Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

School Board told to think big on facilities

Razing Industrial Arts building idea floated by district’s lobbyist

Keith Vandervort
Posted 12/3/19

ELY – While already in its second year of gathering data on a possible capital improvement project, the Ely School Board’s newly-hired lobbyist is recommending that the board take more …

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School Board told to think big on facilities

Razing Industrial Arts building idea floated by district’s lobbyist

Posted

ELY – While already in its second year of gathering data on a possible capital improvement project, the Ely School Board’s newly-hired lobbyist is recommending that the board take more time to consider an even larger facilities project than they have envisioned so far.
School Board chair Ray Marsnik opened a study session on Nov. 25 by reviewing the steps taken to date to develop the renovation package to bring to voters and the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation for funding assistance.
“During this (data collection) phase, we brought in ARI (Architectural Resources, Inc.) to help us,” Marsnik said. “We set up a community task force to come up with priorities, plans and cost estimates.”
The school board also explored project financing tools and commissioned a community survey to gauge taxpayer support. “The results are encouraging,” he said. The board also commissioned a staff survey and brought the Costin Group, led by longtime Iron Range lobbyist Gary Cerkvenik, on board to help obtain outside funding sources.
For now, Cerkvenik recommended that the board apply the brakes to the renovation planning, based on his recent conversations with IRRR officials and ARI representatives. “The key take-away was to step back, take a look at these plans, and see if you can add some more appeal to your voters and your customers by increasing academic performance,” Cerkvenik said. “Do something a little bit bigger than a small plan and try to have that plan last for a longer time period.”
Some ideas presented, according to Cerkvenik, included investing in more than a walkway to add safe and secure transit between buildings. “Use that space for some of the needs you have as a school district,” he said. “And put more emphasis on technology and keep upping the game academically and athletically with your facilities.”
Results from a community survey completed last month indicated that as many as two-thirds of respondents would support at least an $8 million bond and more than 50 percent of survey respondents would support an $11 million bond.
The participation rate in the survey was just 25 percent, with about 750 respondents. It is unknown what voters would actually support in a property tax increase for at least 20 years.
The school district has explored many options to renovate facilities, from a $5.9 million base plan that covers a bare-bones building link and infrastructure projects including window replacement and a new roof for the Memorial building, to a $21 million-plus option that includes adding a new gymnasium, complete kitchen and cafeteria renovation, new locker rooms, new science and technology education spaces, a new music and art facility and other improvements.
Cerkvenik stressed that IRRR “would be less excited if you just repair and patch than if you increased academic performance.”
He encouraged school board members to think bigger. “When you think bigger, someone else will help you to achieve that bigger plan with not a lot of extra community support from what your survey told you.”
Cerkvenik encouraged the school district to not consider a $10 million plan, but to think about a $20 million plan where half of the need is matched. “Twenty million dollars accomplishes a lot of what you want,” he said.
He floated the option of tearing down the Industrial Arts building to create more space between the Memorial and Washington buildings for a brand new structure. “Why in the world are you preserving that building?” Cerkvenik asked. “You have water in the (basement), two teachers in there, along with a day care. I’m looking at things with fresh eyes. That’s why you hired us— to come in and throw a few ideas at you.”
Cerkvenik argued that the board should focus its resources on academics and be prepared to make the argument. “This is all about improving education space and technology. You need to develop a package that has community support, and go to the (IRRR) agency and get their support and buy-in,” Cerkvenik said. “Not everyone will agree and there will be conflict and passion, and at the end, to be successful, there is going to be compromise.”
He doubted the Ely school district could do everything at once. “Our goal here is to try to help you to get as much as you need to get done to preserve your independence and your financial integrity,” he said.
Superintendent Erik Erie agreed with Cerkvenik in urging the school board to approach a facilities renovation project from a program-based perspective. He stressed technology initiatives and made his point by displaying a stack of high school level-four textbooks. “The future is loading these books into an electronic device,” he said.
“Can you imagine carrying that home in your backpack? We are probably one of the last schools in the region to have a fully implemented one-to-one technology program,” Erie said.
“We have a lot of good things going on behind these walls, and we need to make sure we have the supporting spaces for our future,” he said.
Cerkvenik added, “Ely has a story to tell, and the (school) district has a good reputation beyond this community for its academic achievement.”

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