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Stella Maris Academy to open new high school in fall to 9th, 10th grades

Stella Maris closed on the purchase of the former The Hills Youth and Family Services building, located at 4321 Allendale Ave., Oct. 13 buying the building for $4 million.

Daniel Felton
Daniel Felton, bishop of the Duluth Diocese, raises his hands while giving the blessing for the Stella Marais High School on Friday Jan., 7, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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Stella Maris Academy held an open house Friday to show off its plans for a new high school to parents and community partners.

Stella Maris closed on the purchase of the former The Hills Youth and Family Services building, located at 4321 Allendale Ave., Oct. 13, buying the building for $4 million. Stella Maris president Andrew Hilliker said the school had a healthy fund balance and was able to secure the rest of the funding to buy the building through donations.

The building does need some renovations to create traditional classroom spaces, Hilliker said, which should be done before September.

“We want to make sure we have appropriate learning environments for the specialty classes like science, music and fine arts,” Hilliker said.

Stella Maris announced in February it would be adding high school grades, but by staying within the current footprint of its three campuses: Holy Rosary, St. James and St. John. Hilliker said due to the increase of enrollment over the past two years, the available space they had for high school students quickly disappeared. Hilliker started his job as president on July 1.

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“My primary task at hand was to develop high school programming and one of the greatest stressors I had in coming into this position — it didn’t dissipate my excitement — I had to figure out where we were going to put a high school,” Hilliker said.

Luckily for Hilliker, about two days before his start, board chair Fr. Seth Goglin called and asked if Hilliker would be supportive of exploring the possibility of purchasing The Hills property.

“I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Hilliker said.

The Hills property is 135 acres, with the main building measuring around 90,000 square feet with half a dozen outbuildings. The Hills ceased operations in Duluth July 2 , Stella Maris bought the building Oct. 13 and then The Hills filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Dec. 10. Because the building was sold before the bankruptcy filing, Stella Maris will not be affected.

According to Hilliker, to the best of his knowledge, the Diocese of Duluth built the original building in the early 1900s and it served as an orphanage until the early 1970s. At that point, it was sold to what would eventually become Woodland Hills and then The Hills Youth and Family Services. Now it is back in the hands of the Diocese and will continue to serve youth.

“Sometimes I just sit back and think, could it have aligned more perfectly?” Hilliker said. “It just seems a little surreal and a little providential to be honest.”

Next fall Stella Maris plans to welcome ninth and 10th graders to the new high school with a plan to add 11th grade in fall 2023 and 12th grade in fall 2024. Hilliker said they are expecting 60-70 students next fall.

As for athletics and extracurriculars, Hilliker said it is their intention to offer as much as they can.

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“The challenge that we need to work through as we are in this state of growth, is based on enrollment and student interest, what will we be able to offer in year one and how will we grow into other opportunities,” Hilliker said.

He said they are currently working with the Minnesota State High School League to make sure they have everything in place to be able to offer athletics independently or through a co-op.

For more information

Website: stellamaris.academy

Phone: 218-623-6253

Email: sma.admissions@stellamaris.academy

High School Parent Nights:

  • Tuesday, Jan. 11 from 6-7:30 p.m. at St. James Campus
  • Thursday, Jan. 13 from 6-7:30 p.m. at St. John’s Campus
  • Tuesday, Jan. 25 from 6-7:30 p.m. at Cathedral School in Superior

The photo attached to this story originally contained a misspelling of Daniel Felton’s name. It was updated at 8:22 a.m. Jan. 19 with the proper spelling. The News Tribune regrets the error.

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Related Topics: EDUCATION
Adelle Whitefoot is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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