School year delayed in Ely

Project delays extend summer vacation; first day for students Sept. 12

by Tom Coombe
Fears turned into reality Monday, when Ely school officials decided to push back the start of the 2022-23 school year because of the slow-moving construction project on campus.
Rather than Sept. 6, the first day of students is now set for Monday, Sept. 12, following a 5-0 vote of the school board.
The move was recommended by district administrators.
“We need to get in front of this now,” said superintendent John Klarich. “I don’t want to drop a bomb on the public and the students five days before school is going to start.”
Klarich cited a “double whammy,” both the work being done on the exterior of the campus and uncertainties whether the interior can be cleaned and readied in time, as culprits for the recommendation.
“I’m most worried about out front, having that paved,” said Klarich. “Any delay in that and we will not have that available to us on what would be the first day of school.”
Klarich added that “we (also) have to have the building ready. We still need time for our people to get in and clean.”
Contractors told school officials in late-July they were on track to complete the $20 million-plus project in time for the start of the school year, but with a tight timeline that called for completion on Sept. 2, the Friday before school was to begin and heading into the Labor Day weekend.
Klarich said the schedule was too tight to guarantee that everything would be ready for a safe start to the school year.
“Any delay would push that to the following week and that would create headaches,” said Klarich.
He said that “(elementary principal) Anne (Oelke) and I talked about this last week and we’d like to move back the first day,” voicing worries that “any change could create major problems with student drop-off and for busses and parking issues.”
Board members went along with the plan, but Tom Omerza expressed disappointment.
“I feel like we’re the only ones making the adjustment,” said Omerza.
Omerza asked if general contractor Kraus-Anderson Construction could be convinced to speed its work along to make the original schedule, but Klarich responded that the discovery of ledgerock and the need for blasting has led to delays.
“If they bring in extra crews, the cost is going to go up,” said Klarich.
Klarich said that he’s concerned that even a day or two of rain could delay the project further, and pointed out that even if contractors remain on time asphalt will be put down in parking lots during the week of Aug. 29.
If school started before paving was completed, Klarich said it might result in confusion and create safety hazards.
“We have the question of how students get into the front here, and we don’t know what the sidewalk situation will be,” he said. “There are a million things.... I don’t know if contractors would work over Labor Day weekend.”
Meanwhile, school staff also have to prepare areas, some now still under construction, for student occupancy.
“We need cleaning time,” said Klarich.
Klarich told the board he’d rather see a decision now “to get this out to the public,” and board members agreed.
Administrators said there’s enough wiggle room in the school calendar to allow for the delay of the school year, without having to tack on extra days at the end.
Even with the delay, the district remains above the state’s minimum requirements for school days and student attendance hours, and there could be other options, including extending time to the school day or turning a vacation day into a school day during the course of the year, should the calendar be disrupted later on by “snow days” or other postponements.
The decisions this week come as a nearly two-year project comes to an end.
The discovery of ledge rock 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 dropoff 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.
Klarich told the board that contractors “are making great progress.”
“They made quite a bit of progress on the storm sewer and the inside is moving along slowly but surely,” said Klarich.
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.
According to a several-page document provided by the contractor, the project was 93 percent complete as of July 22.
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.