ELY – With the Regional Community Complex proposal off the table, the Ely School Board began a conversation this week about renovating and improving the campus courtyard and connecting the three …
ELY – With the Regional Community Complex proposal off the table, the Ely School Board began a conversation this week about renovating and improving the campus courtyard and connecting the three school buildings.
For more than a year, the school board considered a public-private recreational complex idea on the west side of campus that was abruptly rescinded late last month.
Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson presented a conceptual drawing to board members showing a proposed shared student commons and secure entrance to use as a catalyst for discussion at a study session Monday night.
“I think it is important to start a discussion,” Abrahamson said. “I have been thinking about this connection of buildings for a couple of years, primarily from a safety standpoint.”
He said students must endure many transfers between the buildings during the school day, particularly the elementary students going to the Memorial building cafeteria for lunch, and art, music and physical education classes. “There are also ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) concerns there. I would propose we start a discussion of the possibility of connecting our buildings,” Abrahamson said.
The architectural drawing shows a commons area of 5,500 square feet connected to west side of the Memorial building that could be used as a cafeteria space when needed, a kitchen/support area of 3,000 square feet directly behind the commons, a main office and security entrance with potential for expanded office space of approximately 3,000 square feet connected to the east side of the Washington building, and a 6,500 potential multipurpose or gymnasium space of 6,500 square feet behind the office. Indoor corridors would connect the Industrial Arts and Washington buildings.
Abrahamson said he has particularly struggled with coming up with ways to improve the school cafeteria. The kitchen area would have access to truck delivery traffic between the Memorial and Industrial Arts buildings.
“This is why the discussion between needs, as opposed to wants, needs to happen,” Abrahamson told the school board and a small audience of community members. “I think we perceive this differently. For instance, there could be a multi-purpose space that is different than a gym. There are no mountains I am willing to die on. This is just for discussion.”
The corridor concept between the buildings is not new and school board members would not need to re-invent the wheel. Almost a decade ago a plan was presented to that encompasses the entire courtyard and included a cafeteria, gymnasium, commons and office space. The plan also called for eliminating the Industrial Arts building. “This was a much larger plan and hugely expensive,” Abrahamson said. “I can’t even begin to tell you how much that would cost.” Other projects included in that plan involved enlarging the bus garage and renovating the student drop-off and parking area, and moving the football stadium and installing a running track.
“In our recent discussions, I don’t know if you would want to take something on that large,” Abrahamson said. “I’m using this example to show what has been discussed. These are not new ideas or my ideas. We need to have a discussion about the possibilities because I think we will be facing safety issues, ADA concerns and the travel back and forth, particularly in the winter months.”
As the school board considered the idea, Abrahamson noted that all or some of the proposal could be possible. He said that either three or four building connection points would be possible; the office areas in the two buildings could stay where they are; rear access to the auditorium needs to be considered; an entire new gym, with seating and locker rooms would need as much as 12,000 square feet.
School board member Heidi Mann said she hears from community conversations that ADA and safety concerns and gymnasium space are what people talk about. “Also, middle school teachers say their kids just don’t have enough time and space to move around as much as kids that age need,” she said. She also inquired about putting the existing swimming pool space in the Memorial building to better use.
School board chair Ray Marsnik added that a district priority is to provide pre-Kindergarten education opportunities for the community. “One way is to provide some capital revenue to build additional space for that pre-K facility, and we may be able to include that in this (discussion).”
Board member Rochelle Sjoberg stressed that she would like to see additional gymnasium space on the school campus, “not only for additional practice space but also for the ability to draw tournaments for basketball and volleyball where more than one (gym) is required.”
Mann added that in the course of the ERCC proposal discussion, “many in the community support a new gym at school.”
Abrahamson said the areas of the renovation that include the commons, kitchen area, office space, entry and corridors to the buildings “would be in the very rough ballpark of $3 million.”
Adding the additional space, the potential multi-use or additional gymnasium space, would “put us in the neighborhood of $6 million or $6.5 million,” he said.
He based his estimates on a minimum cost of $260 per square foot for any construction project.
Other considerations discussed included: the cost of demolishing the old boiler building could be aided by grant money from the Iron Range Rehabilitation and Resources Board; the large propane tank in the front yard of the school campus would need to be moved; and providing windows and natural lighting for connected buildings would need to be accounted for.
Bonding and funding was also briefly touched upon. ISD 696 has $2.8 million in bond debt scheduled to be due in 2026. “We could borrow $1.5 million, and add length to the debt with no increase in taxes, out to about 2032,” Abrahamson said. “It depends on what the public would bear, and how much you are willing to ask them for,” he said. “And there may be other sources of revenue out there.”
Abrahamson also added, “with additional facility space comes additional ongoing expense, like personnel for maintenance, utility and heating costs.”
The school board will continue the courtyard renovation discussion at their Feb. 12 regular meeting.