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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely School Board gets serious on building project

Keith Vandervort
Posted 8/15/18

ELY – School board members here extended their conversation this week on a facilities improvement project that could carry a price tag of at least $7 million.

Questions remain on what would be …

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Ely School Board gets serious on building project


ELY – School board members here extended their conversation this week on a facilities improvement project that could carry a price tag of at least $7 million.

Questions remain on what would be included in the proposed effort to connect the three campus buildings and add gymnasium space, who would manage the project, and how it will be funded.

Some steps were taken Monday night to move the project forward.

Katie Hildenbrand, principal designer at Architectural Resources, Inc. presented board members with two design proposals to connect the Washington Elementary, Memorial High School and Industrial Arts buildings, and to renovate the unused swimming pool space for a second gymnasium or the relocation and repurposing of other learning spaces in the building.

Hildenbrand highlighted the two proposals that would connect the three buildings at the closest points, off the northwest and northeast corners of the Industrial Arts building, and create a main school-day secured entrance to the campus into the Industrial Arts building.

“Proposed Plan One would cost about $8.9 million and Proposed Plan Two would cost about $7.6 million,” Hildenbrand said. Both proposals include the cost of demolition of the former boiler plant and rerouting water lines, electrical systems and other infrastructure on the campus.

The proposals have many similarities, including the connecting links between the buildings, the secure entry point, renovating the boys and girls locker rooms and the media center in the Memorial building, repurposing the cafeteria and kitchen areas, and creating an athletics lobby for after-school events.

Both proposals include relocating the music department and adding additional gymnasium space, along with repurposing the existing unused swimming pool space.

School board members considered the plans, but held off on making a choice or voicing their preference. Little discussion was held on the merits of each plan, and board members appeared satisfied with the preliminary plans.

Board member Scott Kellerman said he preferred the plan that put the scond gym over the fomer pool.

Board Chair Ray Marsnik questioned the ease of access for transporting musical instruments for events in the Washington Auditorium.

Questions on access for ADA (American With Disabilities Act) parking and the distance to the main, secured entrance were also brought up.

Funding the project

Board members took steps to begin the process of funding parts of the renovation project. They authorized Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson to begin the application process for School Safety Grants offered by the state of Minnesota. ISD 696 may apply for a $500,000 grant for each campus building that could add up to $1.5 million toward the project. “You have the opportunity to apply for grants for the Washington, Memorial and Industrial Arts buildings because of the secured entrances you’re planning for,” Hildenbrand said.

“There are lots of schools competing for this money,” Abrahamson said. “We could get three grants, or one, or none. “We’ll know in September if we succeeded and we will have to have some plans ready by March of next year.”

The demolition of the former boiler plant, located between the Memorial and Washington buildings, will likely occur sooner rather than later. “The IRRRB (Iron Range Rehabilitation and Resources Board) loves to give away money for infrastructure, so that is another funding opportunity we can look at,” Hildenbrand said.

“They won’t even consider our plan until we can give them some cost estimates for the demolition,” Abrahamson said. Those cost estimates are coming from ARI. Board members authorized him to begin the grant application process.

The third leg of the preliminary funding plan involves abatement bonding for redesigning and repaving the parking lots on the school campus.

With the completion of the new playground northwest of the Washington building, the parking lot by the ice arena and the former playground space is set to be redesigned for additional parking, a student drop-off space and ADA parking. The school bus drop-off area in front of the Washington building, with additional ADA parking, is also being considered.

Abrahamson noted that the abatement bonding process is actually board-approved property tax funding for a project that could cost as much as $850,000. “This is at least a four-month process and I would like to at least begin that,” he said. “Abatement bonds affect taxes. It is usually a small amount; however, it will affect your taxpayers. This is just the process. You are not tied in to doing this next spring. The lots all need work. We have to get an idea of how much this will all cost and how much we need to bond for.”

Project manager

ARI has made it clear they would like to be involved in the ISD 696 building and facilities project. Typically, a design architect or project manager stands to make eight percent or more of the total cost of such a project.

Abrahamson has indicated since this spring, when the facilities committee asked for preliminary design work, that he is comfortable working with the firm and has had success working with the architectural firm on other projects when he worked at other school districts.

He provided school board members with a list of ARI employees who are taking an active role in providing design information to the school district for this project.

“For your information, the information provided here tonight from ARI is pro bono, there is no charge for that,” he said. “They would really like our business.”

He made clear that the school board has the option to “shop around” for other design architects or even to advertise for RFPs or Requests For Proposals. “I have worked with ARI. I would welcome to know what your concerns are with them since I have been here.”

Abrahamson noted that Hildenbrand was joined by two of the firm’s engineers, and the senior architect on a site visit last month. “Their top four came and spent about three hours here, went through the tunnels and there was no charge for that. We are not incurring any additional expense right now,” he said.

Board member Tom Omerza voiced his concern last month that a project manager is needed to keep the momentum of the project moving toward completion. He said that the superintendent, who works three days a week, could not be expected to take on the additional duties of a major facility renovation project while his main responsibility is running the district.

Marsnik said he believes that ARI is the project manager for a school facility project at Mt. Iron. “They definitely could provide that service for us as well,” he said.

Board members agreed to study the superintendent’s duties at next month’s study session. “What is it that you want me to continue doing or not doing?” Abrahamson asked.

Part of his recent evaluation included his duties as a part-time administrator. He said his administrative duties involve working about 12 days per month. Since early July he said he has put in four days of work per week. “I’m not complaining, but that it where it is,” he said.

He said much of the proposed facility project planning and information gathering is taking more time because it is based on others’ schedules.

Abrahamson said he was open to the idea of discussing and negotiating taking on more responsibility, inferring that he is willing to take on the project manager role for more compensation. He said he has never been a project manager, but has worked on other school projects.

“We are going to have to make up our minds right now that we are going to have to spend some extra time on this,” Marsnik said.

“Most of the hold up is us,” said board member Scott Kellerman. “We have to pick a plan here.”

“There is a real need here,” Omerza said. “Who wants a kindergartener walking to lunch (outside) when it is 20 below?”


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