Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely School Board nears decision on rec center

With final report in hand, vote could come Dec. 11

Keith Vandervort
Posted 11/29/17

ELY – The Ely School Board could make a decision as early as Dec. 11 concerning partnering with the Ely Regional Community Complex to build a recreation center on school property.

In a study …

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Ely School Board nears decision on rec center

With final report in hand, vote could come Dec. 11


ELY – The Ely School Board could make a decision as early as Dec. 11 concerning partnering with the Ely Regional Community Complex to build a recreation center on school property.

In a study session Monday night, school board members reviewed a revised16-page proposal from the ERCC board and appeared generally satisfied with the details as presented, especially the part about the ERCC not costing the taxpayers in the school district any money.

“Our fundraising efforts would be toward both capital and construction costs, as well as the development of a dedicated fund should revenues not meet expenditures,” the report said. “We do not intend to ask the School District to pay an ongoing subsidy, but there are other avenues that we are pursuing who may be willing to provide ongoing support.”

An earlier draft report estimated that the Ely School District would pay $70,000 per year to use the facility. That financial requirement has been eliminated.

“We attempted to estimate how much of the space and facilities might be utilized by the school for its physical education, activities, and athletic programs,” the report said. “We have determined that there are significant opportunities for use by the school district, but rather than estimating usage we assumed neither a usage cost by the district nor a lease cost for the use of the land.”

According to the operating pro forma detailed in the report, the ERCC shows annual expenditures of $907,694 and revenues of $717,280, leaving a deficit of more than $190,000.

“We recognize that the current pro forma shows a deficit similar to that in Grand Marais, that is funded by the City and Cook County,” ERCC board member Kurt Soderberg said. “What we do not yet have in our plan, nor have we asked for, is funding from local units of government. At this time our plan is to have our endowment, or other means, in place at the time of a formal commitment to move forward. One significant advantage the facility will have is no loan debt to repay. This will help in addressing revenues and expenses.”

Soderberg summarized the report to the school board Monday night. “If the school board approves this request, we would request that the school board determine its usage of the ERCC and then an appropriate usage fee can be negotiated. Similarly, a professional appraiser will be utilized to determine the lease cost paid by the ERCC to the district annually,” he said.

With a $5 million anonymous grant already in hand, the ERCC board intends to submit a bonding request to the State of Minnesota for an additional $5 million for the project.

ERCC Chair Jeff Sundell revealed that the group just received a $1 million matching grant. “If we are able to raise a million dollars, will get an additional $1 million which will put our total funds at $7 million for the project,” Sundell said.

“We are well ahead of similar projects with funding at this stage,” Soderberg added.

The ERCC board has determined that the site on the southwest corner of the school campus is the preferred location for both students and community members. An architectural rendering, taking into consideration the new elementary school playground, was provided.

The ERCC secured the services of Lawal Scott Erickson Architects to evaluate the Ely School District site to determine its ability to host the facility. The conclusion reached was: “….the site overall is very expansive and can fit a variety of new buildings and uses, completely consistent with a Recreation Complex, new or existing entrances to the ice arena, and a new entry and student drop-off.

What would be included?

The preliminary design of the ERCC encompasses an approximately 50,000-square-foot facility, with the following facilities:

• Aquatic facilities – a six-lane pool with a zero-entry area beside it to enter a therapy, instructional area - about 14,000 square feet, including the pool deck. This was the number one identified need in the survey and from our meetings.

• A gym with two cross-courts, enabling 30 players in each court – about 7,000 square feet. This item arose as an important need in most survey responses.

• An aerobics area of about 1,200 square feet.

• A cardio wellness area of about 2,500 square feet.

• An elevated running/walking track – an important need that may be met without additional space.

• A multi-purpose room of about 1,500 square feet that can include space for a computer lab.

• 2,400 square feet of additional space. In Grand Marais this space was used for Child Care space and we have allowed additional space due to the success in the Grand Marais facility. This need has not yet been tested within our community.

• Locker rooms of about 5,500 square feet.

• Administration/ meeting space of about 1,800 square feet.

• Vending/gathering space of about 400 square feet.

• Lobby/corridor/restroom space of about 8,000 square feet.

• Mechanical spaces of about 5,000 square feet.

• Climbing wall of 700 square feet (if located inside). In addition, other less well-known but increasingly popular programs may be included in the final design.

“This is an approximation of the derivation of the 50,000 square foot estimate, but work would remain to fine tune and modify based upon needs, funding, and site considerations,” the report said. All facilities would be handicapped accessible.

One of the concerns expressed are those regarding traffic and parking. “The site shows parking sufficient to provide for normal clientele but using the experience of the Grand Marais facility, the only times that parking is problematic is during times when multiple events are going on at the school,” according to the report. “The ERCC facility will add to that problem, but also will be adding parking to a portion of the site and therefore the net addition should not be substantial. The Ely Police Department and Operations Director for the city of Ely will be consulted on minimizing traffic concerns.”

Competition with other facilities

There are other physical training and community gathering facilities in Ely that are operated as for-profit businesses, including Amici’s Event Center, Heavy Metal Sports, Studio North, and Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital. There will undoubtedly be some overlap of programs and fitness equipment, according to the report.

“We don’t intend to do the sorts of things that Amici’s is already doing, such as birthday parties. The Heavy Metal people have said they are fully on board with what we are proposing to do,” Soderberg said. “The hospital has given us no feedback, but we haven’t heard any pushback from them whatsoever. We are talking with Studio North to work together, and hope to continue conversations with them.”

He indicated that the ERCC’s bottom line is to have a complete program. “It is not our goal to put someone out of business, but all of the essential elements need to be in our package,” the report said. “A swim and gym only program would not meet the expectations of potential members who want all of the elements, including cardio, weight training, as well as other elements. We will work hard to try to see how these programs may co-exist with ours. Should there be other programs in town that are focusing upon specific activities (such as dance) we would work to avoid those programs within our facility.”

Concern has also been expressed about the ERCC getting into the business of holding larger community functions such as those provided in other venues in Ely. “As shown in the Pro Forma, ERCC only plans to offer small birthday parties or other gatherings that can utilize the gymnasium, pool, or similar facilities,” according to the report.

The potential for this complex to integrate with other facilities in town could develop once the ERCC is in operation. “As an example, at the Grand Marais facility, a severe shortage of day care facilities was addressed by opening a day care within their complex to help parents. This option exists for the ERCC but no development work has been done in this regard,” the report said.

Swimming pool concerns

School Board Chair Ray Marsnik questioned the swimming pool being used for varsity swim team meets. The plans for the swimming pool were expanded from a four-lane to a six-lane swimming area. “Have you discussed a diving board and spectator seating area for the swimming pool?” Marsnik asked.

Neither feature has been addressed by the ERCC board. “That is the kind of thing that can be negotiated in an agreement or arrangement in the project,” Sundell said.

With regard to aquatics programs, the Ely School Board eliminated girls swimming after the 2006/2007 school year and closed the pool in a round of budget reductions. Since then the Ely students have had the opportunity to participate in girls swimming through a cooperative program with Northeast Range in Babbitt, at no cost to the district.

“Ely swimmers make up a strong majority of the team and there is concern that Northeast Range will either eliminate the program or ask Ely to pay a greater share for the cost,” the report said. “Having a pool nearby would not mean a resumption of varsity swimming but could offer that in the future, or simply could avoid some of the substantial travel that Ely parents and students must make for practices with no local pool. This is a community benefit not previously identified or discussed but would exist regardless of which site is chosen.”

School Board member Heidi Mann indicated her concern with undermining the swimming program at Northeast Range. “We have had a successful relationship with them and I wouldn’t want to give the impression that we were trying to pull back from that cooperative and do our own thing,” she said.

Economic development

“The development of a multi-use facility such as we propose will employ a substantial number of full and part-time employees and will be an enhancement to the tourist economy, as well as improving the well-being of our region,” the report said.

The ERCC is on the priority list of projects for the Ely Economic Development Authority. “We have had many discussions with (Ely Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski) from the beginning of this, Sundell said. “Mayor Novak is a proponent of it, and the city’s economic developer, John Fedo. We anticipate somewhere between seven and 10 full-time jobs, so this is a priority under economic development.”

The report said, “We envision this facility being another reason for people to visit and remain in Ely. We have heard from visitors that a year-round for the pool, the facilities, and the sense of community that is inherent with a recreational type facility would draw and keep them here. Visitors may also have privileges based upon membership elsewhere in the state or country. A facility such as this would certainly be an added attraction to the area to further entice families and retirees to move here.”

Shovels in the ground

All involved agreed that any construction planning is far down the road, but the ISD 696 Superintendent asked for a best-case scenario of when shovels would go in the ground.

Sundell indicated that construction would not start before 2019. “The reason I throw that out there is because this dialogue has taken longer than we thought,” he said. “We were hoping for 2018, but that has passed. It could be 2020. We are hoping in the next couple of years.”


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