Elementary exit is two days early

Project forces school to empty building, K-5 kids done June 2

by Tom Coombe
Summer vacation is set to start a couple of days early for students at Ely’s Washington Elementary School.
Tight timelines related to a nearly $20 million facilities project prompted the move, which must be officially approved by the school board on May 11.
But in part to give parents more time to prepare, board members unofficially endorsed the plan Monday, during their monthly study session.
“You guys know what needs to be done,” board member Tom Omerza told school administrators.
It means that for elementary students, the last day of school will be Wednesday, June 2 rather than Friday, June 4, in order for the district to fully vacate the building by June 8.
Board member Hollee Coombe added that it’s important that “communication goes out sooner than later” to help working parents prepare for child care, while board member Tony Colarich acknowledged the timelines associated with getting the building ready for upcoming renovations.
“Stuff needs to be removed,” he said. “There are only so many hours in a day and days in a week.”
The board discussion came in response to a request from superintendent Erik Erie and indicated “Principal (Anne) Oelke would like to put out some communication to families to start preparing for the strong possibility” that school would end early.
Staff will use two days without students to pack and clean out rooms, cleaning the way for contractors to begin work on the building the following week.
Plans call for extensive renovations to the Washington Building, improvements that are slated to be done in time for the start of the 2021-22 school year in the fall.
Bids for that component of the project are set to be read May 13 and awarded May 24.
A groundbreaking event for the entire project is on for Thursday, May 27, at 11 a.m., and will include school officials, dignitaries and other elected leaders.
Superintendent Erik Erie, responding to a question raised by Omerza, said it’s possible that students would also be part of the festivities.
“I’ve seen that done, but in non-Covid times,” said Erie. “It’s a great idea.”
The Industrial Arts Building is set to be demolished as part of the project, which includes renovations to both the Washington and Memorial buildings as well as construction of a facility that will link the two structures.
The new addition will include a gymnasium, commons space, cafeteria, media center, offices and both music and industrial education classroom.
It will also serve as the primary entrance to the campus.
The project was triggered by the approval of a $10 million referendum last August, which also freed up $7 million in grant funds from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.
The entire project is set for completion by the fall of 2022.