Denfeld News

Dec. 12, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

Denfeld plan gets good review
By Sarah Horner

Architects planning the expansion and renovation of Denfeld High School say they were able to achieve one of their top goals in the design: maintaining the historic character of the building.

Preliminary designs for the new western high school were revealed to the public at a community meeting Thursday night at the school. Plans call for building a three-story addition off the school and making changes to the site, including adding 60 parking spots.

While some of the design concepts remain in flux, John Scott, an architect with DSGW Architects, said the priority of sensitively blending the new addition with the more than 80-year-old building will remain constant.

“This building is a historic treasure, so we want to make sure we maintain its historic architecture as we do this,” Scott said. “We have heard a lot of input from the community about maintaining the character of the school while updating it to be a modern facility for learning.”

So far, Alanna Oswald, one of the community members at the meeting, said the architects are doing just that.

“I was surprised that they were able to make it as modern as they have in such an old building,” she said. “It looks very nice.”

Oswald’s tone represented that of many of the people at the meeting. Noticeably different than the tense and sometimes hostile meeting that took place about the eastern high school Wednesday night, about 20 people showed up Thursday and calmly asked questions or made suggestions about the plans.

Topics of discussion ranged from finding the best main entrance to the building to making sure school counselors were housed in an appropriate spot.

Nancy Nilsen, a School Board member, said she attributed the reaction of the western community to the scope of changes being felt in that area of town.

“I think more people are concerned about Ordean because of all the changes that go along with turning it from a middle school into a high school. That’s not what we are dealing with here,” Nilsen said.

Not everyone at the meeting was happy with the plans. Denette Lynch, a neighbor of Denfeld, said she anticipates parking to be a major issue. Unlike at the Ordean site, where architects were able to increase parking by about 500 spots, land constraints around Denfeld limited architects to expanding parking by only about 60 spots.

“I just don’t see how that is going to work,” Lynch said. “We’re going to have 531 more kids in this building but only 63 more parking spots. Where is everyone supposed to park?”

Denfeld will have about 280 parking spots, while the eastern high school will have about 600.

Lynch said the district should have placed the high school in a spot with more open land and made Denfeld the western middle school.

Anna Bolgrien, a sophomore at Denfeld also at the meeting, said she is glad her school will remain a high school.

“I think it’s really exciting we get to stay in this building,” she said. She added that she doesn’t want architects to get too bogged down in the preservation of the character of the original building. “I want the designs to think about the students and how we go to class every day and what makes sense, not so much about what looks pretty.”

Scott said architects would take all of the feedback into consideration as they continue to tweak the schematic designs. Final designs are expected to be approved sometime this winter, with construction scheduled to begin this summer.

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