A New Year's 2021 gift to all Duluth taxpayers was the announcement by public-schools Facilities Manager David Spooner that we have at our fingertips “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to “make the district whole for the next 50 years.”
Authority was granted by lawmakers in St. Paul for the Duluth school district to spend $30 million-plus — via bonding versus taxpayer/voter referendum approval — so school buses can be sheltered from snow and rain and so a new administration building can be constructed (“Contract for facilities project manager approved,” Dec. 30).
Coincidently, 50 years ago, a similar opportunity presented itself, leading to the construction of the then-new Central High School on the hill. Sadly, the “new” school and all its amenities did not survive 50 years. There’s no guarantee this new proposed project will last 50 years, either.
ICS Consulting of Minneapolis was hired as project manager, even though it has never been more important than now to buy local. I took this decision by the school district as a statement that we don’t have qualified or quality people in Duluth to do the job. As a taxpayer, I am very disappointed a local company was not hired to the tune of $3 million-plus. The truth is we have many talented construction companies, architects, and engineers right here who could have gotten that job done. It seemed foolish to spend that money out of the area.
It seems there is a pressing need to get this project off the ground since there is a purchase agreement in hand to sell Historic Old Central. I think I can safely assume the agreed-upon sale will not buy down debt but just get the district out from under a building that has not been adequately maintained. That is a theme consistently seen over many decades in Duluth: a lack of willingness to spend enough money to maintain buildings.
Even a new structure needs maintenance from day one. Without proper maintenance, a building lasting even 50 years is not to be assumed. Maintenance at the Central High School on the hill was lacking, and we all know how that has ended.
Last year will go down as one of the worst in history. The Dec. 30 article suggested that 2021 and beyond will be full of lifetime opportunities.
Joe Kleiman has been a licensed real estate broker in Minnesota for more than 40 years, specializing in commercial real estate development. He graduated from what's now Historic Old Central downtown and his children graduated from the Central High School now vacant on top of Duluth's hillside.