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Public invited to weigh in on school plans

To celebrate the Week of the Young Child, students from the Cloquet Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) classes made a giant thank you banner with help from Oscar Lopez, a parent/artist who took vacation time to help them paint the dazzling dinosaur letters. The students presented the banner to the Cloquet School Board Monday. Jana Peterson/



A different development company is hoping it will have better luck getting the necessary state funding to preserve and turn the existing Cloquet Middle School into an apartment building once the students move into their new digs this fall.

But first they want to share their plans for the school with area residents.

As such, everyone is invited to an open house from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, May 1, in the Cloquet Middle School gymnasium for an open house organized by developer Roers Investment LLC, a Minnesota-based commercial and residential real estate development company.

Superintendent Ken Scarbrough explained at Monday's Cloquet School Board meeting that people will be able to walk around to different displays and talk to Roers employees along with city and school district officials during the open house Monday while they learn about the proposed plans to reuse the building. Feedback is welcomed, he said.

The plans are not terribly different from the final version of a Sherman Associates proposal last year that ultimately failed to secure state funding and was dropped in November.

As it stands, the Roers project would create 57 residential units along with various multi-use community rooms in the East and West wings of the school, keeping the connecting link between the buildings. Roers also plans to keep the auditorium in the East wing for use by residents as well as community groups.

The pool area would be demolished to make parking space needed to meet city off-street parking requirements, but the company is tentatively planning to retain the gymnasium and cafeteria. However, those spaces could also be demolished for additional parking.

According to a press release, Roer officials have "begun conversations with various community groups regarding the potential use, operations and management of any non-housing spaces deemed appropriate for commercial use." At the March 27 School Board meeting, Scarbrough said Roers was already in talks with Northern Lights Special Education Cooperative about possibly renting 5,000 square feet in one of the buildings.

Previous criticisms by residents of the Sherman Associates plan mostly centered on concerns about adequate parking and a perceived increase in crime if rent-controlled apartments are built.

After Sherman downsized its plans from 70-plus to 50-units, the Cloquet Planning Commission and Cloquet City Council approved the site plan ... but the proposal was sunk when it wasn't awarded Low Income Housing Tax Credit Equity or the state and federal historic tax credits it applied for.

According to Paul Keenan, who worked with Sherman Associates on the CMS project and is now working for Roers, this time it should be easier to secure historic tax credits, because the building has already advanced through the first (and most difficult, he said) of the two-part process to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The oldest portion of the school (the east wing which now holds sixth-grade classes and Community Education) was built after the 1918 Fire as the new Cloquet High School and opened in 1920. Since then, there have been three additions made to the school: one in 1936, one around 1950 and the Herb Drew swimming pool in 1959.

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 can be spent on existing schools if it doesn't have to be used to tear down the school.

In other matters Monday, School Board members took the following actions:

• Approved the termination and non-renewel of 14 different full- and part-time teacher contracts effective at the end of the school year. Many of those will be rehired, Scarbrough said, either in different positions or after their positions (for those working with special permissions) have been advertised. Some of the positions are grant funded and the grant for next year has not been awarded yet. Other positions, such as the CMS Computer Topics class, are being eliminated (because the class won't be offered next year).

• Approved the hiring of several positions for the joint powers special education school district to be called Northern Lights Academy that Cloquet will be a part of, including assistant director of special education, two special education teachers, one full-time social worker and a secretary position. Scarbrough said Cloquet will hire and then the new school district will pay Cloquet, so Northern Lights won't have to set up its own contracts and bargaining units. Scarbrough said initial plans are for three Setting IV special education classrooms (defined as those students who cannot spend any time during the school day in a regular school setting) for grades K-8. Two classrooms will be located at Garfield School and the other at Our Savior's Lutheran Church. The 30 children who attend the new district will be segregated by age and ability, Scarbrough said, and will have a better support system than Cloquet could offer in the past. (Editor's note: Read the March 23 Pine Journal story "Educators create Special District for special education" for more.)

Also Monday, Bill Hudspith gave his official retirement notice, after 34 years of working as a special education teacher at Cloquet High School.