Location was key motivation for choosing Ordean as new school site

Behind the Duluth school district's decision to place a new eastern high school on the Ordean site was the real estate maxim: location, location, location.

Ordean Middle School property

Behind the Duluth school district's decision to place a new eastern high school on the Ordean site was the real estate maxim: location, location, location.

In recent weeks, Ordean neighbors have mobilized to fight the placement of a high school at Superior Street and 40th Avenue East, where a middle school now sits. They say the site is too small, will create too much traffic and could hurt the environment.

District officials, who chose the Ordean site in spring 2007, say they had solid reasons for doing so.

"Long before this thing got emotional, we asked the community to give us criteria for picking these sites," said Duluth Superintendent Keith Dixon. "The thing we kept hearing over and over again was: 'Put our schools where the students are.' That's what we did at Ordean."

When the district downsizes to two high schools, the Ordean site will be positioned in the center of the eastern half's student population, Dixon said.


Based on a system that plots where all students live in the district, East High School also is located in a student center, but it was ruled out because of its size, said to Jeff Schiltz, an account executive with Johnson Controls, the consulting firm leading the district through the long-range planning process.

East sits on 12.7 acres of land versus 26 acres at Ordean and has less space for parking.

"Ordean seemed to be the obvious choice, at least to us anyway," Schiltz said.

Not to Tom Kasper, a spokesman for Ordean neighbors concerned with the site selection.

"The Ordean site does have some merit given its location," Kasper said, "and if it were large enough to support a high school with all the modern features that are supposed to go with it, I think it would be a nice spot -- but it's not. It has some serious limitations and we learn more about them every day."

Among those concerns, Kasper cited the traffic a high school will create in the area and the possibly detrimental impact it will have on the environment.

"I have a kid at Ordean so I can understand the benefit of being able to walk to your school, but what is the tradeoff?" Kasper said. "If the tradeoff is the destruction of the environment and community around it, I don't think it's worth it."

District officials say the benefits of keeping the site in a student neighborhood outweigh its limitations in a landlocked part of town.


"We had parents telling us they wanted to be able to drop their kids off on their way into work. ... If they had a sick kid they wanted the school close enough that they could just quickly pick them up, or run over on a lunch break to see a school performance," Dixon said.

Increasing the number of students who can walk to school also saves on transportation costs. At Central High School, for example -- another site the district considered -- far fewer kids live within two miles of the building than at Ordean: about 275 kids compared to 470, said Ken Willms, transportation director for the district.

"If you look at both schools it's hard to argue with the numbers; there are just more kids around Ordean," Willms said.

Though the Ordean site is smaller than recommended by Minnesota Department of Education guidelines, it can still work, district officials say. The education department recommends about 50 acres for a modern high school, though it acknowledges that cities such as Duluth, Rochester and Minneapolis might not be able to meet that. Ordean sits on

26 acres.

Schiltz pointed out that in 1997 -- when enrollment was much higher -- East High School served 1,660 students, about the amount the district intends to house on the new Ordean site.

"I think that shows that the eastern part of town can handle that kind of student impact," Schiltz said.

What To Read Next
Get Local