The Duluth School Board Wednesday approved a project management contract to relocate those at Historic Old Central High School and to build a new transportation center.

The School Board voted 6-1, with member Sally Trnka voting no. The contract is with ICS Consulting Inc. of Minneapolis. Compensation is based on the percentage of the total cost of the project. For example, if the project cost $31.5 million, ICS would be paid about $3.2 million.

In March, the Duluth School Board approved language for legislation that would enable the district to finance the construction of new administrative offices and transportation facilities with the proposed site being the back third of the Central High School property on the hill.

The district received authority from the Minnesota Legislature in October to issue general obligation bonds and levy up to $31.5 million. The bill passed during the fifth special session of the Legislature in 2020.

Trnka and board member Alanna Oswald expressed concerns Wednesday over how the contract was brought to the School Board. The contract was originally added to the Dec. 15 regular School Board meeting at noon on the day of the meeting. But the contract was tabled until board members had more time to read it and learn more about the contract.

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The School Board held a committee-of-the-whole meeting Dec. 21 to discuss the contract and ask questions of the administrative team that helped draft the contract, as well as the district’s attorney Mark Knutson.

District Facilities Manager David Spooner said during the Dec . 21 meeting that the board could be confident in the team that would be managing the facilities project.

“We’ve got a once in a lifetime opportunity with special legislation that other districts have never achieved and I think we need to grasp the opportunity… and make the district whole for the next 50 years,” Spooner said last week.

Historic Old Central and the transportation facilities were originally in the 2007 long-range facilities plan but removed in lieu of other more pressing projects. So both buildings continued to deteriorate with no immediate plans to upgrade them. This project would address both buildings by selling Historic Old Central — currently under contract — and build a better transportation facility that would shelter district buses from the outside elements, such as snow and rain.

“I’ve been here a long time… and this is a good plan and I’m proud of being a part of it,” Spooner said last week.

The former Duluth Central High School on Wednesday, Sept. 23. The property is currently listed for say at $7.9 million. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
The former Duluth Central High School on Wednesday, Sept. 23. The property is currently listed for say at $7.9 million. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

On Wednesday, Trnka said she was concerned by many things regarding the approval of the contract, including not giving the community enough time to be a part of the conversation and having a say as well as not feeling like she, as a board member, was kept in the loop with what was happening on the administrative side regarding the contract.

Oswald said she echoed all of Trnka’s concerns and was also concerned the contract was not put out for an RFP, or request for proposal.

Districts are not legally required to put out an RFP for professional services and make a decision based on experience. According to Spooner, in the 25 years he’s been with the district the only time the district has gone out for an RFP for professional services, such as design, was for the long-range facilities plan.

Though Trnka voted no on approving the contract, she said that she would be a supportive board member going forward if it were to be approved. Trnka gave her support in moving forward with drafting the legislative language to use long-range facilities money to build new facilities in January and approved the final language in March.

Long-range facilities money is designated for the maintenance and upkeep of current facilities, not building new ones.

The former Duluth Central High School baseball field is seen covered in weeds Wednesday, Sept. 23. The baseball field is on the back third of the property, which would be developed as a new transportation facility and administration office. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
The former Duluth Central High School baseball field is seen covered in weeds Wednesday, Sept. 23. The baseball field is on the back third of the property, which would be developed as a new transportation facility and administration office. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Contact details and timeline

The facilities project management contract states the fees for ICS is based on a percentage of all project-related services from development through post-construction and would break down as follows:

  • Integrated project delivery coordination and representation — 1.3%

  • Project oversight and management — 3.25%

  • Project design services — 8.25%

  • Minnesota Department of Education Project Commission, full commissioning services — 0.8%

  • Total — 13.6%

ICS would receive an initial payment of 10% of the fees upon receipt of the bond proceeds for the financing of the work and will be credited to the district’s account in the final invoice.

The timeline for the project was laid out by CFO Cathy Erickson in a memo to the School Board. The district hopes to begin construction in September. The timeline is as follows:

  • City planning and approvals process: November 2020 through May 2021

  • Historic Old Central space planning process and program relocation options visioning: January 2021 through March 2021

  • Central High School site “out lot” development negotiations: December 2020 through February 2021

  • Central High School site infrastructure and master planning: December 2020 through April 2021

  • Legislative authority public hearing: February 2021

  • Minnesota Department of Education review and comment submission: March 2021 through May 2021

  • Relocation of Historic Old Central programs and departments: Summer 2021

  • Solution project design work: March 2021 through August 2021

  • Project procurement activities: September 2021

  • Project construction: September 2021 through TBD

The next steps are formalizing the team, scheduling a board planning meeting, collaborating with programs in Historic Old Central — Adult Education, Area Learning Center and Academic Excellence Online — and continuing to communicate with the city and the developer on the possible sale of Historic Old Central.