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Duluth Edison High School plan addresses traffic concerns

Plans for the new $20 million Duluth Edison charter high school include access from two different roads: Rice Lake and Arrowhead. Traffic issues around neighboring North Star Academy have been a problem since it opened in 2011, when bottlenecks w...

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Plans for the new $20 million Duluth Edison charter high school include access from two different roads: Rice Lake and Arrowhead.

Traffic issues around neighboring North Star Academy have been a problem since it opened in 2011, when bottlenecks were created as students and nearby workers left for the day at the same time. While work was done to ease some of those issues, adding another school to the area and further increasing traffic has been a concern for some.

Because there is congestion at certain times of the day, "whatever we do has to alleviate that, and our plan will alleviate that," said Dave Chmielewski, president of Blackhoof Development, representing Idaho-based Pacific Cos. in the building of the school.

Duluth Edison's board of directors is set to vote on a schematic design concept for the site Thursday night. A building plan was approved in December.

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The 104,000-square-foot school would be built on a 22-acre site currently home to Snowflake Nordic Ski Center - about 750 feet from North Star Academy, and visible from Rice Lake Road. Access from that road would be the primary way to reach the school, but plans for another road that would loop from Rice Lake Road, behind the school and through Minnesota Power property - ending up on Arrowhead via Sawyer Avenue - are being worked out with the county, Chmielewski said. The idea also would reduce congestion for the handful of businesses that share Technology Drive with North Star. A stoplight would be added where Airport and Rice Lake roads meet, and there is talk that another might be placed at the new school access road where it meets Rice Lake Road.

To make room for the new road, the Snowflake Nordic chalet and an equipment garage probably will be moved somewhere else on nearby Snowflake land, Chmielewski said. The Snowflake land was purchased from George Hovland last year by Pacific Cos., for both the school and housing. There is an agreement to keep the ski center working for several years, and the developers have pledged to keep it largely intact.

Snowflake manager John Gould said he was "feeling positive" about the proposed changes, noting the center's stakeholders have been kept in the loop.

"In talking to (head of Duluth Edison schools) Bonnie (Jorgenson) and the developer, we just had the feeling they were very interested in maintaining the ski area, and they were understanding to what our needs were to do that and to be as minimally invasive as possible," Gould said.

Snowflake serves about 700 members, he said, plus high school ski teams and a biathlon club. The area is used year-round, Gould said, and Edison will benefit from the trails. While some of the 10-kilometer trail would be lost to parking lots and the athletic field, the hope is that the 5K trail will stay intact, and enough land can be cobbled together for a new 10K trail.

An eight-lane track and turf field would fit on the site, under the proposed plan, and there would be about 330 parking spots along with separate areas for both buses and parents to pick up and drop off.

The developers are working with the city on making room for adequate parking for the track and field, noting what's planned so far is barely enough for what the Minnesota Department of Education likes to see, Chmielewski said.

The main challenge at the site is dealing with wetlands. About 100,000 square feet will be affected by construction, which all will be replaced within the same watershed, developers say. Developers are trying to avoid removing "higher quality" wetlands, which are those that have most of their native vegetation and haven't been sullied by human activity. The site is fairly compact, Chmielewski said, and some wetlands will be removed to allow for a safer campus in terms of traffic.

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Edison officials anticipate many sporting events to be held at the track, so safe traveling between the two schools and onto neighboring roads was important to planning, Jorgenson said.

"We're excited about the combination of the building and the site and what it will be able to allow us to offer our students," she said.

If the site plan is approved, developers will go before the city planning commission in March, continue with design and permitting processes, and expect to break ground in the spring for a fall 2017 opening.

The board meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday night in room B112 at North Star Academy.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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