New year, new building at ISD 696
A few days behind schedule, the school year in Ely is on track to begin.
Contractors were both plentiful and hard at work this week - inside and outside the school facilities - as they scrambled to get both the buildings and grounds ready for the opening day of the 2022-23 school year.
Parents and students walked past fresh pavement and worked their way around inside buildings that were still in construction mode Thursday, as the district hosted an open house and showed off a $20 million-plus renovation project that is winding down toward completion.
On Monday, more than 500 students, as well as faculty and staff are expected for the first day of classes.
The start of the school year was delayed by nearly a week to allow contractors more time to move the project toward completion, and several athletic events on campus set for this week were moved to other venues.
But staff members were on campus getting things ready this week and the new year is set to begin with a brand-new look both inside and out.
Progress was evident midweek as paving crews were on campus, laying asphalt on two “circle” areas - one for school busses and the other for student drop-off and pickup.
A new secure entry, part of the addition that connects the Washington and Memorial buildings, will be the point of entry for students and visitors during the school day.
Elementary students will no longer be dropped off or picked up near the arena, and the area just off of Harvey Street will now serve as the entrance to the campus.
As a result of anticipated increases in traffic, the south side of Harvey Street between Fourth Avenue and Seventh Avenue East has been designated a no-parking zone on school days while school is in session.
Outside the school walls, work is continuing to pave reconfigured parking lots.
Entry to the high school staff parking lot, now at the front of the Memorial, as well as the student lot on the east side of the building, will be from Seventh Avenue East.
Inside the buildings, the new addition was nearing completion as the week progressed.
It is set to house a gymnasium, cafeteria and commons space, a media center, music and industrial education classroom spaces.
The new building will also house district, high school and elementary offices, and as a heightened security measure, visitors during the school day may only enter through the main entrance and must be “buzzed in” to the facility.
Parts of the existing buildings have also been renovated, and cleaning continues to get the facilities ready for occupancy.
Some portions of the project, including completion of locker rooms in the high school, will continue into the fall.
The school year was originally set to begin earlier this week, but school officials decided in early-August to push the start back by six days to allow for more time, particularly for cleaning, amid a tight timeline presented by general contractor Kraus-Anderson Construction.
Administrators said there’s ample room in the school calendar to allow for the delay of the school year, without having to tack on extra days at the 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. Blasting and ledge rock were two factors in the extended timeline to complete the project, while the district has also been hampered by supply-chain issues and Covid-related delays.
Through hired lobbyists Gary Cerkvenik and Jeff Anderson, the Ely district is looking for additional funding to complete portions of the project that were scrapped because of cost overruns.
The project was spurred by voter approval of an August, 2020 referendum for $10 million. That referendum triggered the release of a $7 million grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.
Those measures provided the bulk of funding for the project, and the district also received a federal school safety grant of $450,000.