By Adelle Whitefoot
The old Clover Valley School hasn’t heard a recess bell since 1974, but it has managed to hang on for more than 40 years, with at least the outside walls still standing.
St. Louis County announced Monday that the former school in Duluth Township, between Duluth and Two Harbors, has been added to its priority list of blighted and dilapidated buildings that will be torn down.
It’s part of the county’s ongoing effort from Duluth to neighboring townships to Iron Range cities to remove old buildings — where taxes have been unpaid for years — that have deteriorated beyond any useful life, home now only to pigeons, skunks and vandals.
The Clover Valley School was closed in 1974 as a result of action taken by the then-Lake County School District School Board. The board voted unanimously to approve the closure of the school and bus its 167 students in grades nine through 12 to the old Two Harbors High School and its 74 students in grades seventh and eighth to the Minnehaha Middle School. This action was taken after legislation that was passed requiring unorganized county schools to become apart of another school district and the Supreme Court held that the consolidation between the schools was constitutional. Clover Valley School was closed just one year after joining Lake County School District.
The news of the demolition traveled through the area leaving many of the school’s remaining alumni with mixed feelings. Janet Johansen was part of the last graduating class at Clover Valley and even though she’s sad to see it go, she said she believes it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s such an eyesore to the community and it’s bringing in such undesirable people into the community that I’m actually looking forward to seeing it gone,” she said. “It’s so demolished now there’s no way they could ever use that building again.”
The building is in extreme disarray with graffiti covering every inch of every wall and rubble and glass covering the floor. The old gymnasium is currently flooded due the recent rain and the holes in the ceiling. Even worse, the original part of the school burned down in 1999.
Johansen, who still lives in Duluth Township, married her high school sweetheart after graduating and is still married to him this day, but that is not her favorite memory of going to school at Clover Valley.
“My favorite memory of the school were all my classmates,” she said. “There were a lot of friendships that were made there and we are still friends today.”
Carole Falk, graduate of 1962, said she felt the same way about her classmates.”We had small classes and you know everybody in the school,” Falk said. “So we were a very close-knit family. I’m still in contact with some of my classmates and even some underclassmen.”
Michael Torgerson, 1969 graduate, said his favorite memories were of having a homecoming bonfire in the back of the school.
“It was quite a lot of fun and I probably remember most the dances we had in the gym,” he said.Torgerson now lives in Washington state and hasn’t seen the building in a few years now, but it was still very much a mess even then.”
It’s really hard to see that school go because it meant so much to so many people, but on the other hand it’s such a wreck and it needs to go,” he said.
The county has allocated about $800,000 for dilapidated building demolition this year, and the school is one of 34 structures approved for demolition by the County Board earlier this month.The 25-acre property officially went tax-forfeited in 2015, giving the county legal authority to take action. Dana Kazel, the county’s spokeswoman, said the building should be demolished within three weeks.
Both the Duluth Township board and County Board were unanimous in wanting the building torn down so someone might redevelop the site with a new structure. County Commissioner Pete Stauber, who represents Duluth Township, said the old school has been “a frustrating problem for this community for years.”
“It has been unfortunate to see the property go from a center of community pride when it was an operating school to its decline through neglect and vandalism,” said David Mount, Duluth Township Board chairman, in a prepared statement.