“Shop” space integral part of school building project

10,500 square feet for industrial arts puts Ely ahead of most area schools

by Tom Coombe
Anyone who’s listened to school superintendent Erik Erie’s presentations about the upcoming $10 million bond referendum has probably heard him proclaim “Industrial arts are alive and well in Ely.”
Newly-released details fortify that position, including some alterations from original plans that create additional space for industrial arts or often-called “shop classes.”
Current drawings show about 10,500 square feet for industrial arts in the new structure that would link the Memorial and Washington buildings, should the Aug. 11 referendum be approved.
That’s a roughly 4,000 square foot increase from initial designs, and come on the heels of a comprehensive look at industrial arts classrooms at numerous area schools - led by longtime Ely industrial arts instructor Rob Simonich.
The result was a reconfiguration that, according to Simonich, not only meets Ely’s needs but puts the school in a leading position with the region.
“I wanted to see what everybody else had,” said Simonich. “I went out and visited all these schools and measured all the rooms, and all the new schools and remodeled schools were all around 8,000 to 9,000 square feet, and we’ll be at 10,500. We’re going to be the largest new facility in the area.”
Simonich said that “with this we are able to keep our level of teaching and experiences for our kids.”
The drawings show a pair of large “shop” areas, one for woods and another for welding, metals and small engines.
In between is a classroom and office area, along with tool and finish rooms.
Both of the “shop” areas will have glass windows, allowing for instructors to supervise from the classroom area if necessary.
“We ended up with a wood shop which is equivalent to what we have now,” said Simonich. “We still have our classroom which is going to be our classroom/office/computer lab. Then we’ll have the other section which is going to be welding, machining, small engines.”
While the massive Industrial Arts Building will be razed as part of the roughly $20 million project, Simonich said the industrial arts curriculum will have ample space and a modern new home in the new structure.
“We didn’t want to give ourselves less of what we have, yet we want to modernize and something that’s futuristic,” said Simonich.
Simonich said that an Ely resident, Mesabi East industrial arts instructor Tim Hogan, aided in the effort. The Mesabi East industrial arts area, which includes nearly 9,000 square feet of space at the remodeled school in Aurora, was one of several that Simonich toured.
“He gave us some ideas and we collaborated on what ours should look like,” said Simonich.
Some of the early terminology used in the formulation of the project appears to have created some confusion, at least how it relates to industrial arts.
In an appeal to the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, district officials emphasized plans for “maker space” and the use of STEAM (science, technology, engineering arts and math) courses.
“It was important for us to articulate that with the IRRRB as we tried to promote our project,” said Erie.
But Erie also called the terms “ed speak” and Simonich acknowledged that he had encountered numerous questions from the community about how the changes would impact industrial arts.
It may have resulted in confusion over terminology.
“If you look at science, technology, arts, engineering and math, he (Simonich) does every one of those things in his classroom,” said Simonich.
A longtime industrial arts teacher in Ely, Simonich touted the school’s offerings and said the project ensures those will continue.
“We’ve been on the top end of what we make for projects and things and we want to continue that on,” he said. “We want to continue making higher end furniture, cabinets. We don’t want to be making cutting boards. That’s what some schools are doing. They just don’t have the facilities.”
The project will also make sure that community education offerings including woodworking and welding classes will carry on.
“We want this whole area to be community centered with the commons, cafeteria and multipurpose gymnasium all very accessible,” said Erie.
Erie said the project is “about honoring the past and being poised for the future.”
Connecting the district’s buildings and making the campus more secure has been a top priority in facilities-related discussions that have stretched several years, and Ely school officials say time is wasted each day when elementary students must put winter gear on to walk outside across the school courtyard to the Memorial Building - not only for lunch but classes as well.
The project is a combination of new construction with renovations to the Washington and Memorial buildings. The majority of the money is being spent either on infrastructure or the two existing buildings, prompting supporters to say the project is both an investment in the future and the past.
A survey of district voters helped school officials arrive at the $10 million bond, which if approved would release a $7 million grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.
The IRRRB money hinges on voter approval of the $10 million bond this year, and Ely officials have made note that all district properties - including seasonal-recreational parcels - are subject to the bond.
That’s led to a calculation showing that resident taxpayers would be on the hook for roughly $8 million overall, or roughly 40 percent of the project cost.
Tax impact calculators may be found on the district’s website, and estimates show that approval would result in a property tax hike of $54 on a $100,000 home and $135 on a $200,000 home.
That does not include the impact of the state’s residential property tax refund program, which would allow some residents - based on income - to further reduce the annual tax impact of the referendum.
On commercial properties the tax hit ranges from $112 annually on a $100,000 property to $690 for a business property valued at $500,000.
Absentee voting for the referendum began June 26 and outreach continues through virtual forums, including one set for Aug. 5, and with work by a “vote yes” advocacy committee.