In December of 2006, Johnson Controls released its “Educational Adequacy” report, regarding the state of our public schools. The following quote is taken from the report, describing the Career/Technical Center, located on the Central campus: “The Secondary Technical Center is a shining example of the breadth and quality of programs offered by Duluth Public Schools. The Center is one reason why the district enjoys a positive open enrollment ratio in the upper grades.”
Two buildings–lower and upper campus–composed the Tech Center. Both buildings were closed for educational use in June of 2011, with the rest of the Central campus. The lower campus building was only 15 years old at the time, with $2.3 million of construction debt still remaining. Today, after sitting empty for eight years, the two buildings are still only 23 and 25 years old.
Several prospective buyers have shown interest in the lower campus building, but a problem was buried in bureaucracy from the onset. The utilities for the building are tied into the high school, which sits hundreds of yards away. A right-of-way would be required across the property, or a developer would have to invest in new utilities–a very expensive investment on top of high, rocky hill.
Despite the obvious downside of the Red Plan’s fiscal failure, the inability to sell the Central campus could now be serendipitous for our community. The last demographic study done three years ago for ISD 709 showed the highest density of student-aged children to be east and west of Mesaba Avenue, right where the Central campus is located. The time has come to take another look at this valuable asset which has sat idle in the middle of our city for more than eight years.
As already stated, the Secondary Technical Center was a popular student draw, one of the primary reasons the district once enjoyed a positive open enrollment ratio in its upper grades. Our public school district is currently using a re-purposed classroom for its restaurant program at East High, while a wonderful space with a spectacular view sits empty and unused for going on a decade.
Career/technical education is reawakening with great energy. We should consider reopening the Tech buildings for education. I believe we could re-energize them as an enrollment magnet. District enrollment, the Red Plan’s worst failure, is 1400 students below projections. That amounts to $9 million lost annually in State aid, just from the base allotment formula alone.
I believe reopening STC would also help heal the civic wound still festering in the center of our city.