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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely schools take caution on coronavirus

Keith Vandervort
Posted 3/11/20

ELY – With concern growing across the country over the rapid spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, the Ely school district is maintaining a watchful eye on the situation as a community health …

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Ely schools take caution on coronavirus

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ELY – With concern growing across the country over the rapid spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, the Ely school district is maintaining a watchful eye on the situation as a community health issue.
ISD 696 board members were updated Monday night on steps being taken by the district’s administration team to prepare for any possible outbreak of the highly infectious disease.
A letter sent to all families in the Ely School District last Friday indicating no known COVID-19 cases in the state was quickly out-of-date when Minnesota health officials in Ramsey County confirmed the state’s first case later that day. A second case, in Carver County, was announced Sunday. Ramped-up testing this week is likely to push that number higher.
“We want our staff and families to know that we are in communication with the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education about the situation,” Superintendent Erik Erie said. “We have also had discussions with the (Ely Essentia) clinic and gotten their input. I talked with one of their doctors, too. They appreciated the update we sent out last Friday.”
A community-wide COVID-19 update, by the Ely Community Health Clinic, will be provided Tuesday, March 17, at the Tuesday Group gathering held at the Grand Ely Lodge (see page 8).
K-5 Principal Anne Oelke told school board members that the state department of education is conducting weekly conference call updates on the situation. “One or all of us will be in on those calls on Wednesdays,” she said.
Oelkle and 6-12 Principal Megan Anderson continue to monitor the state department of health website for up-to-the-minute updates and warnings. “We have talked with many regional principals to see what information they are sending out. We are keeping close track of this. And yes, we know there are confirmed cases in Minnesota. State officials tell us that we are not alone. MDE and MDH officials are guiding us in terms of any kind of school events or activities.”
The ISD 696 update to families indicated that the best way to prevent the spread of the disease is through good hygiene like washing hands frequently, avoiding touching the face, avoiding close contact with those who are sick, covering the mouth when coughing, and staying home when sick.
Board chair Ray Marsnik noted that hot water is available in all school campus bathrooms to aid in proper hand washing.
The update for families also provides internet sources for more information on COVID-19. “Please know, the school district is reviewing its protocols and implementation plans if at such a time normal school attendance by individual or larger number of students is adversely affected by COVID-19,” the letter said.
Facilities project
Representatives from Kraus Anderson, a construction management firm, addressed the school board on their proposal to supervise the $20 million facilities construction project under discussion at ISD 696.
Tony Sjolander discussed their submitted proposal and highlighted distinctions between a construction management firm, like Kraus Anderson, and a typical general contractor, in terms of construction project delivery options.
He pointed out the three options generally available for a construction project: a general contractor, a construction manager as agent, and a program manager.
“Most projects, 25-30 years ago, utilized a general contractor approach to deliver a project,” Sjolander said. “The general contractor is hired based on their low bid. They are hired after a successful bond referendum, and after you have heard from IRRR and other funding sources that you have dollars to proceed.”
He highlighted that the next steps would be for the general contractor to meet with architects, design a solution to the  construction problem, develop cost estimates, and competitively bid the project. “Some, but not all, general contractors self perform, or have their own forces provide carpentry, concrete, masonry demolition and other services,” he said. “Most of the work goes to sub-contractors and specialty trades, and the work goes to the lowest bidders.”
He said that while the lowest bid dictates who gets the work from a general contractor, the construction management approach is based on a qualifications-based selection process.
He noted that Kraus Anderson is one of the largest construction management firms for school districts. “Frankly, we did most of the schools in the state of Minnesota,” he said. “We have an amazing data base of costs associated with projects similar to what you are looking at here. That’s important because the budget is the budget, and you only have so much money. What if we go over budget? We can’t.”
Sjolander asserted that a general contractor has no incentive to use local labor for a project. “We talk about using local labor. We start with the local community here and work our way out,” he said. “We feel strongly about this. It makes a lot of sense that people who are paying for this should get a good opportunity (to work) on the project. When you have callbacks, you want those folks to be local, to come back and take care of it.”
Sjolander indicated that Kraus Anderson typically charges about $1 million to act as the construction manager for a $50 million project. The ISD 696 project is estimated to cost about $19.8 million.
Later in the meeting, Erie told school board members that Kraus Anderson is being considered as a construction manager for the project, and he continues to contact other potential construction managers. “At some point, our facilities committee will make a recommendation to the board on who to hire. These are professional contacts and we want to evaluate these companies to see who would work out best for Ely Schools,” he said. He indicated that a recommendation could be made for a special meeting this month or in April.
Other business
In other business, the school board:
• Hired Lisa Eastman for a temporary paraprofessional position, and hired Chloe Kennedy for a permanent paraprofessional position.
• Hired Erik Holmstrom as a substitute teacher.
• Approved Tom Bennett as assistant boys track coach,  and Evan Omerza and Joseph Kucera as volunteer assistant boys track coaches.
• Changed the April board meeting from Monday, April 13, to Monday, April 6, and changed the May study session to Tuesday, May 26.

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