Duluth district ‘in good shape’ to sell Central High School by end of year

Its real estate broker claims the list of potential buyers for the property has narrowed from three to one. The district is preparing to demolish the building as soon as November.

Building supplies outside a school.
Building materials sit in front of Central High School on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The vacant building could be demolished later this year.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — A long-closed high school seems one step closer to changing hands.

Duluth Public Schools leaders have narrowed a list of potential buyers for the district’s hilltop Central High School from three to one, according to Greg Follmer, the district's real estate broker. A purchase agreement with that buyer is “ready to be agreed upon” and then brought to School Board members for final approval, Follmer said.

“We’re in good shape,” Follmer told the News Tribune on Tuesday, “and we expect to have it sold and closed somewhere near the end of the year, beginning of next year.”

The listed price for the lot is $7.9 million .

“I feel quite confident that things will come to fruition in the near future,” Duluth Public Schools Superintendent John Magas said Wednesday.

The school, which sits on a 77-acre piece of property on Central Entrance, has been mothballed since 2011, when school officials agreed to close it as part of the “Red Plan" facilities reduction strategy. The district already sold Historic Old Central High School downtown for $3 million in early 2021.


All three potential buyers for the hilltop Central High School, including the apparent front-runner, proposed redeveloping the site into some mixture of housing. The other two buyers, Follmer claimed, are still interested in the property if a deal with the third falls through.

City, district reach agreement; demo could begin in fall

Meanwhile, construction on a new district headquarters adjacent to Central continues as part of a $31.5 million plan School Board members approved in June 2021.

Construction site with a crane lifting a panel.
One crew prepares to lift a wall panel into place for the Duluth School District’s new administration building Thursday, July 21, 2022, as another crew sets steel beams.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Crews last week finished the foundation for a new administration building and began installing precast concrete and brick walls this week. On Thursday afternoon, workers installed a particularly tall slab that will eventually be one side of an elevator shaft.

The district did not need voter approval to issue the bonds and levy the money due to the Minnesota Legislature approving special legislation that was added to the bonding bill last year.

Nearby, workers were preparing to pour the foundation for what will eventually be a new bus garage. Next to that, an existing building that used to house industrial arts classes is set to be a new building for facilities and maintenance workers.

Man works on foundation forms.
A man works on the foundation forms for the Duluth School District’s new garage Thursday, July 21, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

In the Central building itself, workers are busy removing asbestos ahead of a planned demolition this fall. Site superintendent Jason Johnson said the tentative plan is to begin knocking down the building by early November.

Duluth School Board members on Tuesday evening unanimously approved a $810,000 bid from Duluth-based Veit & Co. to demolish the Central building .

Also on Tuesday, board members approved a development agreement with the city government that helps prepare the Central property for a future sale and codifies the district’s plans for the parcel they plan to keep there.

The agreement itself describes, in broad terms, what school leaders plan to do with the 22-acre chunk of land they’ll keep on the approximately 77-acre site: the new headquarters, bus garage and renovation of the third building. It also calls for the Central building to be demolished by June 30, 2023, at the latest, and points out where the district is required to install utility connections and establish easements for drainage, public roads and other needs.


"It sets a specific standard as to what we have to do," David Spooner, the school district's facilities manager, explained, "to do our construction compliant with established city of Duluth ordinances, laws or practices."

Beyond that, the agreement compels the district to require whoever buys the remainder of the property to present redevelopment plans to the city. The property’s future owners would, presumably, reach a similar agreement with city officials before proceeding with their own redevelopment plans.

In November, the city’s planning commission approved a proposal to rearrange the property lines, or replat, the school site to set aside a 22-acre spot on the property for the district's future administration building and current home for its print shop and bus garage.

That replat was contingent on the city and school district ultimately reaching the agreement that was finalized on Tuesday. Duluth city councilors similarly approved their end of the development agreement July 11.

Man signals a crane operator.
A worker uses hand signals to a crane operator placing a steel beam in place Thursday, July 21, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Moving a wall panel.
Workers move a wall section off a semi trailer Thursday, July 21, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Man on a lift.
A worker moves a lift in what will become the school district's new administration building Thursday, July 21, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

From the column: "The pandemic exacerbated burnout amongst child-care workers. Safety precautions and quarantines led to understaffing. ... Workers were already experiencing burnout, and the pandemic amplified it."

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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