Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Renovation project comes into focus

Estimated to cost between $5 million and $13 million

Keith Vandervort
Posted 4/3/19

ELY – A facilities renovation committee for the school district here concluded their community engagement meetings this week with consensus on priorities for a campus improvement project.

The …

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Renovation project comes into focus

Estimated to cost between $5 million and $13 million


ELY – A facilities renovation committee for the school district here concluded their community engagement meetings this week with consensus on priorities for a campus improvement project.

The committee, made up of community members and school staff, has met four times since the beginning of the year with architects and school finance experts to evaluate various scenarios for improving the three campus buildings for safety, growth and learning.

The committee identified five priorities, including:

Improved school safety and security through connecting the three campus buildings.

A single, secured school-day entrance to be located near the soon-to-be demolished former boiler plant building.

Added gymnasium space on the west side of the Memorial building.

 Renovated locker rooms utilizing the former swimming pool area.

 Remodeled kitchen and cafeteria area and high school media center.

The committee also agreed that formerly planned infrastructure improvements, including a new roof for the Memorial building, finishing the window replacement project for all three buildings, and replacement of air handling units and interior doors, should all be a part of the project.

Committee members reviewed two options with different locations for the additional gym space. Hildenbrand presented three scenarios for each option, at a cost of between $5 million and $21 million. Various components could be added or deleted from each option and scenario to help the committee fine tune the renovation project.

The renovations will likely be paid for, primarily, through a voter-approved referendum that could be on the ballot as early as this fall. The cost to taxpayers is still unclear, but voters could be asked to approve a referendum with two questions asking them to gauge the amount of property tax increase they would be willing to absorb.

The renovations will likely cost more than $5 million and less than $13 million, according to preliminary estimates. That could boost property taxes on a $100,000 home by about $16 a year for a $5 million bond or $82 a year for a $13 million bond, according to Ehlers, the school district’s financial firm.

For an Ely commercial/industrial building with an estimated market value of $250,000, taxes would rise between $97 a year and $487 per year respectively, depending on the size of the bond.

Any voter-approved school building bonds for the project would be for a term of 20 years.

“We are trying to identify a scope (of investment) that you think is important,” said Katie Hildenbrand, designer for Architectural Resources Inc., (ARI) the firm working with ISD 696 to formulate the building renovation plan. “We will work on funding sources and financing, and come back with a more formal number for you. Right now, we are just trying to figure out a feel for what you want and what is important to you.”

Facility committee member Ross Petersen was skeptical that Ely voters would approve a bond as high as $10 million. “I think you have to look at being realistic,” he said. “This is a hell of a hard sell at $10 million. I would love to see us get everything we want,” he said.

Jodie Zesbaugh, senior municipal advisor for Ehlers, noted, “If that does not meet your needs over a 20-year period of time, we could do a step down and provide some flexibility as an option.”

Hildenbrand pressed Petersen to identify what amount he would be comfortable with.

Petersen stressed the importance of completing the planned-for building renovations that including window replacement and a new roof, and the courtyard renovation with the new full-size gym. “We have $4.3 million and another $4.2 million, and add the locker rooms,” Petersen said. “I’m not really even comfortable with $10 million. I think we have to look at between $7 and $10 million.”

Committee member Paul Maki asked Ely superintendent Kevin Abrahamson what bonding referendum amount he would be comfortable with. “What do you think is realistic that we could adapt and work for?” Maki asked.

“In my opinion, we are between $5 million and $13 million,” Abrahamson said. He said he can get closer to an amount if the school board approves conducting a community survey.” He didn’t name the survey organization, but asserted that when school districts used the company and followed their recommendation, they have “a one-hundred percent success rate.”

The group came to a consensus that two referendum questions, one for $7 million and another for $12 million in bonding, could be brought to the voters as early as this fall. Prior to that, a community survey would be conducted to gauge the acceptance of the projects. “You could offer a base plan, and then another plan with the added priorities,” Hildenbrand said.

Abrahamson noted that a community survey would spell out exactly what is being considered for the renovation project options. “It is pretty in depth,” he said.

An informational community meeting, recapping the work of the facilities committee, may also be planned.

A facilities committee meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 16 to finalize the recommendations that will be made to the school board. An enrollment projection study should also released by then, according to Abrahamson. A board study session is scheduled for that same day to discuss the issue.


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