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School apartment plan gets funding

Cloquet School District officials and others learned last week that the proposed Cloquet Middle School Apartments — to be built inside the old middle school building on Carlton Avenue — was awarded the the key funding the development company needed to move ahead with the project.

Minnesota Housing will provide more than $7.7 million in tax credit equity to convert the former middle school (and high school before that) into a 57-unit apartment building.

The project should save the Cloquet School District $1.3 million — the estimated cost to take down the old building. Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said the demolition funds should now be freed up to use on other needed projects elsewhere in the district, such as roof repairs at its elementary schools.

"This is something that's going to be a great resource for the community of Cloquet," he said.

School Board member Jim Crowley recommended the district pay down some of its debt with the extra funds at the board meeting Monday.

Meanwhile, the project also will provide critically needed housing in the community.

Citing a housing study conducted in Cloquet about four years ago, Scarbrough said: "The need for affordable housing and workforce housing was absolutely immense in our community."

Minnesota Housing's support for the Cloquet apartment building is expected to leverage the additional investment needed to complete what's expected to be a $14.1 million project, with Roers Investments serving as the developer and using historic tax credits to help finance the apartments.

As outlined in a handout distributed at the open house, the proposed redevelopment incorporates 57 mixed-income studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom residential apartments, complemented by various community rooms. The historic auditorium and the gymnasium will remain, while the cafeteria space would likely be converted into offices. It will target households earning between $37,980 and $56,430 per year.

Keenan explained that 80 percent of the apartments will be workforce housing rent levels, while 20 percent will be market rate. For example, rent on a workforce housing two-bedroom apartment would be around $600 a month, versus $900 at market rate, according to previous estimates.

The next step for Roers will be to submit an official site plan and rezone to the city and go through the process of getting approvals from both the Cloquet Planning Commission and the City Council.

"I was thrilled when I heard there was another potential tenant for this building," Tom Proulx, a neighbor and Carlton County Commissioner for the area, previously told the Pine Journal. "I don't want to see a building of this historic value destroyed because once it's gone, it's gone."