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Duluth News Tribune, June 2010

It is time for Duluth to review the financial, community, and legal process objections to the proposed western middle school.

Financial objections: The National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF) tracks all educational construction in the U.S. According to their 2009 report, the average size of new middle schools is 103,000 sq. ft. But the proposed middle school is 199,000 sq.ft., or 93% larger than the average being built in the U.S. 

And NCEF puts the average cost of a middle school at $16.4 million. But the cost of the Duluth middle school construction is $42 million, or 156% higher that the average new middle school. And NCEF has the average square footage cost of new middles at $160 per sq. ft, well below the $210 cost of the proposed school.

No matter how you measure it, the cost of the proposed western middle school is way out of line.  Duluth should be learning from those States that are reeling from out of control school construction costs and mandating that schools buildings be reasonably priced and sized.

Even worse, the proposed new western Middle school will be destroying two existing  western neighborhood schools:  Morgan Park, the existing middle school; and Lincoln Park, the previous k-8 school.  There is nothing significantly wrong with these schools. The best K-12 architectural and engineering firm in Minnesota, ATS&R, has estimated that the total cost to completely modernize these schools would only be $7.5 million.  This compares to the total cost of the proposed school of  $48 million.  This is over six times higher—this is completely irresponsible.

Lack of community support: Morgan Park and Lincoln Park schools have been the center of these communities for the last hundred years.  Closing these schools will be additional stress on these already struggling communities.

Some proponents of the proposed school claim it is in the center of the community it will serve.  Not so.  It is in the middle of nowhere and it will never be a community school as there is no community there.  Only 13% of the projected students will even be within walking distance. 

What percent of the people support this new school?  No formal polls have been taken since the plan was formulated.  But that hasn’t surprised the citizens of Duluth—after all, the District subjugated their rights in the first place when they were denied a vote on the $300 million Red Plan.

The only legitimate poll taken in Duluth was by the citizen’s group Red Plan Plus and that put 77% opposed to the Red Plan.  The other indicator of what the people wanted is when I, a new resident of Duluth, easily defeated a long-term board member. Both of the entrenched west Duluth board members who supported closing our Lincoln Park and Morgan Park schools were soundly defeated in the last election. The people in my 4th district do not want to lose their community schools.

Legal violations:  Not only is the District ignoring the people in the community, they are rushing ahead by awarding construction contracts for the proposed middle school and ignoring other government requirements. 

  • There is a legal appeal of the proposed school’s environmental assessment (EAW) in District Court. But the School Board has been given no information on the ramifications of this lawsuit, the Board has not even approved hiring any attorneys, nor have they approved any legal direction.
  • A legal notice appeared in the paper last week indicating that a new Review and Comment (R&C) on the Red Plan would have to be approved by the Board.  But the Board had never even received a copy of that R&C.  And the school administration has so far refused to have a discussion on that new R&C with the Board; and have said that they will implement without Board approval and, of course, without a voter referendum.
  • No building permits have been issued by the city, but are required.
  • The property necessary for the proposed school has not all been purchased and it is likely that unpopular eminent domain will have to be invoked. 


The School District  is no longer accountable to the citizens of Duluth.  They must become mindful and start practicing of some of the principles of American democracy. Thomas Jefferson said it well in his inauguration speech:  “for the will of the majority to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; and the minority posses their equal rights, which law must protect, and [for the majority] to violate would be oppression.”


Art Johnston

4th District School Board member 

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