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School referendums pass on the Iron Range, fail in Carlton County

Virginia Public Schools is working with Eveleth-Gilbert Public School on a new career academy high school. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Eveleth-Gilbert Public Schools is collaborating with Virginia Public Schools on a possible new career academy high school. It could cost Eveleth-Gilbert $40 million to renovate its existing building such as the high school seen here. Teri Cadeau / tcadeau@lcnewschronicle.com2 / 2

School referendums that will allow two Iron Range schools to collaborate on a new career academy high school as well as build two new elementary schools passed Tuesday night.

According to Virginia school district superintendent Noel Schmidt, the Virginia referendum passed with 68.7 percent, 1,989-905, and the Eveleth-Gilbert referendum passed with 57.1 percent, 1,766-1,276. If either referendum failed, the project would not have been able to move forward.

"The kids are big winners tonight," Schmidt said.

Schmidt said the numbers are unofficial as of Tuesday night, but he expects it to pass in both districts.

"I would just like to thank all of our communities for supporting this project. It is going to be a real game changer for our area and our students' education," said Eveleth-Gilbert school district superintendent Jeff Carey. "It has been really great seeing these communities work together over the last two years on a common goal and to be able to make it come to fruition is going to be great for our area"

Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia are looking at building a new high school and two new elementary schools. The cost of their partnership and the three new buildings is estimated to be about $178.5 million and taxpayers are expected to only pay for about 20 percent of the project.

On Tuesday, residents of both school districts made their voices heard on the project. Virginia school district voters were asked to approve a more than $147.5 million referendum, while Eveleth-Gilbert residents were asked to approve a $30.9 million referendum.

This is due to money approved by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and money coming from the state, both of which are lowering the tax burden on residents of the districts. The IRRRB unanimously approved $98 million over 20 years during a meeting in February and the state is adding an additional $120 million over 20 years.

The tax impact on a home valued at $75,000 will see an annual tax increase of $115 no matter what district the house is located in. A home valued at $125,000 will see an annual tax increase of $252.

If voters didn't approve the project, both districts were looking at self-funding a minimum of $40 million each to renovate current buildings, which could have cost residents quite a bit more.

Currently, between the two districts, more than $2.5 million above the state average is being spent on building maintenance.

As for the current buildings, the plan is to try and sell the buildings as-is. If they don't sell within two years, demolition will be considered.

Moose Lake, Wrenshall referendums failed

Two Carlton County school districts weren't as lucky Tuesday night.

The community of Moose Lake voted not to support the referendum to complete the campus of the Moose Lake Community School.

The referendum was a two-tiered question. The first question failed by a vote of 648-403, which means question two automatically fails. A total of 1,054 ballots were cast but three ballots could not be counted because the voter didn't answer both questions.

The first plan would have improved existing outdoor facilities at a cost of $3.94 million to taxpayers. The second plan would have made additional activity improvements for $2.7 million.

Taxpayers would have paid just half the cost to actually complete the projects since the district still qualifies for the financial aid bond it received after the 2012 flood.

For the third time in two years, voters in Wrenshall rejected a proposal to renovate and repair its school. By a vote of 513-418, voters said no to a $14.4 million proposal to replace the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, build a gym addition, remodel classrooms and convert the pool to classroom and locker room space.

Two similar referendums failed in November 2018 and in April 2017.

For more information on the Moose Lake and Wrenshall referendums, visit www.pinejournal.com.

Pine Journal reporters Jamey Malcomb and Andee Erickson contributed to this report.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the night general assignments reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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