School set to get $1.5 million
by Tom Coombe
The Ely School District stands to gain $1.5 million to offset some of the rising costs associated with its major renovation project.
Earlier this week, the St. Louis County Board took a key step toward allocating federal Covid relief funds to the Ely district with a unanimous vote of commissioners during their committee of the whole meeting.
The funding could be finalized as soon as Tuesday, when commissioners gather for their regular session.
“I don’t see anything that would stop it,” said superintendent John Klarich, after attending the committee of the whole session and speaking with several county officials, including Ely commissioner Paul McDonald.
McDonald agreed and said the board’s action, which will also set aside funding from the American Rescue Plan for school projects in Hibbing and Chisholm, is the result of difficulties those districts have had with facilities initiatives stemming from the pandemic.
“We understand there’s been price increases, supply chain issues,” said McDonald. “The board as a whole feels that when you have projects like this, you want do them right. And this should be able to help them do things that they wanted to do initially.”
The funding couldn’t come at a better time for the Ely district, which is putting the finishing touches on a roughly $22 million building initiative.
Monday night, less than 24 hours before county commissioners took action, school board members learned that all project revenues were spent and issues related to the discovery of ledge rock this summer put the project roughly $550,000 in the red (see related story).
McDonald said the district could use the funds coming from the county “to fill that gap.”
“It’s at the discretion of the school district,” he said. “It’s just to fill the gap in funding.”
The district has also put in a new air handling system as part of the project, according to Klarich, and some items that were part of the original project budget have been removed along the way because of cost overruns.
“The ledge rock took us into the hole,” said Klarich. “We think we can use the county funding to offset some other things, maybe bring back new windows or remodeling the classroom doors for the high school.”
The district might also use the county funding to leverage additional funds, perhaps from other sources including the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.
Ely also could gain a revenue windfall should state lawmakers reconvene.
Before this year’s state legislative session broke off without an agreement, Ely stood to gain as much as $4 million in various pieces of legislation.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen (with the legislature),” said Klarich.
Klarich credited McDonald as well as fellow Iron Range commissioners Keith Nelson and Mike Jugovich, along with lobbyist Jeff Anderson in putting together the windfall for the Ely district.
“Between commissioner McDonald and Nelson and Jugovich they really fought to get this for us,” said Klarich. “And hats off to Jeff Anderson. He did all of the grunt work behind the scenes.”
McDonald said, “There’s no doubt this is a worthwhile project. The school looks very nice and we as a county board felt it was a proper use of these funds to help the project get to where it needs to be. It’s about the kids, now and into the future and ensuring that Ely has quality and safe facilities.”