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New day starts for former Lincoln Park School in Duluth

Tours were offered Friday at the new Lincoln Park Apartments, housed in the former Lincoln Park Elementary School in Duluth. The building has been converted into affordable housing and a base for several nonprofits. (Bob King / / 5
Frank Jewell of Duluth checks out a locker - a little reminder of the building's former use as Lincoln Park Elementary School - in one of the apartments at the new Lincoln Park Apartments in Duluth during a tour Friday afternoon. (Bob King / / 5
Kathy and Gary Ames look at the kitchen in one of the new apartments at the former Lincoln Park Elementary School on Friday in Duluth. Gary Ames used to teach phy ed and art during summer school there. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 5
Fitness equipment is set up for use by residents in the new Lincoln Park Apartments in Duluth. The space is part of the old gym at the former Lincoln Park Elementary School. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 5
Visitors view the interior of one of the new apartments at the former Lincoln Park Elementary School in Duluth on Friday afternoon. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com5 / 5

After a long day of classes, the front steps of Duluth's Lincoln Park School facing West Fourth Street used to be where children eagerly waited for buses to take them home. But the people gathered there Friday weren't excited to leave and go home — they were excited to be home.

The former school — which saw its last group of students leave for summer vacation four years ago this week — is now Lincoln Park Apartments, which offers 50 affordable housing units and serves as home base for several area nonprofits. A ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday featured speeches by individuals involved in the renovation, and there were tours of the renovated building.

One of the people who toured the building was Gary Ames, who attended a year of junior high at Lincoln Park School in 1954, and graduated from Denfeld in 1959. In the 1970s and 1980s, Ames also taught summer art and physical education in Lincoln Park School.

"I think this is an outstanding thing to do. It not only serviced children in the grade schools, junior high, (but) now it is fulfilling its purpose with the elderly, families and the whole bin," Ames said. "Otherwise this place is going to be sitting here just like many of the other schools, not only in Duluth, but around the whole United States."

Rick Ball, executive director of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority of Duluth, agreed.

"It's important to the neighborhood to be able to preserve a building that otherwise was falling into disuse," he said.

Much like the school did for decades, the renovated building will continue to serve the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

"I think the housing need is a need that we have in the community right now that is very important, especially to have affordable housing (and) affordable rents for people of low and moderate income," Ball said.

The configuration and layout of the building is nearly identical to Ames' days as student and teacher, he said. But upon entering the apartment units that once served as his classrooms, he now saw new cupboards, modern kitchen appliances, and fresh paint on walls dividing those classrooms into bedrooms, bathrooms and living spaces. Still, the Lincoln Park Apartments' former role as a school is apparent as lockers and chalkboards remain in some units.

"It's historic in people's minds and the community clearly did not want to tear this down. It had a lot of memories," said George Sherman, president of Sherman Associates, the company charged with the renovation of the school.

Lincoln Park Elementary School was purchased by the Minneapolis-based property developer in September 2011 for $1. The price was kept low because Sherman Associates wanted to work with nonprofits, and because of the expected high renovation costs.

In addition to 50 affordable housing units, there is space to four nonprofits: Community Action Duluth, the Duluth Human Development Center, the Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northland.

Lincoln Park School was built in 1888-89 and underwent seven additions over the years. It closed after the 2010-2011 school year, with students going to the new Piedmont Elementary School.

Sherman praised the citywide cooperation required to complete the project.

"It's a great community that supports positive development and it needs this stuff, it needs housing," he said.

Learn more about the apartments here.