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ISD 2142 cool to Ely collaboration

South Ridge renovation non-compliance causes headache

Marcus White
Posted 5/21/19
VIRGINIA - A proposed plan by the Ely School District to share some services with ISD 2142 was met with skepticism at a special meeting here on Monday. Last week, officials in Ely said they’d …

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ISD 2142 cool to Ely collaboration

South Ridge renovation non-compliance causes headache

Posted
VIRGINIA - A proposed plan by the Ely School District to share some services with ISD 2142 was met with skepticism at a special meeting here on Monday. Last week, officials in Ely said they’d met with St. Louis County Schools Superintendent Reggie Engebritson and board chair Dan Manick about working together to obtain funding from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation for a facilities project at Ely. But ISD 2142 board members did not discuss that concept on Monday. Instead, Engebritson told her board the plan would focus on sharing services at Northeast Range and Tower-Soudan along with some shared administration. While Ely School Board Chair Ray Marsnik told his board last his week that Engebritson and Manick were in favor of sharing superintendent duties, and suggested that the two school boards could meet to discuss the idea, Manick told the 2142 board on Monday that sharing Engebritson should be “off the table” in further discussions. Other board members shared skepticism as well, with board member Pat Christensen saying that Ely had not made their intentions clear to the board as a whole, just to Engebritson and Manick. Board member Troy Swanson said the only thing he heard of the idea was from last week’s Timberjay article and that Ely needed to clarify what it wanted from 2142. Another collaboration between St. Louis County Schools and Mt. Iron-Buhl Schools caused concerns for Christensen, who said he didn’t see what 2142 had benefitted from the arrangement, which includes sharing of administrative services, including one day per week of Engebritson’s time. “I’m not totally in favor of this because of what happened in Mt. Iron,” he said. “We had to hire (new positions) and Ely is a long way away.” The board was also in agreement that Engebritson would not have time to serve as superintendent of a third district but didn’t rule out jointly hiring an assistant superintendent who could work for both districts. Board member Christine Taylor had her own reservations and questioned why the collaboration was necessary since Ely and 2142 were already working together on the Iron Range Collaboration project along with Hibbing, Mt. Iron-Buhl and Chisholm. She said many of the curriculum questions and school planning would already be part of that agreement. Board member Chet Larson questioned whether the two school boards could meet together because neither board could hold quorum outside of their respective districts. The board agreed that a committee, consisting of board member Chris Koivisto, Swanson and Manick would convene before the district would have any further discussion with officials in Ely. While the committee will consist of three members, Christensen and Taylor said they would also participate as non-voting parties. The board did not set a timeline to come up with a final decision on the matter. South Ridge concerns Possible collaboration with Ely wasn’t the only source of controversy on Monday night. Business Manager Kim Johnson informed the board that ICS Consulting, the school’s consultant on planned expansions at Cherry and South Ridge had miscalculated the amount of impervious surface at South Ridge and that the project was not in compliance with county conditional use ordinances. County regulations stipulate that no more than 10-=percent of an established lot may have impervious structures or surfaces in certain rural areas. The issue is not new to the district, since St. Louis County had prompted the school district to buy additional land at South Ridge when the school was built in 2010 after the St. Louis County Board of Adjustment denied the district’s request for a variance from the impervious surface rules. After the school was built, the district sold some of that land, which apparently left the district out of compliance again. The planned expansion will further increase the amount of impervious surface at the site. “How did we get to this point without knowing this?” Christensen asked. “I’m really disappointed we got this far without knowing.” Johnson said ICS had used an old land survey that didn’t reflect that the district had sold off a portion of the property. County officials were apparently unaware that the district was out of compliance until they reviewed the building permit application for the South Ridge expansion. To remedy the situation, the district will either need to eliminate some current impervious surfaces or acquire 16 acres of land to remain below the 10 percent threshold. Both options could be costly. In a document presented to the board, ICS estimates that reconfiguring the land, which would include replacing one of the paved parking lots with gravel, replacing the fire lanes with mesh ground coverings that would allow grass to grow while supporting vehicles and removing at least one of the outdoor basketball courts would add about $54,000 to the project. The document said the mesh is approved by the state fire marshal. The changes would drop the impervious use percent to 9.9 percent by ICS’ calculations, leaving little room for any further expansion in the future. Johnson said the county was looking at an adjacent 20-acre parcel of swamp land and the district had been in contact with the owner to negotiate a possible sale. The mistake in the planning process had Taylor, who represents the South Ridge School on the board, livid with district officials. “What if this was an insolvable problem?” she said. “We’ve paid all this money for them (ICS) to come to us with their drawings and their plans. I’ve heard we were good on this topic many times.” She added that school employees and students shouldn’t have to park in the mud and that kids shouldn’t need to lose their basketball court because of the oversight. Johnson said the county was looking at changing the conditional use permits for schools and that would bring the district into compliance, but those plans were a long way off, and the county was still requiring current projects to conform by June 2020. Koivisto asked why a variance couldn’t be sought if the rules were going to be changed anyway. “It took two years to get a variance at North Woods; it’s too time intensive,” Johnson said. “We would not have gotten a (building) permit if there was a chance we wouldn’t be in compliance.” She reiterated that ICS should have checked the land before the plans were drawn up. “How do we address this going forward?” Taylor said. “What is the consequence if we don’t meet the June 2020 deadline? Going forward I won’t take your (district administrators) word for it.” Taylor said she wanted the district to recheck all of the district’s numbers for the Cherry expansion even though Johnson said ICS had already done so. Lynette Zupetz, who represents Cherry, agreed. Manick suggested that the district have documents on file for every property that showed land-use data, to avoid the oversight again. No action was taken by the board on the matter since land negotiations are still underway. The next board meeting will be at the Tower-Soudan School on Tuesday, May 28 at 4 p.m.

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