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Many Rivers Montessori school has new home in Duluth

Many Rivers Montessori has signed a purchase agreement with The Hills Youth and Family Services to buy the former Cobb Elementary School building in Duluth's Woodland neighborhood. (2016 file / News Tribune)

Many Rivers Montessori is expected to have a new home in 2018, opening in the former Cobb Elementary School building in Duluth's Woodland neighborhood.

A purchase agreement has been signed with The Hills Youth and Family Services, which owns the building and rents it to the Duluth school district for the education of its clients. Those students are moving elsewhere.

The building, near a neighborhood center and Hartley Park, is the right size for Many Rivers' student body of about 120, said Mark Niedermier, head of school. The Cobb building has room to grow to 200 students, the school's goal. Many Rivers serves toddlers through eighth grade.

"We are really excited about it," Niedermier said. "It's going to give us a home that we can invest in and grow our enrollment in a beautiful setting."

Niedermier wouldn't disclose the purchase price because of a confidentiality agreement. He said expected renovation costs should be less than the estimated $3 million to $4 million cited by The Hills as necessary to update the 104-year-old building's mechanical systems.

The Hills, a behavioral and mental health center formerly known as Woodland Hills, has wanted for several years either renovations or a new space for its students, finally raising the rent the district pays to help pay for deferred maintenance. The Duluth district is now in the process of deciding where to place the students in lieu of paying increased rent, and the former Rockridge Elementary School building in the Lakeside neighborhood is a likely site.

In a letter to parents and staff, Niedermier and board chairman John Kliewer said, "If you've seen the Spanish class in the hall, or have had friends whose children we couldn't enroll due to space, you know our pressing needs for a new home."

Many Rivers currently serves its students in two separate buildings. A desire to combine its newly offered middle school with the younger students has also been a major factor in seeking a new space.

The school offered to buy Rockridge and the former Nettleton and Central schools, but was rejected based on a Duluth School Board policy that says the board won't sell to K-12 competition.

Because Many Rivers also is a licensed child care center, the city must approve a special permit. Niedermier said he doesn't anticipate that will be a problem.

Jeff Bradt, executive director of The Hills, confirmed a purchase agreement but wouldn't disclose the buyer.

Cobb Elementary, 110 W. Redwing St., was built in 1913 and closed as a district school in 1993.