ELYRIA — Ely Elementary School, a building named for Elyria’s founding father, is getting an update fit for the year 2020.
That is when the new Ely Elementary is set to open for students as the first new school to sit at the corner of Gulf Road and Ohio Street in nearly a century. Friday, school officials took the first step toward that new construction with a ceremonial groundbreaking.
It is the third such event the district has held in recent months as it works to rebuild Elyria Schools with a combination of state and local tax dollars. A fourth groundbreaking June 8 will usher in a new elementary school on the city’s south side.
“Just think — three years from now, Elyria is going to have a completely new facelift when it comes to the schools,” said Elyria Superintendent Tom Jama. “You are going to have a new multisports complex. You are going to have five new buildings plus the new high school. It’s amazing. Elyria is on the rise.”
The new school will be nothing like the historic building that stood in the background of the groundbreaking. In many ways, Ely Elementary has lived past its useful life.
The old school at 312 Gulf Road was built in 1921.
Hundreds of residents likely recall climbing the school’s 323 steps. In the basement of the building sit three outdated boilers in rooms that flood when it rains. There are cracks in the school’s floor, water damage on ceiling tiles and even an asbestos warning sign in one first-grade classroom although the hazardous material is sealed and protected.
In contrast, the new school will be a 21st century learning environment suitable for the flexible learning styles of today. It will be colorful with students entering through a cafeteria common area before the building branches out into different wings.
Ely Principal Jack Dibee called the groundbreaking an exciting time for students, staff and especially community members who have grown up with Ely Elementary as a constant in their lives.
“I know so many have a special tie to this school,” he said. “In the 97 years this school has been open, at best estimate more than 10,000 Elyria residents have been students at this school at one time or another. This old school has been a great friend to the city.”
Some residents who watched the groundbreaking feared Friday would never come.
More than two months ago, school officials grappled with the possibility of not building a new school at the location at all as rising construction costs threatened to push the district’s building costs beyond its budget. To make the plan work, a suggestion was floated to eliminate Ely and the new McKinley Elementary at the site of the former Hamilton School.
However, district officials found a way to stay the course with a plan to shrink the project’s footprint and speed up the construction timeline.
To illustrate just how much work will go into this new school, Dave Stahl, the district’s construction manager, turned to the youngsters seated near a pile of dirt and an excavator.
“It’s a huge effort,” he said. “Where you guys are sitting right now, we are going to be building the building. Over the summer, we are going to get started moving dirt and putting stuff in the ground. So it takes a lot to get done and I want to share a few facts. Over 500 people — men and women — are going to be working on this project … putting in over a 160,000 man hours of work. There is going to be over 100,000 bricks, 240,000 pounds of steel is going to go into this and to the core team I promise there will be one flagpole.”
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