Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Use it or lose it

ISD 696 up against deadline for state school safety grant

Keith Vandervort
Posted 4/11/19

ELY – As the Ely School District considers a campus building renovation project that could cost as much as $13 million, the clock is ticking on a state-funded secure schools grant that the district …

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Use it or lose it

ISD 696 up against deadline for state school safety grant


ELY – As the Ely School District considers a campus building renovation project that could cost as much as $13 million, the clock is ticking on a state-funded secure schools grant that the district is hoping to use for the project.

School District officials were successful in securing about $500,000 in funds that are earmarked specifically for constructing a new safe and secure entrance for the Industrial Arts building on the school campus.

The district’s renovation consultant, Katie Hildenbrand of Architectural Resources Inc. (ARI) told school board members Monday night that they’ll need to submit construction bids to state officials by June 30 to meet final qualification for the funding.

The state grant award served as the beginning of the conversation surrounding the multi-million dollar campus renovation project. While a community task force is focusing on a three-building project that will likely require taxpayer approval for a bonding referendum, the state safety grant, along with other potential funding sources, has the potential to peel away some of the required borrowing for the project.

“The chances of us getting a whole new school are not very great,” said board chair Ray Marsnik. “We’re stuck with the fact that we are going to have to start on some renovations to our buildings.”

Hildenbrand said the original intent in developing the renovation plan was to use the state grant as part of a larger project that would likely entail additional bonding and a referendum. Now, she said, some creative planning will be necessary to meet the timeline. “Our original news was that we had until 2021 to have the (grant) money spent, but we have to have bids completed by the end of June,” she said. Actual construction is not required right away, however.

School board members were presented with three options for constructing the Industrial Arts secure entrance. All three concepts would tie into a larger renovation project that includes providing an enclosed link and a single school-day-access secured entrance between the three buildings.

The three options varied in price, at $500,000, $1.4 million, and $1.8 million.

“Ultimately that first phase of construction could be easily tied into the overall renovation project once the referendum is passed. If the referendum did not pass, we could simply look at completing the building link project,” she said.

Most school board members, as well as the two school principals, saw the wisdom in moving forward with the third option and bidding the “first phase” of the renovation project to link the buildings and construct a secure entrance and office.

The third option, at $1.8 million, would link the Industrial Arts and the Washington school buildings, but the Memorial building link could easily be incorporated into the plan if a bonding referendum failed. All linked entrances would incorporate mandated ADA access. A new office at the secure school-day entrance would also include a school nurse area. The project also includes the demolition of the former boiler plant building.

Hildenbrand asserted that while the state school safety grant requires the bidding to be completed by the end of June, any construction could be held until spring of 2020. “By that time, the school district has the opportunity to pass, or not, a bonding referendum,” she said. “You just need bids, you don’t necessarily have to award it until later.”

School Board member James Pointer was opposed to the district spending any more money on the secured entrance concept beyond the $500,000 in state school safety grant funds. He maintained his opposition to using the safety grant as part of the overall renovation project.

“I just don’t like any of this,” Pointer said.

Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson said the district is not obligated to take the $500,000 grant. “We don’t have to do any of this. I can call the state tomorrow and tell them we don’t want it.”

Hildenbrand added, “There are multiple school districts waiting in line to get this money if you don’t want to spend it.”

Pointer contended that in addition to all of the renovation concept options, the safety grant options, “just muddy the waters” with the general public.

“That is the process that you are going through,” Hildenbrand responded. “It is a process. You can’t just come in with one plan. You don’t have a final plan. There is plenty of time to tweak this.”

When asked for their opinions, principals Anne Oelke and Megan Anderson indicated their preference for $1.8 million plan. “This is the safest option for our students,” Oelke said.

Board member Heidi Mann said she was in favor of taking full advantage of the $500,000 safety grant, “and move forward in good faith for the community to renovate and secure these buildings and balance that with (referendum) money we may get.”

Board member Tom Omerza agreed, “We need to push this project forward. This is a stepping stone for the larger project. We connect two buildings now and not three, and this is just one step in making things better for the kids and the people who work here.”

“The number-one priority is connecting the buildings,” stated Marsnik

The board voted 5-1, with Pointer opposed, to develop bidding specifications in order to meet the June 30 deadline.

Other business

In other business, the school board:

Discussed the timeline required for a voter-approved bonding referendum this fall and may consider funding options for an anticipated community task force building renovation project recommendation at a study session on Tuesday, April 16.

 Hired John Mills for the part-time bus driver position (three hours per day, five days per week).

 Accepted the resignation of Gail Peters from the bus driver position, effective May 3, 2019.

 Approved the following volunteer coaches, Naomi Isbell, Tayler Banks, and Adrianna Wittrup for softball, and Kahsha Hyde for girls track.

 Adapted a resolution supporting the Iron Range Schools Collaboration.

 Discussed staff and student activity passes with the athletic director and will consider and/or act on a recommendation next month.


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