Jan. 24, 2008
Duluth schools consolidation plan: District
eyes nearby lots
By Sarah Horner
Thirty-nine homeowners in Duluth got life-changing
news in the mail Tuesday: a certified letter from the Duluth school
district stating its intention to buy their homes.
The properties will accommodate expansions at
six schools scheduled for construction under the district’s
long-range facilities plan. The list was announced to the public
at a news conference Wednesday at the central administration offices
in Old Historic Central High School.
Reaction was mixed among people affected by the
announcement. Some said they were eager to strike a deal with the
district, and others said they didn’t want to sell and were
angry about being left out of the process.
The district has the authority to use eminent
domain to purchase properties if an agreement can’t be reached,
said Kerry Leider, property and risk manager for the Duluth district.
Eminent domain allows the district to purchase land and forces an
owner to sell.
“We don’t want to have to go there,”
Leider said. “We really are going to do everything we can
to negotiate reasonable terms so that when we’re done, people
feel like they’ve been treated fairly in this process.”
The district is seeking 41 properties, two of
which don’t have houses on them. Eleven are across the street
from Denfeld High School, two near Congdon Park Elementary, five
by Ordean Middle School, eight by Lester Park Elementary, 11 by
Laura MacArthur Elementary and four by Grant Elementary. About $9
million has been budgeted for the purchase of properties, Leider
The district needs the land to bring the school
sites closer to guidelines outlined by the Minnesota Department
of Education. Current site sizes are substantially smaller than
what is recommended, Leider said. Many of the properties will be
turned into parking areas; others will be used for green space and
“This is an important step toward the school
district improving our schools and our community,” he said.
In addition to receiving a letter in the mail,
homeowners were called or visited Tuesday. Those who weren’t
home and were unlisted in the phone book got a note taped to their
front door, said Natalie Hoff, the vice president of F.I. Salter,
a local real estate services firm assisting the district with property
All homeowners are being asked to arrange meetings
with the district and representatives from F.I. Salter to begin
talking about the appraisal and sale process, Hoff said. The district
will cover all document and closing costs and is willing to help
arrange relocation assistance and cover some moving expenses.
“Everybody’s life situation is different,
so it’s really important to sit down face-to-face and figure
out where people are coming from so we can find a way to make this
work,” Hoff said.
So far the district has heard from 10 homeowners.
“We already know from the personal contacts
we’ve had that there will be the full gamut of emotion on
this,” Superintendent Keith Dixon said. “From people
saying, ‘I don’t want this to happen,’ to the
other end when one property owner said, ‘You are a gift from
“Property acquisition is never easy. Our
goal is to solve this amicably with every property owner,”
The district hopes to acquire the property by
spring 2009. Additional property may be acquired for the construction
of a new western middle school and the Lincoln Park/Piedmont Elementary
School, which probably will be determined in February.