The Duluth School Board has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, Oct. 6, to consider the possible closure of Historic Old Central High School.
The reason for this consideration includes but is not limited to, costs to address building deficiencies and/or the sale and transfer of ownership, according to a public notice in the Sept. 22 Duluth News Tribune.
The public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the second floor Board Room in Historic Old Central. Superintendent John Magas told the News Tribune that the public will be permitted to attend in person.
"However, the logistics of what that may look like are yet to be fully determined and may work much similar to the superintendent interviews with the use of multiple spaces within the building," he said.
During the superintendent interviews in March, the School Board was in the Board Room, socially distanced, and community members who wished to watch the interviews were in Historic Old Central's gymnasium watching on a TV.
The Duluth School Board had a special closed-door meeting Wednesday to “develop or consider offers or counteroffers for the purchase or sale” of Historic Old Central. The meeting adjourned in closed session and no votes were taken.
The Duluth School Board approved putting Historic Old Central up for sale without a list price in January to see what interest was out there from the private sector. At a different board meeting in January, commercial real estate broker Greg Follmer told the board Historic Old Central would be much easier to sell then Central High School on the hill.
In June 2019, a facility assessment team of three outside companies presented to the board an estimate of what needed to be done to bring the building up to code and how much that would cost. The board was told it would cost about $24 million to fix the exterior, about $11 million for interior upgrades and repairs and another $13.5 million for system repairs and replacements — a grand total of $48.5 million.
Historic Old Central opened in 1892 and was modeled after the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh. The Richardsonian Romanesque-style school was designed by Emmet S. Palmer and Lucien P. Hall.
The building served as a regular high school until 1971 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places a year later. Even though the building is on the register, the district doesn't qualify for historic tax credits if it maintains the status quo.
If the district were to sell the building to a private developer, that developer could qualify for federal and state tax credits as long as the building produces income, like leasing apartments or offices.
The building is also located in an opportunity zone — an area that is identified as economically distressed where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment through the federal government.
Those currently in the building include district administration, the Area Learning Center and Academic Excellence Online High School. A nonprofit, Companies to Classrooms, also occupies space.
The district's Central High School, located at 800 E. Central Entrance, is listed at $7.9 million. The nearly 77-acre property with a hilltop view of Lake Superior has been on the market for more than seven years.
Follmer’s most recent property update memo to the board said negotiations were underway to work toward an acceptable development agreement for Central High School on the hill and an acceptable sale contract for Historic Old Central.