Stella Maris buys Hills facility for new high school

The Catholic school has purchased the former orphanage and residential treatment center for $4 million.

File: The Hills Youth and Family Services
The building that formerly housed the Hills Youth and Family Services is pictured April 30, 2020. The 140-facility has been purchaesd by Stella Maris Academy for $4 million. Jed Carlson / File / Duluth News Tribune
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Duluth's new Catholic high school will have a dedicated campus after all.

Stella Maris Academy on Wednesday announced that it has purchased the former Hills Youth and Family Services facility in the city's Woodland neighborhood for a price of $4 million.

The sale returns the property, 4321 Allendale Ave., to its Catholic roots after its recent closure as a mental health and residential treatment center for at-risk youth.

“Many people have been working hard and praying for a long-term, viable place to welcome students to high school in the fall of 2022," Stella Maris President Andrew Hilliker said in a statement. "This property is bringing our efforts and goals to a very real and meaningful place. Our students will feel the benefits of this for years to come and we are forever grateful for the opportunity.”

PREVIOUSLY: Stella Maris Academy to add high school grades The Catholic school currently has three campuses in Duluth for kids from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
The academy announced in February that it would add high school grades, but officials at the time said they didn't anticipate buying or building another facility. The school already provides pre-K through eighth grade education at three campuses: Holy Rosary at 2802 E. Fourth St., St. John’s at 1 W. Chisholm St. and St. James at 715 N. 57th Ave. W.


But the Hills facility abruptly announced its closure in June, citing financial and legal entanglements in saying it could no longer operate the 110-bed facility.

Stella Maris officials said the closure provided an unexpected opportunity to submit a purchase offer, securing entirely private donations to acquire the buildings, property and 140 acres of land directly adjacent to St. John's Church.

The building was originally opened by the Diocese of Duluth in 1910 as an orphanage. It was sold in 1971 and transformed into the residential treatment center, undergoing a number of renovations and additions.

Stella Maris officials said plans remain on track for the school to open next fall, though the building will first undergo further renovations to make it suitable for a modern school. The large campus includes a main campus building, gymnasium and several outbuildings.

"Students will benefit from an expansive facility that they can grow into and truly embrace God’s creation," a news release stated. "From outdoor recreation to environmental sciences to conservation, this property lends so much opportunity to its students."

When opened, it will welcome the first "traditional" Catholic high school experience in Duluth in more than 50 years, "creating a continuum of Catholic school education that spans early childhood through post-secondary education," officials said.

"Later this year, Stella Maris Academy will welcome its students, families, local parishes and the wider Duluth community to the property with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, celebrating this momentous occasion," a statement said. "A date has yet to be determined."

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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