ELY – The eventual graduating class of 2033 of the Ely school district, now Kindergarten students, provided a simple message to dozens of onlookers last Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony …
ELY – The eventual graduating class of 2033 of the Ely school district, now Kindergarten students, provided a simple message to dozens of onlookers last Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony celebrating the beginning of a two-year, $20 million building project on the ISD 696 campus.
They carried signs that said “thank you” as they paraded past what will be the eventual centerpiece of a modern, state-of-the-art structure that will link the 100-year-old Memorial and Washington school buildings.
Local leaders, elected officials from across the Iron Range, community members, and others involved with the construction project gathered on the front lawn of the school to mark the district’s long-awaited transition into 21st-century learning, while paying homage to Ely’s long tradition of education.
Superintendent Erik Erie emceed the hour-long event and welcomed a plethora of speakers to share their thoughts. Within the humble beginnings of exploring a way to connect the campus’s landmark buildings so students would not need to brave sub-zero temperatures to traverse between buildings, a path forward was established, he said.
He highlighted the efforts of a community task force that prioritized the needs of teachers, staff, and students in creating a “vision” for what education in Ely will look like in the future, and thanked a long list of federal, state, county and local officials for their support of the project.
Erie saved his greatest praise for school district voters.
“Most importantly, I would like to thank our voters,” he said. “Last August, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, they approved a $10 million bond to support their schools. This was so significant. How often do people vote ‘yes’ to raise their taxes? Thank you to all those who support this project.”
A parade of Washington school K-5 students, led by Principal Anne Oelke, walked by the podium, all carrying hand-painted ‘thank you” signs, and drew extended applause.
School board chair Ray Marsnik, also an Ely school graduate, said the school building renovation is a “dream come true.”
“This is a big win for education and our kids,” he said. “This project will not only address some of the deficiencies that go along with aging buildings, it will also provide 21st-century learning spaces for our students and community,” he said.
“The people in our community have always supported education,” Marsnik continued. “We have a great school here and are very proud of it. This project will enable us to continue to be a viable independent school district that is financially sound.”
Ely Class of 2021 senior Will Davies, who graduates on Saturday, noted that he won’t be on campus when the building project is completed.
“This is a new beginning for the youth of Ely,” he said.
U.S. 8th District Rep. Pete Stauber, State Sen. Tom Bakk, State Sen. David Tomassoni, State Rep. Rob Ecklund, State Rep. Spencer Igo, St. Louis County Commissioner Paul MacDonald, and officials from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, and construction manager Kraus-Anderson all took turns at the podium highlighting the importance of the school project.
A group of students, school board members, and elected officials all took turns shoveling dirt in groundbreaking ceremonies.
Former ISD 696 Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson, who initiated the school expansion project by securing a school safety grant of $500,000 and forming the community task force to explore additional options, was also on hand for the celebration. “I’ll be here for the ribbon-cutting when the project is complete,” he said.
Minor work on asbestos abatement and vacating the industrial arts building was started this spring. Demolition work will commence once school is out next week. Work will continue this summer with some parts of the Washington building slated for completion in time for the start of the 2021-22 school year. The entire project is scheduled to be completed for the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.