First look at school project has $23 million price tag

Two plans with kitchen sink of options and additions will be whittled down

by Nick Wognum -

A first look at a proposed project connecting three buildings on the Ely school campus came with a price tag of just over $23 million for two configurations.
The projects include a wish list of items the district would like to see done including $2 million for windows, parking lot improvements of $600,000, reroofing the Memorial building for $747,000, demolishing the boiler plant for $450,000 and $150,000 for replacing air handling units.
A community task force group was presented with two options, each with nearly identical price tags. Option one included a new gymnasium ($1.2 million) included in a courtyard addition while option two expanded the small gym ($1.9 million).
“The hope for tonight is a priority list to come back to the school board within three weeks,” said Katie Hildenbrand of Architectural Resources.
“This is all the wishes and wants so you’re going to get a top dollar,” said Hildenbrand. “After tonight my guess is we’re going to have work on that number.”
Two school board members sat in on the presentation along with several teachers and superintendent Kevin Abrahamson.
Both plans include remodeling the Industrial Art building with a relocated Science/Stem and Art classrooms. The music area would be expanded to included vocal teaching space and the welding and small engine space would be expanded in the lower level.
Both plans also include a secure entry in the new connection space where the elementary office and school nurse would be housed. Visitors would then access the school buildings through one entrance.
Classroom remodeling in both the Washington and Memorial buildings would total $3.2 million.
Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) and rental space for Happy Days would be relocated to the first floor of the Memorial Building on the east side. Special education classrooms would be moved to the first floor on the northwest section of the Memorial building. The green house space would be expanded into what is now a science classroom.
Option One
As part of a plan to connect the three buildings, a new gymnasium would be added adjacent to the Memorial building by removing the buildout to the media center that extends into the courtyard.
“With Option One you’re getting a third gym which you could really use more for multiple purposes instead of a traditional gym,” said Hildenbrand.
A high school commons area would connect the gym spaces and the media center would be relocated to an area currently used for vocal music.
The former pool area would finally be remodeled with additional locker room space and a weight room. The cafeteria would be relocated adjacent to the new gym and the kitchen serving area would move into where the cafeteria had been.
“Linking the buildings was one of the top priorities,” said Hildenbrand. “We included relocating an office to the secure entry. We have the elementary office there but if it makes more sense to move the high school or district office or all, we could still do that. It also makes sense to get the nurse into a central space.”
Option Two
Expanding the small gym area and turning it to run north and south would allow for a weight room to be located beneath the new space. Locker rooms would be remodeled and expanded into the former pool area.
The Media Center would stay in its existing location but there would be remodeling to include a High School Commons area between it and the gymnasium space.
“It really comes down to function,” said Hildenbrand. “Which plan do you like better?”
How to pay for a project
The meeting started with a long presentation from Craig Crowe of Ehlers, the district’s financial consultant.
Ely has debt that will be coming off the books in the next six years. The debt to remodel the arena ends in 2023 while the energy project will be paid off in 2025.
Crowe suggested a funding model where the amount of debt being retired is reduced for the first couple years of the project and then expanded when the existing debt is paid off.
The earliest a funding package could be put in place after voter approval would be in 2021.
“Once a number is reached then the experts go to work,” said Abrahamson.
Crowe explained that based on the type of debt, who pays could change. The most common programs include all properties while some exclude most season/recreational parcels.
The Ely school district has a market value of $681 million. Based on net tax capacity, the tax base is made up of one third residential homestead, one third seasonal recreational, nine percent commercial, 13 percent other residential, nine percent qualifying agriculture and three percent other properties.
“Our goal is to design plans to manage the impact to the benefit to the taxpayers while maximizing funds you get on the front end to do good investments into your facilities,” said Crowe.
Next steps
Hildenbrand said the group will need to look at what needs to be done today and if there are items that can be planned for the future.
“For instance if we’re not ready to do a renovation of your science classrooms for instance, this is a road map of where it should go when you’re ready to do that,” said Hildenbrand. “The whole Industrial building could be left just the way it is now.”
The next step would be for the group to come back and start prioritizing what the project will be.
“The next time we meet maybe you say this can’t be more than a $12 million project or here’s our priorities that these are the things that we really need to hit,” said Hildebrand. “We need to be stewards of how we think the community will support it.”
The group asked for potential tax impacts on various levels of costs for the project, including just the connecting space to the buildings.
Task force member Ross Petersen cautioned against a high dollar project. “I think you’re going to have to look at the very basic with the connection between the buildings without a gym in it and the upgrades to the locker room and the cafeteria,” said Petersen.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think you’re going to be able to do over $5 million,” said Petersen.
Others felt the more important number will be what the tax impact is going to be on a $100,000 home as an example.
“The majority of households don’t have kids in the school,” said Petersen. “Based on previous numbers $5 million may be as high as we can go.”
Hildenbrand said a $6.5 million project had an impact of $30 per year on a $100,000 home based on numbers run a year ago.
“I want to do the whole $23 million,” said Petersen. “I’m just saying you’ve got to be realistic on what you’re going to get. A few years ago the average family income in Ely was $42,000. That’s not a lot of money.”
Hildenbrand said the district only receives $222,000 a year to do capital improvements and windows in the Memorial Building alone come up to $1.2 million.
“You have people who don’t have children in the school district but they have grandchildren and they want to support them,” said task force member Misty Merhar.
Hildebrand advised the group to look at needs versus wants when looking at what should be included in a project.
She said the district also has a $495,000 grant to make security improvements for the Industrial Arts building. The money has to be spent this year but could be built to tie into a larger project.
The $23 million price tag includes removing the underground tunnels that had been used in the past to provide connections to the buildings.
The group will meet again on April 1.