Construction coming soon

Work on $20 million school project set to begin in the spring

by Tom Coombe
A formal groundbreaking ceremony is in the works and construction in Ely’s nearly $20 million school campus project could begin before the end of the school year.
Superintendent Erik Erie briefed board members about the latest details Monday, when the board gathered together in-person for the first time in nearly a year.
The meeting was held at City Hall, instead of at the high school, to take advantage of the city facility’s better technology capabilities and accommodate those who attended virtually.
Erie said plans are coming together for an April groundbreaking event that will include state legislators and other dignitaries, in the wake of a $10 million bond referendum approved by district voters and a subsequent $7 million Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board grant that was triggered as a result.
Those are the two key components in the funding of a major initiative that will include a brand-new structure to connect the Washington and Memorial buildings, as well as improvements to both of the existing facilities.
But in order to get a jump start on a project that will take more than a year to complete, the Industrial Arts Building may need to be vacated by May 17, or three weeks prior to the end of the current school year..
Further details weren’t available Monday, but Erie indicated that the building, which is slated for demolition, would not be available for instruction and would also have to be clear of equipment by that date.
That figures to impact not only the Industrial Arts classes but Happy Days Preschool, which leases space in the building.
School vehicles stored underneath the building will also need a new home, and Erie said that plans have changed related to the construction of a new vehicle storage garage.
Rather than adding on to the existing bus garage near the baseball field, as was originally proposed, the district will instead construct a garage by the ice arena because of utility conflicts.
In December, school board members agreed and allowed for schematic design, design development and preparation of a construction document that will produce more detailed cost estimates and a plan for the project.
The initiative calls for a brand-new building that will provide a main, secure entry to the campus and house a new gymnasium, cafeteria, media center, common spaces, offices and classrooms.
It will also serve as the primary entrance to the school campus.
While the new structure has captured much of the attention related to the project, renovations to the Washington and Memorial facilities are also in store.
Plans call for moving Happy Days Preschool to the Washington building as well as the early childhood and Headstart programs.
The Memorial will have a new look, with renovations to classrooms and the conversion of various spaces.
While work is expected to begin in the spring, final completion isn’t slated until the summer of 2022.
The school district got good financial news last fall when interest rates for the school’s debt came in at 1.3998 percent, far below initial projections of 3.24
The bottom line for the Ely district is a $2,280,000 reduction in debt service levies over the life of the 20-year bond, which was approved by 65 percent of district voters in an Aug. 11 special election.
The interest savings helped the district in another way, as board members issued $1.1 million in additional bonds this week to pay for indoor air quality improvements.
Despite the additional borrowing, the tax impact remains below projections provided by the district in advance of the referendum.
In other business Monday, the board:
• Approved a one-year, $2,000 per month contract with the Costin Group, which will continue to provide lobbying services for the district.
The firm was retained last year in part to secure IRRRB support for the building project, and representatives Gary Cerkvenik and Jeff Anderson identified new projects, including an effort to secure additional taconite relief funding for the district, an area where Ely lags far behind other Range schools.
Board chairman Ray Marsnik endorsed the proposal and identified other areas in which the Costin Group is aiding the district, including a pitch for legislation that would exempt the district from paying sales taxes for materials on the building project.
Board member Tony Colarich estimated that if successful, the move could result in as much as $400,000 in savings.
• Hired Megan Wognum as head volleyball coach. Ely’s assistant coach the last six years, Wognum will succeed Andrea Thomas, who resigned after the Timberwolves’ perfect 12-0, COVID-abbreviated fall season.
• Renewed the contract of speech coach Donna Kari and hired Reed Petersen as assistant boys basketball coach. Petersen is filling in this season for Tim Omerza, who took a one-year leave of absence from coaching.
• Revised the district budget for purchases related to the 1:1 technology initiative. The district purchased Chromebooks for students to aid with distance learning and other technology needs.
• Delayed a decision to hire Big River Group, for $3,000, to facilitate a board retreat and help with board planning.