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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely school gym repairs started

Keith Vandervort
Posted 10/2/19

ELY – The Ely Memorial High School gymnasium remains closed as repairs are made to the ceiling. School board members recently authorized a $63,000 project to install plywood over the plaster …

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Ely school gym repairs started


ELY – The Ely Memorial High School gymnasium remains closed as repairs are made to the ceiling. School board members recently authorized a $63,000 project to install plywood over the plaster ceiling,

The decision came at a special board meeting on Sept. 23 in the wake of an incident during the first week of school when more than 70 pounds of plaster fell from the ceiling after school hours. School board members considered their options at a study session last week.

The gymnasium has been closed since the incident, requiring physical education classes and some high school volleyball practices to be held in the adjacent Ely Ice Arena. Varsity volleyball home games will continue to be played at the Vermilion Community College gymnasium for at least another month until the Memorial gym repairs are completed.

According to ISD 696 Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson, crews from Max Gray Construction, selected by school officials for the project, began work this week.

“It is possible the closure won’t be as long as projected,” Abrahamson said. He indicated that work began with the portion of the ceiling above the gym floor. “If they can get that part completed first, and then work on the ceiling above the balcony, we’ll see if we can get in there in less than four weeks,”

Abrahamson stressed that the repair work on the ceiling, involving the installation of as many as 240 sheets of half-inch plywood over the existing lathe and plaster ceiling, is a permanent fix. Acoustical panels will likely be installed over the new plywood ceiling.

The decision made by school board members came after a recommendation by school facilities director Tim Leeson, with consultation from engineers and representatives from Architectural Resources, Incorporated.

Other options were more expensive, up to $79,000, and included tearing the existing ceiling out. “With that, we wouldn’t have a permanent fix,” Abrahamson said.

The district will use reserve funds to pay for the project. Abrahamson indicated the school district is not able to submit an insurance claim for the repairs.

“Inspections found no water damage to the roof, even after some recent heavy rains,” Abrahamson said. “No asbestos was found either.”

The gym closure has caused relocation of physical education classes and volleyball games.

The volleyball team’s regular season home finale on Oct. 15, and any Section 7A playoff matches, will also take place at VCC. “I want to say a huge thank you to VCC for being as accommodating as they have been,” Abrahamson added. “They have been just great to work with and we appreciate their partnership as we work through this.”

New leadership

After several months of transition, new ISD 696 Superintendent Erik Erie is set to begin his duties. Abrahamson’s last day was Monday, Sept. 30.

The school board hired Erie, a former principal at Mesabi East Schools, this past summer and he completed his state licensure requirements by serving an unpaid practicum under the supervision of Abrahamson.

Erie’s license was set to be finalized this week. K-5 Principal Anne Oelke agreed to serve as superintendent on an as-needed basis in the interim.

School board members approved the temporary leadership arrangement, as required by state law, and also approved a contract with Erie during the special meeting last week.

The superintendent’s position here is part-time, and Erie agreed to a two-year contract that pays him $72,000 for the 2019-2020 school year, and $75,000 for 2020-2021. He will not receive health insurance benefits.

In other business, the board set a preliminary levy at the “maximum allowed by law,” that currently shows a slight decrease of about one percent. The final levy will be finalized during a Truth in Taxation hearing in December.

The board also authorized the hiring of Grace Johnson, Shania Baaten and Amanda Mattila to para-professional positions.

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