The Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school districts will consolidate July 1 after voters approved the move Tuesday during a special election.

A yes vote on consolidation had 53.3% of the vote in Eveleth-Gilbert and 77.6% in Virginia. According to an unofficial tally provided by the school districts, in Virginia, 1,297 people voted yes and 374 voted no; in Eveleth-Gilbert, 1,134 people voted yes and 993 voted no.

Because a majority in each district approved, the referendum passes and the districts can consolidate on July 1.

“In putting aside their long-term competitive rivalry, which has existed for over a hundred years, the school districts look forward to working together for the betterment of all students in the area,” said a letter sent to staff and parents from both districts, continuing, “The Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school districts are excited by the prospect for enhanced options for students in the new school district — Rock Ridge Public Schools.”

According to both districts, the yes vote now allows the referendum money that was approved last year to be evenly distributed between Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia students.

If Tuesday’s referendum failed in either district, the consolidation would not proceed and the districts would remain separate with a joint powers board in control of the new Rock Ridge High School, set to open in the fall of 2023.

“We know the road ahead will, at times, be difficult and that we have much work to do,” the letter said. “However, we are confident that with the talents and skills of our teachers, paras, students, parents, business leaders, and community members — all working together and ‘Fiercely United’ toward the common cause of providing our students a world-class education in rural Northern Minnesota, we shall prevail.”

Tuesday was the first election held in Minnesota since the stay-at-home order was put in place in March. Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school districts weren’t the only ones to hold elections on Tuesday. School districts in Mora, Byron and Roseau also held special elections, as well as the city of Avoca and Bridgewater Township.

On the Iron Range, precautions were taken to help minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread at polls. Transparent plastic sheets were put up to separate voters and election judges. All polling places offered curbside voting and all election judges wore gloves and masks and voters kept the pens they used.

Those with absentee ballots were also given the option to drop them off Tuesday before 3:30 p.m. at the school districts’ offices. Absentee ballots are normally due back the day before an election.

This story was updated at 12 a.m. May 13 with results from the election. It was originally posted at 10:33 p.m. May 12.