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Broker eyed for Central, Nettleton schools

The 77-acre former Duluth Central High School, closed since 2011, remains for sale. (News Tribune file photo)

The Duluth school system's effort to sell the white elephant that is the Central High School property may enter a new phase next week.

At a business committee meeting on Monday, School Board members heard Superintendent Bill Gronseth explain how he'd chosen Greg Follmer Commercial Real Estate as the best agent to handle the sale of the former Central High and Nettleton Elementary schools as well as other school district properties.

The board will vote next week on whether to give Gronseth the green light to negotiate a deal with the Duluth firm.

"I thought they ... had a very good vision for how the property could be marketed," Gronseth told the five board members who attended Monday's session, speaking specifically about Central. "They had ideas about direct marketing and being more aggressive."

The 77-acre site with a hilltop view of Lake Superior has been on the market for more than six years. It once was listed for sale at a price of $13.7 million, but in 2015 the board accepted a $10 million offer from Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisers. That deal fell through because of the expected costs of preparing the site. A $14.2 million offer the next year that would have rebirthed the building as a high school for Duluth Edison Charter Schools was turned down as the board stuck to a policy prohibiting it from selling school buildings to schools that serve the same age range.

The district formerly worked with the local firm F.I. Salter, but hasn't since 2014. Circumstances have changed in the past four years, Gronseth said, and it no longer seems wise to go it alone.

"We've had staffing changes in that time," he said. "We've had people more focused on working with developers and working with people from the city and the county. With a smaller staff now, we don't have quite the focus that we had, so we need to enlist a little more help."

Follmer couldn't be reached for a comment on Monday evening, but he told the News Tribune last month that he previously had sought the listing. Whether it was his firm or someone else, the property needed the skills of a professional broker, he said then.

Gronseth had spoken with two other brokers as well as Follmer, he said.