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GUEST VIEW: Consider history, tax impact when making school facility decisions

I was very fortunate to be born and raised in Cloquet. But the best of all was the opportunity to return to Cloquet to work, retire and continue living in the same community.

During those 74 years, the city and schools have changed dramatically as we continue to modernize in the hope of always providing our children the best educational opportunities possible. The community of Cloquet has never been lacking in its commitment toward education. But we also have to be careful as we continue to change and modernize our schools and our community, that we do not change everything at the expense of what has made Cloquet such a special and unique living environment for all its people. Each year, we continue to destroy and remove parts of the city and the schools that not only holds value for the people and community, but also our unique history and what has made Cloquet so special in the hearts and minds of its residents.

As I grew up in Cloquet, we took great pride in each of our four neighborhood elementary schools — Jefferson, Garfield, Leach and Lincoln — only Garfield currently being used. Modernization and consolidation were the reasons.

Another example of modernization and change is what happened to the YMCA that was torn down to “modernize” Cloquet Avenue. We lost a very unique go-to place for youth and our community. A place for all ages to enjoy. The YMCA provided opportunities for bowling, basketball, volleyball, tennis, billiards, dances, cards, handball, canteen club, boxing as well as a supervised place for our youth. The city gradually moved their offices into the YMCA, which made it less and less attractive for our youth. The city eventually demolished the building and built a new fire hall on that site. The city said they would replace it with a more modern place for our youth — but that has never happened and probably never will.

We are now faced with another modernization question that deals with a very important part of Cloquet’s history: the current middle school. The school has been modernized a few times, but neglected all the time to a point that it is in need of major repairs or an expensive replacement.

To replace the middle school would not be a problem for Cloquet if property taxes had not already increased over the past 20 years by 300 to 400 percent for many Cloquet residents. The location of the middle school makes it extremely difficult to expand or make major changes, but the cost at this time makes it even more difficult to justify. It would have been more prudent for the school board to invest in the middle school over the long haul rather than putting it off into the future. That has probably come about because of the lack of communication between school board, administration and staff about needed and necessary maintenance at the middle school.

We have now arrived at a critical point in time and there is need for immediate action. The costs of all property taxes in Cloquet have taken a toll on many over the past 20 years with very little relief in sight. Taxes and home expenses are not a problem for some, but it is for many who are having a difficult time trying to stay in their homes on a fixed and limited income. It is difficult for many homeowners with limited income to keep up with continual increases in their home expenses of energy, insurance, taxes, heat, home maintenance and basic needs. It only takes one major expense for a home owner on limited income to lose everything and property taxes is one expense that can be controlled locally by our locally elected officials.

Am I for or against a new middle school? That is an extremely difficult question to answer for anyone. But at this time, all costs of this magnitude must be looked at — not for what we want or would like, but what we can afford. Especially at this time and in this economy. We have to look at the whole picture. The majority may agree with all new and unlimited costs, but it is not the best way to go for many. Keeping our building costs to a reasonable amount is the only way to go.

If a building referendum were to pass by 95 percent — that would be a very positive commitment by the community. But to get excited over 51 or 55 percent “yes” vote, is not a step in the right direction for Cloquet at this time.

Longtime Cloquet resident Clarence Badger is a retired teacher and engaged citizen.