School surveys due Monday

by Tom Coombe
Time is running out to take part in a survey that could shape the size and scope of a proposed school facilities project.
A survey commissioned by the district is underway and area residents have until Monday, Oct. 14 to complete it.
Survey were mailed last month to homes across the district, and anyone who has misplaced theirs or did not receive one may contact the Ely district’s general office - at 365-6166 - to receive another.
The survey assembled by School Perceptions, a firm with a very strong track record in gaging community opinion on school referendums, also has safeguards to prevent participants from completing more than one.
The survey is part of an effort to gauge public opinion and sentiment before school board members settle on the size of a potential facilities project that almost certainly would require voter approval and property tax increases.


Fighting back against vaping

by Tom Coombe
The numbers are daunting and school officials including Ely High School Principal Megan Anderson say that vaping among teens is an “epidemic.”
Anderson provided firsthand evidence Monday during a public forum at the high school on the use of e-cigarettes, what’s commonly known as vaping.
The principal held a “vape” - the size of computer flash drive - that she found in a parking lot on campus while bringing her elementary-aged children to school.
“This is it,” Anderson told an audience of about 20 people in the high school media center. “This is the battle we have right now. These are pretty concealable, pretty small, pretty scary.”
Beyond the anecdotal tales this week were a plethora of numbers, all showing the use of e-cigarettes on the rise, and data noting the health risks associated with their use.


Who’ll pick up the trash? Divided Ely council rejects G Men renewal, will open up process

by Tom Coombe
By a narrow majority, Ely council members want to give consumers a choice when it comes to trash pickup in town.
They rejected, on a 4-3 vote, a proposal Tuesday to renew the contract held by the incumbent provider - G Men Environmental Services.
The city will instead develop licensing processes to allow for two service providers, a move that has some urgency given a contract with the G Men that expires at the end of the month.
Council members also requested that the G Men extend their current contract through June 30, 2020.
The council was clearly divided over the issue, which has festered for several months.
Council member Heidi Omerza blasted the decision and predicted it would result in higher rates paid by Ely residents, while some wondered if the move may at least temporarily force residents to seek other options - including hauling garbage to the landfill south of town.


Flooding Ely with service

by Tom Coombe
The books were put away, tests went on hold and Ely middle and high school students left their classrooms on Sept. 27.
Yet it was a learning experience nonetheless.
The school’s first-ever “Flood the Community” initiative got rave reviews, as about 300 students spread out across town to give back in a community service component of the high school’s Fall Homecoming Week.
For several hours, Ely students did everything from sweeping and pulling weeds to general clean up and washing cars as part of a coordinated effort to say “thank you” to the community at large.
The effort appeared to be well received on all fronts.
“It went really well,” said Megan Anderson, principal at Memorial High School. “Kids came back to school with big smiles on their faces, and I had several people text me that it was great to see the flood of red walking down the street together.”


Ely man injured in rollover

The Minnesota State Patrol reported an Ely man was injured in a rollover on Highway 169.
David Roy Kess, 75, of Ely was driving a Ford Fusion traveling south on 169 Highway near Highway 1 in Tower on Sept. 26 at 5:10 p.m.
The State Patrol reported the vehicle hit the shoulder and over corrected, rolled over, and came to rest in the ditch.
Kess, who was wearing a seat belt, was diagnosed with non-life threatening injuries and taken to Essentia Virginia.
Responding to the call were the St Louis County Sheriff and Tower Fire /EMS.


School OKs gym ceiling fix

by Tom Coombe
The main gymnasium at Ely Memorial High School will be closed for as long as four more weeks while repairs are made to the ceiling.
At a special meeting Monday, school board members authorized a $63,000 project to install plywood over the plaster ceiling,
The decision came in the wake of a Sept. 6 incident in which more than 70 pounds of plaster fell, after school hours and when the gymnasium was unoccupied.
The gymnasium has been closed ever since, displacing physical education classes as well as the high school volleyball team, which has been playing home games and practicing at Vermilion Community College the last three weeks.
That’s expected to continue until late-October, given a project timeline pegged at four weeks.
Crews from Max Gray Construction, which was tabbed by school officials for the project, are expected to begin work Monday.


Teck American making roads in Babbitt for future copper-nickel mine

by Nick Wognum
The Babbitt city council heard a presentation Tuesday from a mining company doing exploration work in the area.
Blake Borgeson of Teck American said the company has been in Babbitt since 2007 working on a copper-nickel deposit.
Borgeson said Teck is working on a project within the Babbitt city limits.
Project geologist Dan Foley and Lisa Weidemann, environment and community affairs manager, addressed the council as well.
Weidemann said the company is looking to develop a mine south of the Northshore Mine and east of the PolyMet deposit.
“A lot of the work we’ve been doing this year has just been secure, long-term access to our site,” said Weidemann. “Part of that is a road project. We submitted all of our permits and it looks like we are going to get approval to do some road improvements.”
She said the roadwork is south of Forest Service Road 112, the Skibo Road.


Ely man dies working on tree after storm

An Ely man died while working on a downed tree in Eagles Nest Township.
Hans Smith, 55, died while working on a tree that had fallen on a house near Eagles Nest Lake the evening of the storm on Sept. 17.
According to the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office, deputies were dispatched to a medical due to a fall at the above residence. Smith had been on the roof removing a downed tree for the property owner and lost his footing falling approximately 20 feet from the roof and onto a propane tank on the ground.
Smith was unconscious and first responders on scene attempted life saving efforts. Smith died at the scene due to his injuries. The cause and nature of the incident appears to be accidental. No foul play is suspected.
Smith owned Beartooth Tree Service and specialized in safely removing problem trees.


School survey on the way

by Tom Coombe
Ely area residents will soon have the chance to weigh in on a series of proposed improvements on the school campus.
This week, a survey commissioned by the district is set to arrive in mailboxes around the area.
It’s part of an effort to gauge public opinion and sentiment before school board members settle on the size of a potential facilities project that almost certainly would require voter approval and property tax increases.
School officials have looked at options ranging from as little as $5.8 million to in excess of $17 million, but they’ve been reluctant to proceed until they get a better handle on public opinion.
That’s why they contracted with School Perceptions, a firm with an extensive history of successfully predicting the outcome of school referendums.
School Perceptions has promised to determine the “tax tolerance” of area residents.


Falling plaster closes school gym

by Nick Wognum
The main gymnasium at Ely Memorial High School remains closed and school officials are scrambling for options after more than 70 pounds of plaster fell from the ceiling.
Physical education classes have been displaced while the high school volleyball team has had to find a new venue for practices and games. It’s not yet clear when the gym will reopen.
The plaster apparently fell around 6 p.m. Sept. 6, on a Friday evening when no students were present.
Tim Leeson, the district’s facilities director, told school board members that there was still “dust in the air” when the collapse was discovered by a school custodian on the south end of the gymnasium, on the side closest to the main entrance.
Both a contractor and an engineer were on campus this week to assess the situation and explore repair options.


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