School survey on the way

by Tom Coombe
Ely area residents will soon have the chance to weigh in on a series of proposed improvements on the school campus.
This week, a survey commissioned by the district is set to arrive in mailboxes around the area.
It’s part of an effort to gauge public opinion and sentiment before school board members settle on the size of a potential facilities project that almost certainly would require voter approval and property tax increases.
School officials have looked at options ranging from as little as $5.8 million to in excess of $17 million, but they’ve been reluctant to proceed until they get a better handle on public opinion.
That’s why they contracted with School Perceptions, a firm with an extensive history of successfully predicting the outcome of school referendums.
School Perceptions has promised to determine the “tax tolerance” of area residents.
The survey has not yet been made public, but it presumably will include questions about various options that have come to the table in talks over the last year.
The board as well as a citizens committee that met earlier this year has reviewed proposals to connect the district’s buildings, build additional gymnasium space, complete an array of infrastructure work to district buildings and enhance facilities with a new cafeteria, commons area and various classroom improvements.
The facilities group looked at a $5.8 million “base plan” which does not include a gymnasium and calls for a “linkways addition” that would connect the buildings via walkways.
A new gymnasium and commons area were recommended by school staff, but some members on the committee that met this year pushed for other priorities, including infrastructure repairs that include a new roof, new windows and doors.
According to a draft released in April, a $16.4 million bond, which assumes the district would get no outside assistance for improvements, would result in a tax increase of $9 per month on a $100,000 home.
The hit to commercial properties would be much larger, with a $16 million bond raising taxes on a $500,000 commercial property by $119 a month, while one valued at $1 million would get assessed an additional $248 per month.
Another unknown is the possibility of additional support, perhaps from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.
Residents will have until Oct. 14 to return the survey, and precautions are in place to make sure no resident may submit more than one survey.
Board members will meet with School Perceptions in late-October to go over the results.