Iron Range districts narrow down plans to merge into one high school

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IRON RANGE, MN – The Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school districts have been discussing, for months, how they’ll combine their high schools under a more career-driven learning path.

It’s a plan that has received high approval ratings among parents in both districts, but both school boards must approve it before moving forward.

“We’ve moved quite a ways, because now we have lots of more information and data for the school board members to use, because we want the school boards to have lots of information,” Virginia Public Schools Superintendent Noel Schmidt said.

The final plan will be presented the school boards in January.

Those mapping out the plans say existing facilities aren’t big enough to accommodate their plans for the academies model, which would prepare students for a wide range of options after high school, so they plan to build new.

“Originally, we started off with the idea of 9 through 12 academies, but once we looked at the buildings and the shape they’re in, it didn’t make sense to just do 9 through 12,” Virginia Public Schools Teacher Troy Caddy said. “We needed to kind of expand that, and get as many kids into a newer building as possible.”

The exact location of that building is still being evaluated, and officials say they will not have to decide on that location by January.

“We’ve kind of narrowed down,” Caddy said. “There’s a triangle of land between the three communities — Gilbert, Eveleth and Virginia, up in the Midway area — and there’s four sites that were recommended from the site committee.”

As for what happens for existing schools, the districts recommend remodeling current elementary buildings, and putting existing high school buildings on the market.

The cost of it all is still being evaluated, but school officials say they do qualify for state aid.

“We also have the IRRRB in our back yard here that we’re also looking for assistance with. They do have a fund for assistance and cooperation and consolidation,” Eveleth-Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Carey said. “Then, of course ,the taxpayers will have to have some skin in the game as well.”

A survey has been sent out to community members regarding their thoughts on the merger.

School board members say their decision, come January, will be largely based on those survey results.

“If the survey says we don’t want to do this, then the board is just — as a board member, I can’t, we can’t OK this,” Virginia School Board Member Murray Anderson said. “But, to me, and to many of the board members on both boards, it really is an easy decision.”

The districts will continue to map out their final plan until they present it to the school boards in January.

If approved, they will move forward with the project.

Gamiel Hall

Gamiel Hall

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