New schools open; District 21 numbers jumpSep 21, 2017 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer
The Wyoming Schools Facilities Commission toured the new Fort Washakie School before holding a bi-monthly work session and business meeting Sept. 14 in Fremont County.
The SFC, which also oversees the Schools Facilities Division, assists school districts in Wyoming in assessing, planning, financing, constructing and maintaining school facilities.
During the tour, Fremont County School District 21 (Fort Washakie) superintendent Terry Ebert announced that his district is close to doubling its high school student enrollment numbers for this school year.
Last year, the high school alone fluctuated between 50 and 60 students, and by the end the school year in May, there were about 50 students on the rolls.
As of Sept. 18, however, the high school recorded nearly 90 enrolled students, Ebert said.
"Nearly 50 of them are freshmen," he said.
He noted that terminating two bus transportation agreements - with the Pavillion and Lander school districts - now allows Fort Wahakie to retain more local students.
Not renewing those agreements, and having new buildings, are plausible reasons for the higher enrollment, he said.
Previously, FWS transported some its area students to Pavillion schools and also allowed Lander buses to pick up students in Fort Washakie.
"We're trying to hold those kids," Ebert said. "Not all the parents were happy, but that's what best for our kids here."
Ebert showed commissioners the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten wing, where, as of Monday, 35 pre-K and 47 kindergarten students were enrolled - also more than previously: At the end of May this year, there were only 22 pre-K and 43 kindergarten in Fort Washakie schools.
When commissioners asked if parents were taking advantage of the pre-school option, Ebert said there's usually a waiting list for pre-school spots.
There are seven pre-K and kindergarten classrooms in the building. There are fewer students overall in Fort Washakie schools this year, with 464 enrolled in pre-K through eighth grade in May, compared to 452 attending school in the new buildings Monday.
Ebert gave commissioners a look inside the school's existing library and cultural center that was incorporated into the new construction.
"It's too nice to tear down," he said.
The library covers 11,700 square feet and was constructed in 2003 with funding from the district and tribe. It features two large computer labs, support spaces and the Shoshone Tribe's cultural center, as well as the spacious library area.
The district also chose to keep its existing 20,600 square foot gymnasium that was built in 2010 with a full-size competition basketball court, two locker rooms, a wrestling room that can double as a large classroom, additional physical education support spaces, a commons area, concessions and classrooms.
According to administrators, the gym's construction, which also was paid for by the tribe and district, was the first step in building a permanent space for the high school.
The new pre-K through eighth grade school building covers roughly 122,000 square feet. Along with the new buildings, a new gymnasium in the elementary school building was paid for with "enhancement" money that the SFC doesn't allocate but which is covered by the district.
That way, the district is able to pay for the features it wants and isn't limited to the state's guidelines.
The gym has three basketball courts and can seat more than 1,000 people.
"It's not your usual gym design," Ebert said.
The district placed the school cafeteria nearby, Ebert added, as it also serves as a commons area and has a stage.
The commons area would be the best place to gather during or after games, he noted.
Overall, the district provided $1.6 million of its own money for the new schools, including enhancement projects.
Total construction costs reached about $55 million, with most coming from the SFD.
The high school alone required about $20 million to build.
Construction crews are finalizing the parking and green space that will be behind the buildings. Student drop-off locations will change once pavement is done in the rear. Classrooms in the new schools are about 900 square feet in size, with additional space available for hands-on educational activities.