Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

School enrollment jumps significantly in Ely

Keith Vandervort
Posted 9/14/16

ELY – If increasing enrollment in the school is an indicator of a community’s economic health, then the opinion held by some that Ely is dying is contrary to what the school principals at ISD 696 …

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School enrollment jumps significantly in Ely


ELY – If increasing enrollment in the school is an indicator of a community’s economic health, then the opinion held by some that Ely is dying is contrary to what the school principals at ISD 696 reported this week.

First day enrollment for grades K-12 for the 2016-2017 school year here increased to 582 students, an increase in 17 students over last year.

For the first time in years, the classrooms are full and School Board members are wondering about building capacity on campus if current trends continue.

“Our goal is to reach 600 students, and we’re getting closer,” said Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson.

Enrollment to start the school year at Washington Elementary School is at 276, reported K-5 Principal Anne Oelke. “I would like to say I’m up more, but we are up two (students) from the end of last year,” she said. “We had this weird shift right before school started. We had all these kids signed up to come in and right before school started, we lost some. But I did get a phone call for four more today, so we could have more next week.”

By grade, the elementary student numbers include: Kindergarten, 54; first grade, 41; second grade, 54; third grade, 39; fourth grade, 47; and fifth grade, 41. There are 237 resident students and 39 open enrollment students in the elementary school.

Memorial High and Middle School enrollment is at 306 students at the beginning of the year. “We were hoping to get 300 this year,” said 6-12 Principal Megan Anderson. “We had a good influx of students coming through in June and again in August. This is a great way to start our year.”

By grade, the middle and high school student numbers include: sixth grade, 53; seventh grade, 37; eighth grade, 39; ninth grade, 52; tenth grade, 37; eleventh grade, 49; and twelfth grade, 39. There are 254 resident students and 52 open enrollment students in the middle and high school.

Ely Regional Community Complex

Jeff Sundell, founder of a movement to explore the feasibility of a regional community complex in Ely, addressed the school board and asked for the subject to be put on the agenda for the board’s Sept. 26 study session.

“We would like to discuss the possibility of engaging in a plan to look at some of the space on the west side of the campus to possibly put up a facility such as we have been working on,” Sundell said.

The JFK school building was finally demolished last summer and school officials are considering how to best use the space.

The ERCC board of directors recently identified the ISD 696 campus as their best choice for the location of a community complex that could include a swimming pool, gymnasium, running track and other recreational features.

In addition to the school campus, the former Ely city garage and an area in the town of Morse behind the hospital were also identified as suitable properties.

“Without going into all of the conversations we had, I think you can see that one of the reasons we like this location is that it is right in the middle of the community right where the schools are, and it does have the infrastructure and it is usable,” he said.

He stressed that the ERCC board “has zero authority” to make any decision about what happens on the school’s property, and was just looking to begin a conversation about the possibility of locating the ERCC on the west end of the school campus.

“We are coming to the end of our feasibility study and part of that means we are going to identify what the complex is going to have in it and come up with a ballpark figure of what it might cost,” he said.

Cost estimates of $10 million or more have been suggested in earlier community meetings. “We don’t have answers about how we’re going to pay for it. We are not quite sure what is going to go in it, but the main thing I wanted to relay to you is that the group feels quite strongly that we would like to begin a conversation about the western campus,” Sundell said.

School board members asked for details like building square footage and parking needs, and Sundell said those details will be discussed as planning continues.

School board member Paul Pengal noted that the need for additional classroom space in the future needs to be factored into the conversation.

“Rather than coming to the table with my idea, I’m coming to the table with an idea that could be part of something much bigger,” Sundell said. If it was me and I was in charge, and I was going to start out with a comprehensive plan, I would want input from everything and anything. I have no idea if we’re going to need another elementary school, I don’t think anybody does, Is it possible? Well, sure. Between now and the time that we’re going to need one, we need a pool. There’s a real need for this.”

School board chair Ray Marsnik agreed with Pengal. “He presents a good point. We’re full right now and there is a real possibility that we may have to add some rooms on (the elementary school).”

Sundell noted that other spaces for the ERCC have been identified, but the school campus is at the top of the list as the most popular choice. “This is just a place to start,” he said. “It may well end up at the (old) city garage. We did the due diligence to rank (the locations) and that’s why we’re here. We’re not set on anything, except that this location is close to the school.”

The ERCC conversation will continue at the School board study session on Monday, Sept. 26, beginning a 6 p.m.

Other business

In other business, the school board:

•Certified the preliminary proposed levy for next year to the maximum amount.

•Listened to a presentation from the Ely Track Club on a plan to renovate the track around the football field and will consider formal action next month.

•OK’d the Ice Arena contract with Ely Blue Line Inc.

•Set the Truth in Taxation school district budget meeting for 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 12.


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