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Western Middle School site. Discuss.

As a hardcore environmentalist and a Red Plan critic, I am rather befuddled by all the talk of an EIS for the Western Middle School.

To be quite honest, the Western Middle School on the chosen site is the one part of the Red Plan I actually support. As an avid outdoor explorer, I think I’ve made tracks in just about every wild spot in Duluth, this one included. I can tell you the “pristine field” critics talk about is mostly an invasive buckthorn hell. Putting a middle school there, if done right, could lead to ecological restoration and native landscaping to improve a highly disturbed ecosystem.

Then there’s the endless possibilities for outdoor education, which has been shown to enhance student achievement. There could and should be an outdoor classroom. The site can easily be connected to the Piedmont trail network and Superior Hiking Trail. Part of the site could be an organic vegetable garden. I think it would be really neat if part of the site plan involved a nature center, staffed by an environmental science teacher and student interns, that could provide environmental education curriculum to the student body. Imagine a classroom with windows looking out on bird feeders on the edge of the forest, or a science class going outside to look at different plant species or hunt for invertebrates, or any other teachers holding class in an outdoor amphitheater. The Merritt Creek high ropes course and climbing wall is within easy walking distance and already connected to the site by ATV trails that could be improved for ADA-friendly walking. The part of the site between the two is fairly grassy, and could be restored to native prairie with controlled burning.

What I am upset about is the evacuation of Lincoln Park School–a big, modern, walker/biker-friendly school in the heart of the community next to a beautiful park that is well-utilized as an outdoor classroom–in favor of a small site surrounded by a strip mall and houses with no woods or creeks nearby that every kid will have to ride a polluting, expensive-to-operate school bus to get to. Why doesn’t this part of the plan have greens and neighborhood advocates in an uproar?

1 Comment

Paul Lundgren

about 9 years ago

I was at a meeting in May 2008 about possible locations for the western middle school and the Lincoln/Piedmont Elementary.

At the meeting, the district and Johnson Controls presented the Wheeler site as its third choice for the middle school. A 134-acre spot east of Arlington Road was the preferred location and reusing Central High School was number two.

The 50-or-so people at this meeting strongly favored the Wheeler site, pointing out that the Arlington site wouldn't allow any kids to walk to school (not safely, anyway) and the Central site is too far east of the student population center for a western middle school and the cost of maintaining that property vs. selling it didn't make it worthwhile.

The district and school board listened, and Wheeler became the chosen site.

The elementary school part of the meeting happened first, and I was late, so I missed that. I think the existing Lincoln Park site wasn't chosen because it was going to cost a lot to make it a high-quality school. There's a 100-page PDF document from 2006 detailing what Johnson Controls felt needed to be done to the site ...

Lincoln Park Middle School Differed Maintenance 

I suppose there was also a feeling that if the new elementary school were located in the West End, many of the Piedmont parents would send their kids to Hermantown instead, since it would actually be closer for some of them.

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