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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

ISD 696

Ely school renovation moves up priority list

Keith Vandervort
Posted 7/24/19

ELY – The school board here brought its district facilities project into sharper focus during a Monday night study session. The district’s architect on the project, Architectural …

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ISD 696

Ely school renovation moves up priority list


ELY – The school board here brought its district facilities project into sharper focus during a Monday night study session.
The district’s architect on the project, Architectural Resources Inc., presented drawings, details and schematics for the first phase of an effort to connect the campus’s three buildings, and create a secure entrance near the Industrial Arts building. With the board’s approval, construction bids could be sought as early as September with work to begin next spring, assuming funding is approved
A $495,000 school safety grant from the state is earmarked for the first phase of the renovation, but a construction timeline must move forward with completion of the first phase by the end of 2022, according to Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson.
Board members also met with representatives of the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation to explore agency funding options for the entire renovation project, estimated to range from $5 million to as much as $20 million, depending on which option the school board ultimately selects.
The project was put on the back burner in recent months as ISD 696 searched for a new superintendent and explored various collaboration options with the neighboring St. Louis County School District. New superintendent Erik Erie should be on the job this fall after he completes his state licensure practicum this summer under the mentorship of Abrahamson. Collaboration efforts were considered, but are limited in scope with the remoteness of ISD 696.
ARI Principal Designer Katie Hildenbrand reviewed the secure entrance plans for the Industrial Arts building with board members. This first phase was designed in such a way as to meld seamlessly into a larger project that would include connecting the three academic buildings, plus other major components such as adding a second gymnasium and other building renovations, or to stand alone if the decision was made not to move forward with the second phase.
“This is just a portion of the project to connect the Industrial Arts building with the Washington building, and can be extended out to add additional office space and connect the Memorial building,” Abrahamson said.
Hildenbrand said the plan concept includes the secured entrance to the Industrial Arts building by way of the courtyard. “You will have a (school day) check-in point with office space, reception area, conference room and nurses suite,” she said. Access will be ADA-compliant. Ramps will be utilized to access the Washington building and the Industrial Arts building. Demolition of the former boiler plant building, electrical infrastructure and tunnel sealing is also part of the phase one project.
“We are 99-percent complete on these plans,” she said. “You also have full architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical project plans. We have completed multiple on-site reviews. We are at the point where we can put this on the street for bidding if you choose to move forward.”
The total cost for the first phase of the building project is estimated to cost between $1.4 million and $1.8 million. The state grant of $495,000 will fund about one-third while other district funds could be tapped to cover about $500,000-$600,000.
The source for the balance of the phase one funding was not discussed Monday night. Voters will likely be asked to approve a bonding referendum for the second phase of the renovation project. The scope of the second phase has not been determined. The amount of borrowing or when a referendum would be put to voters has also not been decided.
No action was taken by the board at the study session. Board members will hold their next board meeting on Monday, Aug. 12.
Hildenbrand noted that state officials must review and approve the phase one plans before the project can be released for construction bidding.

Project funding
IRRR staff members Roy Smith and Chris Ismil, along with Jeff Anderson, who works with lobbyist Gary Cerkvenik as part of the Costin Group, discussed the district’s building renovation plans.
Conducting and analyzing a community survey to gauge the public’s support of the project appears to be the board’s next move.
Smith described the agency’s school collaboration accounts and gave examples of how other Iron Range school projects were funded by the IRRR. “The first part of the fund is for bricks and mortar,” he said, “for districts who are collaborating together, potentially consolidating, leaving old buildings and coming together to build a new building.”
Those funds are paid out over an extended period of time to pay bonds and are contingent on voters of both school districts approving a borrowing referendum. Smith referenced the recently-approved Virginia/Eveleth-Gilbert as an example.
“Other dollars have been paid out of this fund that didn’t involve collaboration, such as the Grand Rapids School District, who had some growth issues and couldn’t find anybody to partner with,” Smith said.
He stressed that Grand Rapids voters had passed a referendum to access IRRR funds. “If a referendum does not pass, our dollars would not be available.”
The other part of the fund, he called Innovative Academic Programming, is where districts come together and explore programs that benefit education-delivery systems for students. “We encourage that very much, because often times those types of collaborations lead to larger collaborations in the future,” Smith said.
He described the Nashwauk-Keewatin-Greenway-Green Rapids districts’ collaboration with Itasca Community College to offer a “career pathways” STEM initiative. “Each of those districts specialize in a certain academic area, and are actually moving students between districts,” Smith said.
Ismil stressed that Ely school district leaders must establish their path forward to help students. “That is where the community survey comes in,” he said. “Let us know what you are doing and that the community is on board with the district’s commitment to moving a project forward.”
Abrahamson described the dilemma the district is having deciding which piece of the funding puzzle comes first—asking the public for support, then asking the IRRR to help, or securing IRRR buy-in and then asking the community to get on board.
“The public buy-in coming first is our selling point,” Ismil said. “The commissioner (Mark Philips) has said, ‘Show that the community is really behind this, and that they are willing to make the investment.’”
Ismil stressed that a community survey to gauge support should be at the top of the to-do list for the school district. “The timing of that survey could be big in terms of what we’re able to do whether you call it a phase one or phase two investment. You can’t put the cart before the horse. We need to know where the school board is at and where the community is at.”
Anderson added, “Security and buildings are important, but academics and what is happening in those buildings with the students and teachers is also a very important factor.”


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