Last mile for school project

by Tom Coombe
It’s a race against the clock and the calendar on Ely’s school campus.
Contractors are working feverishly, sometimes into the night, to complete a $20 million-plus renovation project in time for the start of school in early-September.
Currently, plans call for the school year to start on time on Sept. 6, but both the exterior and part of the interior remain a work in progress.
The discovery of ledgerock has required blasting in the process of installing new water and sewer lines, and security fencing has been installed around school parking lots while work has continued.
A second “circle” in front of the school buildings for student drop-off and pickup remains to be done, and contractors are still finishing a new addition that includes a gymnasium, cafeteria and commons space, offices, media center, music and industrial education classrooms and a new secure entry.
School board members were briefed Monday both about the progress of the project, and some of the obstacles - both construction-related and financial - that have disrupted initial plans.
The latest expenses related to blasting, including a roughly $300,000 hit reported this week, have drained the project’s contingency fund and further costs are expected to create overruns.
As much as $4.5 million in additional funding for the initiative, both to cover excess costs and to complete portions that have been scrapped because of the overruns, could have been coming Ely’s way had it not been for a state legislative session that ended without an agreement.
Through lobbyists Jeff Anderson and Gary Cerkvenik, the district is expected to make another run at those funds when lawmakers reconvene.
“So we are sitting in limbo,” superintendent John Klarich told the board.
Klarich also said he has taken several months to get up to speed on the project since taking over as superintendent in January.
He called the project his top priority and said he had conducted extensive research and said the financial issues related to the project can be attributed to several areas, ranging from change orders to Covid-related cost issues and workforce shortages.
Klarich said that expanding the size of the new addition was much more expensive than originally anticipated, perhaps as much as $2 million.
Project manager Todd Erickson of general contractor Kraus-Anderson Construction also went before the board and outlined the progress made thus far.
According to a several page document provided by the contractor, the project was 93 percent complete as of July 22.
Grading work on the exterior is in varying stages of completion, while curb and gutter and landscaping are set to begin in August.
Plans call for paving to begin Aug. 29.
Erickson said contractors are committed to having the lots ready in time for the start of school the following week.
Inside, the second floor of the Washington Building remains under construction but could be turned over and ready for cleaning within 10 days, with the main floor not far behind.
Parts of the new building are complete while others move forward, including installation of the gymnasium floor.
The project narrative shows a Sept. 2 date for turnover of the new addition and a ramp to the Washington Building.
Other parts of the project, including completion of locker rooms in the Memorial Building will go into the fall.
The district, high school and elementary offices are all moving to the new addition and will be located adjacent to the new, secure entrance to the school buildings.
Meanwhile, school officials have approved a new set-up for student drop-off and parking.
The plan evolved from numerous meetings involving school administrators, contractors and city officials including the police and fire chief.
As indicated previously, parking will be prohibited on the south side of Harvey Street on school days when school is in session.
Parking areas will be revamped, with angle parking eliminated in the lot at the front of the high school. That lot will now be designated for staff parking while student parking will be on the east side of the building, in the area now reserved for staff parking.