School OKs gym ceiling fix

$63,000 cost closure could last up to an additional four weeks

by Tom Coombe
The main gymnasium at Ely Memorial High School will be closed for as long as four more weeks while repairs are made to the ceiling.
At a special meeting Monday, school board members authorized a $63,000 project to install plywood over the plaster ceiling,
The decision came in the wake of a Sept. 6 incident in which more than 70 pounds of plaster fell, after school hours and when the gymnasium was unoccupied.
The gymnasium has been closed ever since, displacing physical education classes as well as the high school volleyball team, which has been playing home games and practicing at Vermilion Community College the last three weeks.
That’s expected to continue until late-October, given a project timeline pegged at four weeks.
Crews from Max Gray Construction, which was tabbed by school officials for the project, are expected to begin work Monday.
Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson said it’s possible the closure won’t be as long as projected.
“Let’s have them start with the area that is above the gym floor, do that first, and then see if they can work from the balcony and see if we can use the gym,” said Abrahamson. “If we do that it may be less than four weeks.”
The decision by school board members came after legwork by school facilities director Tim Leeson and consultation with both engineers and representatives from Architectural Resources, Incorporated.
“This is a permanent fix,” said Abrahamson. “I wanted to show the board that Mr. Leeson and the rest of us did our due diligence as far as seeking out options. We had ARI come in a couple of times, and their recommendation was to cover the ceiling with plywood.”
Other options were more expensive, including up to $79,000, and Abrahamson said “those would be to tear the ceiling out, so we would be out more money and we wouldn’t have a permanent fix.”
Timing also played a role into the decision, with one quote from a local contractor calling for the work to be done no earlier than March, 2020.
“If you look at that potential start date, that’s important to note,” said Erik Erie, who is set to take over as soon as this week as the district’s superintendent.
The district will use reserve funds to pay for the project, as Abrahamson said the district is not able to submit an insurance claim.
Inspections found no water damage to the roof, even in light of recent heavy rains.
The gym closure has caused a scramble of sorts at the school, with physical education classes moved outside or to the arena.
The volleyball team, meanwhile, has already played two home matches at Vermilion and have two more scheduled for this week, on Tuesday and Thursday.
It seems likely that the regular season home finale on Oct. 15, and potential Section 7A playoff matches on Oct. 23 and Oct. 25 would also take place at the college.
School officials worked out a deal with Vermilion to use the college gymnasium for free, with the district waiving rental fees assessed to VCC for use of the football, baseball and softball fields.
“I wanted to say a huge thank you to VCC for being as accommodating as they have been,” said Abrahamson. “They have been just great to work with and we appreciate that partnership.”