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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Communication and completion top board agenda

Catie Clark
Posted 10/25/23

ELY— “We’re done.” That was the welcome news that Ely schools facilities director Tim Leeson delivered to the school board here on Monday when asked about the status of the …

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Communication and completion top board agenda


ELY— “We’re done.” That was the welcome news that Ely schools facilities director Tim Leeson delivered to the school board here on Monday when asked about the status of the new school addition that connects Ely Memorial High School with the Washington Elementary School. The addition includes a new kitchen, a cafeteria and commons area, a second gymnasium, a new band room, a media center, staff offices, and a secure entryway.
It had been a long time coming as the project faced numerous delays and significant cost increases, mostly related to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Leeson had Monday’s biggest news, most of the short work session was spent discussing the superintendent’s efforts at improving communications with the school district’s stakeholders, and effort prompted by two miscommunication mishaps at the end of the 2022-23 school year, previously covered by the Timberjay.
Addressing school district communications is one of Superintendent Anne Oelke’s priorities for her first year at the district’s helm and based on her comments and those of some school board members the situation is improving.
Oelke’s efforts so far have included a new website just for school board members, monthly messages to district stakeholders and the public published in local newspapers—including the Timberjay— and the district open house held on Oct. 16.
Oelke reported on the success so far of the newspaper pieces she has written, “I’ve gotten good feedback on those. People have responded quite favorably to them.”
The open house was the subject of most of the board’s feedback, which included a bit of congratulatory backslapping over the new addition.
School board member Tony Colarich commented on what he heard from the public at the open house, “I received numerous comments about how nice (the new addition) looked.”
School board member Tom Omerza added, “People were very impressed.”
Widseth contract
According to Oelke, the Ely School District received $4.4 million from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRR) for renovations, mostly for the Ely Memorial High School building. The district is currently negotiating a contract for the work with Widseth Smith Nolting and Associates Inc. of Crookston, who acquired the district’s previous renovations general contractor. The renovations have been in the school board’s sights for a while as the next steps to perform for upgrading the district’s buildings. Minnesota law requires all public school districts to project and plan their upgrades and renovations for the next ten years.
The proposed Widseth contract paperwork was included in the agenda packet. It detailed the terms and extent of the renovations, including:
• Replacement of casework, ceilings, lights, and finishes of the existing chemistry room and art room.
• Replacement of plumbing fixtures, ceilings, lights, and finishes in nine student bathrooms.
• Adding a new single-use bathroom for both elementary special education and high school faculty.
• Replacement of exterior windows.
• Replacement of all interior corridor doors in Ely Memorial High School.
Omerza asked about the timing of the work and how that would be reflected in the contract. “We want to get things going as soon as school is done,” said Omerza, adding that the renovations would need to be completed before the beginning of the 2024-25 school year. Both Leeson and Oelke responded that the contractor was aware of the district’s timing requirements.
Another provision in the contract paperwork was the cost. “IRRR gave us $4.4 million for this,” Oelke remarked, “but Widseth used $3 million on paper and this is one of the things that must be clarified before the contract can be approved by the board.”
The approval of the final version of the contract will be on the agenda for the Nov. 13 school board meeting.