyer would need to submit a detailed plan showing what would be done, and planning staff would hold neighborhood meetings to keep residents apprised of developments.

The board Tuesday approved new listing prices and the subdivision of the property. Its action also allowed for Chairman Mike Miernicki to approve purchase agreements for the residential parcels, if the terms fit what the board set in closed session. An offer for the school property, however, would go before the entire board.

Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp represents the Rockridge neighborhood’s district. She said she’s “excited to see the process moving forward,” but she’s particularly happy that the zoning changes made it possible to “market the property in a way that balances the needs and concerns of the neighborhood … with those of the school district.”

The school parcel allows for multifamily or assisted-living development within the school, with the potential to add on 10,000 square feet. A single home would probably be built on the small parcel, and up to seven homes could be built in the larger residential parcel. Leider said it was probable that a builder would buy the land and put up homes to sell, but would need to also put in utilities and a road.

A trail leading to Hawk Ridge will remain public. The school district previously granted an easement for the city related to the trail.

Ivanhoe Street resident Mark Irving is pleased that the trail access will remain, along with a large percentage of green space. He’s worked with the city and school district to ensure responsible development happened at the site, and is happy with the outcome. He cited former Duluth Mayor Sam Snively, and the work he did building the city’s scenic roadways.

“He would have been very upset had this whole area been three- or four-story apartment complexes at the base of the ridge,” he said. “This is a good solution to satisfying almost everyone you could … and will provide the money to pay off the bonding.”

The school is one of a handful of properties remaining from the long-range facilities plan that closed and consolidated schools. Money from sales is intended to help pay construction debt.