Potential site identified for joint garage

by Tom Coombe

It’s on to the drawing board, literally, in the effort to establish a joint public works garage and maintenance facility in the Ely area.<BR><BR>Representatives of several government entities have identified possible locations, keying on city-owned property behind the Dorothy Molter Museum, and they’ll seek architectural drawings and designs for the proposed new building.<BR><BR>“Really, we need to figure out what is possible,” said St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Forsman. “What can we do is what this amounts to.”<BR><BR>The county, Ely, Winton and Morse Township are among the public bodies that could be involved in the project.<BR><BR>Forsman said that Lake County will also be invited to join.<BR><BR>“That’s one of the things we talked about,” said Forsman. “If we have something on the east side of town, it will be easier for both Winton and Lake County to join in.”<BR><BR>Representatives have met several times and talked about working together in an effort both to save money and put their public works operations under one roof.<BR><BR>Similar projects, bringing the county together with both the Minnesota Department of Transportation and local governments, have worked in Hibbing and Pike Lake, located just outside of Duluth.<BR><BR>Supporters say the facilities provide savings to taxpayers and avoid duplication of government services.<BR><BR>County plans for expansion of its building sparked talk of a joint facility. If the project goes forward, it could free up areas on Ely’s main street - such as the county facility on the west entrance to town - for economic development.<BR><BR>There has been general support for finding a large area, anywhere from 20-40 acres and most likely outside the city limits, for a facility that could house snowplows, sanding trucks and other vehicles owned by the various government entities. Thus far, representatives have determined their expectations and desires for a facility and it’s possible that the building could have more than a public works component.<BR><BR>Morse may seek space to store its fire vehicles, and Forsman said that law enforcement entities including both Ely police and St. Louis County sheriff’s deputies could set up shop there.<BR><BR>A review of possible sites has led to support for the area behind the Molter Museum, a gravel pit in city hands.<BR><BR>“We did think that it was the most viable site,” said Forsman. “It would be the cheapest site to develop and there’s opportunity to make the area look a little prettier with a new building on it. Also, it’s close to the MnDOT (Department of Transportation) facility.”<BR><BR>Other locations under consideration include a county-owned site on Highway 21, and a 113-acre location south of the Shagawa River, east of Highway 88 and just north of Highway 169.<BR><BR>Ely, Morse, Winton and St. Louis County have shown the most interest in the project, while efforts to get MnDOT involved have been unsuccessful.<BR><BR>Hibbing’s garage, which includes city, county and MnDOT vehicles as well as a headquarters for the State Patrol, cost $7 million. Duluth, county and MnDOT trucks are at the Pike Lake facility, which was built for $5.5 million.<BR><BR>Costs of an Ely facility would depend both on the size and the number of entities that participate in the project.<BR><BR>Ownership, funding and location issues are among the key hurdles, and the time frame for any action is not immediate.