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District has new buyer for middle school



Another development company is interested in renovating the current Cloquet Middle School, which will be vacant when the new middle school opens for business next fall.

Cloquet School Board members voted unanimously Monday to give Superintendent Ken Scarbrough authority to negotiate a purchase agreement with Roers Investment LLC, a Minnesota-based commercial and residential real estate development company.

The project proposed by Roers is similar to the downsized one that Sherman Associates — which cancelled its purchase agreement in November after state funding didn't come through — ultimately arrived at after going through citizen meetings as well as the planning commission and city council approval process.

As outlined in a handout distributed by Scarbrough at Monday's meeting, the proposed redevelopment incorporates 50 mixed-income one-, two- and three-bedroom residential apartments, complemented by various community rooms and retention of the historic auditorium, where actress Jessica Lange once performed. The gymnasium, pool and cafeteria will be demolished to make room for the necessary off-street parking to meet city parking requirements but the rest of the building will stand.

There is also potential to provide affordable commercial spaces for community partners or non-profits, Scarbrough said, adding that Roers is already in talks with Northern Lights Special Education Cooperative which may rent 5,000 square feet in one of the buildings.

Roers began as a construction company in 1976 and formed a development company in the 1990s, Scarbrough said, noting the company has experience with this type of development project.

One factor that could play well for the new developer is the fact that the school — which has wings built in 1921 and 1938 — has now been designated as historic.

"They are confident because of the building designation, they will be able to get those historic tax credits," attorney Bennett Johnson told board members Monday, adding that the development company will also apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credit Equity to help fund the project. The developer is in discussions with the Cloquet Housing and Redevelopment Authority to provide seven project-based vouchers for the development.

The negotiated price is the same as last time, $99,500, Scarbrough said.

If the district fails to sell the school to a buyer, estimated costs for demolition and asbestos and lead abatement are close to $1.4 million. That's money that could be spent on existing schools if it doesn't have to be used to tear down the school.

In other actions Monday:

• Board members voted to hire current activities director and middle school Dean of Students Tom Lenarz as the new assistant principal at Cloquet Middle School, although they did not determine a salary at Monday's meeting. The district will be looking for a .6 activities director to replace Lenarz, who is also the head boys football coach.

• Board members accepted bids for construction/renovation projects at Garfield and Washington Schools, which came in $236,000 under budget.

• Board members approved hiring Cara Jago as a new full-time German teacher at Cloquet High School.

• Board members said farewell to long-time district technology coordinator Yvette Maijala, who attended her last meeting Monday, and hired Trevor Smith — who currently works in Wrenshall — as the new technology coordinator.

• Board members approved Landon Hall as the fall musical director. Hall assisted director Kevin Hamre last fall.