ELY – Following an all-day listening session with ISD 696 teachers and staff on Monday, a designer and architect from Architectural Resources Inc. met with members of the Ely School Board to spell …
ELY – Following an all-day listening session with ISD 696 teachers and staff on Monday, a designer and architect from Architectural Resources Inc. met with members of the Ely School Board to spell out their timeline for developing a plan to connect and renovate buildings on the school campus.
With a $500,000 state school safety grant in their pocket, school officials are moving ahead with what will likely be a multi-million-dollar construction project to connect the Memorial, Industrial Arts and Washington buildings, develop a safe and secure school-day entrance, and make other infrastructure and building-use improvements to enhance the learning atmosphere.
ARI designer Katie Hildenbrand, along with architect Kevin Piron are managing the Ely school project and are looking to jump into the process with the first of several facility committee planning meetings to begin on Monday, Feb. 11.
“We met with many of the school staff and listened to their thoughts and feedback and asked them to think big picture on their wishes and wants, and collected a lot of really good data,” Hildenbrand said. “Overall, I think people are excited about the opportunity and the chance to be heard.”
Hildenbrand presented a timeline for moving ahead with the planning process this year, with the idea of possibly presenting a referendum to taxpayers in the fall to help finance the project. “We will start in two weeks to discuss the current condition (of the campus), and meet every two weeks after that, on Feb. 25, March 11 and March 25,” she said.
Each meeting will last about two hours and all committee members are being asked to attend every meeting. “It is important that we have total commitment,” Hildenbrand said. “Each meeting will layer upon the last one as we go though this process. We will work through several scenarios on what the project will involve. A final concept or plan should be ready to be presented in early April that we can move forward with this fall.”
She expects that members of the facility committee would reconvene in the fall and make plans to push the referendum process.
School Board member Heidi Mann was concerned that no students were involved in the listening session and data collection process on Monday.
Hildenbrand offered to have the fourth-grade STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) group, that worked on a bathroom and locker renovation project last fall, present their ideas to the committee at their Feb. 25 meeting. “It would be fun to have them involved in the process,” she said.
“That would be fun,” Mann responded, “but they are a very small portion of all the students. I was of the understanding that one way or another students would be offered the opportunity to be heard. My son has some ideas and he said he didn’t hear about anything today.”
Mann said she recalled the board discussing student involvement in the planning process. “I think that is very important,” she said.
Mann also questioned Hildenbrand on the original idea of alternating the facility committee meetings with open meetings for the public. “Are you changing that, too?” she asked. “If you are that’s okay, I’m just trying to understand. Will there be public meetings?”
Hildenbrand said she preferred to wait on holding any public meetings. “I think this group needs to get on board with a concept and that will take a little while. I would like to keep this at a smaller group that makes decisions,” she said. She offered to consider having a public meeting in March.
Mann also questioned the timing of a referendum for taxpayers to decide on funding options. “I remember hearing that having it on an election off-year is not the best time, and that a general election year is often ideal,” she said.
Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson explained the two rules of thought on referendum strategy. “If you are talking solely about numbers, we’ll have more (voters) during a general election. When it is in an off-year, it depends on how well (the referendum) is sold,” he said. “If there is one reason for people to come out to vote, you could have a strong contingent of ‘no’ voters or you could have a strong contingent of ‘yes’ voters.”
Hildenbrand said the necessity of a fall referendum is not concrete. “We need to let the process present itself,” she said.
Abrahamson noted that referendums can be held five times throughout the year.
School Board member Tom Omerza said that communicating the need for a referendum to the public is important to the process. “We have two newspapers that are good at getting the word out. If we are effective at communicating, we can educate the voters before they get to the polls.” he said.
The roster of facility committee members is still being developed. School Board members and school administration were asked to forward suggestions for participation.
Hildenrand asked for a “who’s who” of Ely community members and made some suggestions after reviewing the list. “We need to make sure that we have both school principals,” she said. “I don’t see a lot of parents. A lot of these are retired people. You need to make sure you have parents who are active in the school. We should make sure we have business owners because they play an integral role in support of a bond referendum. Having a teacher or two on the list is important. I also want a couple of (school) board members committed to this as well, not so much as an active participant, but to listen to the process.”
She said having as many as 15 facility committee members would be workable. “It is important to have a good cross- section of the community, so take another shot at it,” she said.
School Board chair Ray Marsnik invited all board members to take an active part in the facility planning process. “We as a board have to look at this with an open mind. The meetings are open and I plan to sit in the audience to listen.”
In closing, Hildenbrand said the facility committee planning sessions will result in the development of a concept plan for the school board to consider in moving forward. “You will have a concept that says to do nothing, or maybe to bulldoze everything and start over to build a $60 million school, or something in the middle,” she said. “All these opinions will end up coming to the table in these meetings. At the end of the day we will boil down what are the needs and what you can support or want to support.”