HIBBING — The Hibbing School District is determined to find a way to keep the Lincoln Elementary gun range open.
“We’re not closing the gun range,” said Superintendent Brad Johnson. “No one said we’re shutting it down and I’m sick of hearing it. As the superintendent, I’m trying to find an amicable solution.”
At the Oct. 5 meeting, the school board formed a committee to research ways to ensure safety while allowing access to the gun range. Due to safety concerns from the community, the gun range was temporarily closed and will remain that way until there’s a solution in place.
During the meeting Wednesday, Directors Bob Clover, Kathy Nyberg and Mitch Vincent were appointed to a committee to meet with school district administration, members of the Hibbing Rifle and Pistol Club, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources firearms safety instructors to continue discussion about the gun range. Director Tony Kuznik suggested the groups meet to discuss ways to ensure everyone’s safety.
On Wednesday, Johnson said that the committee that met previously recommends allowing both gun club members and other community members to use the gun range during specified times. They include: when school isn’t in session, and when there aren’t school or youth activities scheduled including sporting events and parent-teacher conferences. The gun range may be used when adult community education events are scheduled. The restrictions don’t apply to firearms safety because it’s an educational program, Johnson said.
Once an agreement has been made, the primary times that the gun range will be available may include: 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, 7 to 10 p.m. on some weekday evenings and some Saturdays. Hibbing Community Education would be responsible for setting a monthly schedule for the gun range.
Johnson said the limited hours would prevent the public from encountering members of the gun range. He said other issues with the gun range are members using primary school entrances, which result in them walking through the school with their guns, and that the preferred entrance — through the mudroom — leads gun range users by the locker rooms.
Recommendations to resolve those issues include changing the mudroom door, installing a wall that separates the gun range from the locker room area and adding sound proofing.
The proposed schedule is very restricting and wouldn’t work for the existing gun club and programs, said Butch Warner, a firearms safety instructor for the DNR.
“I know this has to work for everybody, but weekends would only work for the casual shooter,” he said. “On Mondays and Wednesdays there is a schedule where teams travel. I know you can hear the shooting upstairs, but that’s a very slim time that the range would be available.”
Warner said the gun range provides users with more than just a way to improve their marksmanship.
“It’s teaching respect for other people’s property,” he said.
Warner pointed that those who use the facility are either “well trained” or are supervised.
It would be a shame for the facility to close, said Gary Liubakka, another DNR firearms safety instructor.
“It’s a great facility. It’s great for students’ education,” he said. “There are a lot of kids that go there. The value they get there they can’t get anywhere else.”
Lincoln Elementary Principal Bob Bestul said he’s never had an issue with the gun range during the day and that gun range events are scheduled until after students exit the building at 3:30 p.m.
Director Jeff Polcher noted that there have been zero incidents at the gun range in its nearly 60-year existence. He said requiring a safety officer to be in charge of granting access to the gun range could resolve some of the issues.
“Now someone raised a stink literally two weeks ago and now we’re talking about shutting down a landmark of the school district,” Polcher said. “No one has never been injured down there. The perception that guns are harmful is wrong. Guns are a way of life up here.”
Director Mitch Vincent said he remembers what it was like to pick up and drop off his children after the Sandy Hook shooting. He said he’s concerned that too many people have the combination that grants access to the gun range, and suggested changing it to a key that can’t be copied.
“The world changed after that,” he said. “We need to make the school as safe as possible for everybody and I think we can.”
Warner said he’d comply with changing the locks and assigning range safety officers to monitor who enters the gun range.
“I think we can work together and find a way to make this work,” he said.
In other business, directors:
• Accepted the resignation for purposes of retirement from Patricia Castagneri, a pupil support assistant, effective Oct. 31.
• Approved hiring Carrie Fawkes as student council adviser and Tony Vinopal as the alpine ski head coach, both for the 2016-2017 school year.