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November 26, 2003
314 W Superior St #902 Duluth MN 55802 (218)279-5253
Central Junior High: Questionable Leadership, Missed Opportunity
By Kevin Korpela and Susan Lockwood
Superiorís elected officials have shown questionable leadership regarding the impending demolition of the Central Junior High School. The Superior Daily Telegram reported that the School Board has accepted a demolition bid for Central. Did the mayor, our elected visionary, ask the School Board to pursue with due diligence all means to seek a developer and rehabilitate Central? Our elected leaders should reconsider demolishing this culturally rich and publicly financed piece of history; they risk letting Central become a missed opportunity.
Civic responsibility is an attitude where we respect the past and provide for our evolving future. Our leaders should present long-view visions and provide options for our future. Meanwhile, each citizen should voice ideas to guide our leaders and define what we want to be.
Superiorís Mayor Ross has described himself as a "pragmatic" leader. A word definition of "pragmatic" suggests that he is practical, often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters. Our Mayor (with other elected leaders) decided that citizen-led opposition to the demolition of Central School is nothing more than a romantic, sentimental plea for some building that isnít worth saving. He is wrong.
Itís a fact that by retaining historical character a community can attract tourism and new residents. Also, a 100-year-old building placed beneath proper care can last over 100 additional years.
The mayor, the School Board and other elected leaders have made up their minds: Central is "not save-able." They would have us believe that they did everything in their power to preserve Central, but no developers desire it because itís nothing but a "white elephant." Our leaders are resigned to the opinion that Superior is "not economically viable" for these types of projects. Why didnít the mayor, our designated public voice, work to counter this opinion and market the city as economically viable for any developerís vision?
Regardless, Central is save-able. Itís true that the building is "very inefficient in the amount of corridors," as was noted in the minutes from the Nov. 1, 2001, meeting of the Superior School District Facility Redevelopment Task Force. However, those experienced with the rehabilitation of old schools (such as qualified architects and their developers) account for the inefficiency in their development costs and in the new building layout.
Developers throughout the country have effectively reused schools for apartments, arts centers, etc. Look no further than Duluthís Washington Studios for an example of a large school reuse project, which was converted to an apartment/art space facility. Janesville, Wis. also adapted an abandoned school similar to Central--thoughtfully converting the building to generous apartments, many with chalkboards and refinished wood floors and a new arts center in the auditorium.
The Superior School Board brought a referendum for new schools before the people several times before it was passed.
Why didnít the referendum for new schools include funding to maintain Central while it was integrated into the wider City of Superior Comprehensive Plan, particularly in the face of a shortage of affordable, quality housing in the Twin Ports?
Why didnít our elected leaders seek assistance from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, considering that the school served as the Summer White House for Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s? No call was made to ask for expertise in reusing a culturally significant school.
Why didnít our elected leaders list Central on the National Historic Register, thus protecting the facility yet allowing for a responsible reuse appropriate for this community?
Why have our elected leaders refused to mothball the building, a relatively inexpensive affair, until a developer can be found when no plan exists for the property?
The citizen-led group opposed to the demolition of Central made efforts to persuade the mayor and the School Board to postpone demolition, and developers did come forward! The Superior Daily Telegram noted that a developer had shown interest as late as several weeks ago--prior to the School Board accepting a demolition bid. The School Board ignored the developer.
Why didnít the Mayor show leadership and question the School Boardís resolution not to acknowledge potential offers? A true elected leader considers future options for its citizens. A leader that allows the demolition of well-built public property because itís the "pragmatic" choice, with possible buyers, is negligent and removes options for the current and future residents.
This aside, we commend Mayor Ross for recognizing a viable project once itís completed, such as the conversion of the Nelson Dewey School into an attractive senior living center thanks to Billman Construction of Duluth. The Mayor has taken past action in building restoration. However, it is our sincere hope that he would show interest in Central with as much passion and effectiveness.
Our leaders need to address the peopleís concerns about the politics of these matters, or be removed from public office, or at the very least be held accountable for their questionable leadership, their limited vision, their refusal to listen to potential buyers, their resistance to provide future options for the voting public, and OUR missed opportunity. When we look at Central High, we donít see an old, run-down building. We see an invaluable piece of Superiorís past and the exciting promise of a prosperous future.
--- Kevin Korpela is an architect and Susan Lockwood is an artist and resident of Superior.
[This article is a reprint from www.ripsawnews.com.]
© Kevin Korpela, www.observatorydrive.comô