New housing now available at Old Central High School

Zenith DCHS now open for leasing

The historic Old Central High School building has been converted from classrooms to 122 mixed-income housing units.

In early 2020, the Duluth School Board listed the historic Old Central High School building for sale. Saturday Properties, a Twin Cities developer, had been looking for property in Duluth and eventually purchased the site for $3 million.

“It took about two years to go and arrange all the design and all the financing needed because we had numerous different layers of financing to try to bring a project like this to fruition,” said Saturday Properties Chief Development Officer Mark Laverty. “It’s really important that the City of Duluth has been a really critical partner throughout this entire process. It’s very challenging to provide housing and Duluth as much of we’re comparing it to Minneapolis, Saint Paul, it costs more to build here, but the rents are less. So to go and entice investment, there is that investment that can go anywhere in the country to have it come up here. The city has been able to work with this, frankly, limited tools to go and create the development that has happened that we can see around town.”

Partnering with AWH Architects and Kraus-Anderson Construction, the $34.9 million project transformed classrooms into housing units while keeping historical features.

“For this project, we utilize federal and state historic tax credits. So we work with the State Historic Preservation Office, and there’s a bunch of rules in place, very much in part on the outside the building,” explained Laverty. “But what’s unique, because this is a school, we also had to preserve a lot of things on the interior, the auditorium. We had to keep that open. The hallways look very much the same, including the lockers, and we had to replace all the windows with very much the same design that was originally in place.”

Built in 1892, the Old Central High School building brought challenges to renovation. According to Laverty, there are at least 100 unique floorplans.

“You’ve got unique configurations and then there’s not perfect plans for these old buildings,” said Kraus-Anderson Construction Director of Operations Dan Markham. “So you punch through a floor expecting that you’re going to be able to run your plumbing down through, and you’d run into something that was totally unexpected. So things need to be rerouted or totally relocate a fixture, and you just didn’t know until you got inside the wall oftentimes.”

While renovating, there were also a few reminders of the students who once walked the halls.

“When you go up in the clock tower, everybody that graduated from Duluth Central up to I think it was them well until until the central on the hill closed. They came down and they wrote their names on the wall in the clock tower,” said Markham. “But you could also get into the to the attic and walk around the entire building in the attic space, and you’d find old historical artifacts and stuff all over the place up there in the attic.”

Artifacts were incorporated into the design alongside modern features.

“The old auditorium we have on top next to that is the auditorium itself, and that is going to become a pickleball and inside yard and then a golf simulator that will be going in there. Then it connects into the Dean’s lounge, so essentially you can go and have a beverage in the principal’s office outside as well,” said Laverty. “We also have a large fitness center with a sauna. What’s unique specifically here is we have what we call a mudroom. So when you come in through one of our lower level entries, we have a big area you can wash off your bike, skis, or dog.”

There are 122 mixed-income units in the 158,153 square foot building. Ten percent of the building is comprised of affordable units that are for those making 60% of the area median income. Other units are priced at a market rate, ranging from $980 a month for a studio to up to $5400 a month for a penthouse unit.

“We are really trying to be a part of the community, and there are quite a few people that need more affordable housing. So it’s a great opportunity for us to create that and make a great space for them to live,” said Saturday Properties General Manager Josh Beatty.

Half of the units are leased as of February 15, and 27% are occupied.

“Everyone’s just excited to be here, and the residents that have lived here so far are really enjoying the location and just how the historic elements of the building are brought into the new kitchens and bathrooms, everything that we brought into the building,” said Beatty. “Then just from the community, people are generally excited that we’re here and using the building.”

More information on Zenith DCHS and their available units can be found at this link.