State lays out options to reduce school crowding

Mar 17, 2013 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The group tasked with reviewing the needs of the state's highest-capacity school districts has completed its report for Riverton.

The Wyoming School Facilities Commission will review the report, along with five others, during its April meeting. Later, commissioners will determine how much financial support will go to each district for construction or remodeling projects.

Bill Speck, project manager with MOA Architecture, outlined his recommendations for Fremont County School District 25 during a meeting in Riverton this week. After studying the district, he said he has developed three scenarios that he will present to the SFC to address capacity needs in Riverton.

Cost-effective option

The cheapest of the three scenarios calls for a new school for kindergartners through third-graders, which would cost about $27 million according to Speck.

"We're going forward with the recommendation to select (that scenario) as the most cost effective remedy for your district," Speck said.

He suggested that the new building be constructed to hold about 480 students, but not right away.

"The best approach is to bring the building on as you need it," Speck said. "The first phase would meet your needs in 2016 with 320 students."

By 2019, he said, the district could add on to the building if necessary to accommodate growth in enrollment. But FCSD25 superintendent Terry Snyder said the district isn't comfortable with a 480-student school.

"That's larger than we want," Snyder said.

Speck agreed that the school would be larger than normal for the state, but he said he has completed similar projects in Wyoming in the past.

"It becomes like a group of schools," he said. "It's not like one large school. It's separated and organized into pods floating down into wings. ... And it's more economical."

The larger building would require an almost 9-acre property, he added. Snyder said funding for a new location has been approved.

Other options

Speck's second-choice scenario is a $32 million addition to Jackson Elementary School -- a structure that has "no value" according to FCSD25 building and grounds supervisor Larry Hartwell.

Despite Hartwell's comments about Jackson, Speck believes the facility still could be used to add to the district's capacity.

"I went through the building just to get a sense of its condition," he said. "I learned a lot more about what needed to happen. ... It's really a full renovation, (but) it seemed like we could work with it."

His lowest-ranked option would cost $37 million to replace Jackson with a new, 320-student school and a new, 298-student facility.

"That'd be a hard sell," Speck said, calling at scenario "inefficient." "It's $10 million more than scenario 1."

All of Speck's options provide for renovations at Rendezvous Elementary School, which originally was built as a junior high.

"There are suitability issues," Speck said, referring to hallway sizes and the height of drinking fountains, for example. "There are problems we have to correct to have younger children."

Local response

Snyder said all three scenarios would work for the district, but he doesn't share Speck's first choice because Jackson school will need attention in the near future.

"Based on (your preferred scenario) Jackson will be in operation for a significant period of time," Snyder said. "But the condition of Jackson and the need to improve it is not addressed at all in (that) scenario."

Assistant superintendent Kim McKinnon said he prefers the third option, and Snyder said either of the other two scenarios provides a more balanced distribution of programming across the district.

"(MOA's first choice) creates a larger discrepancy between building size and program offerings than we have now," Snyder said. "With significantly different-sized schools, you end up with desires to be in certain buildings."

He said he will speak with staff and the FCSD25 Board of Trustees and offer the district's input as the SFC makes its decision.

Speck acknowledged that his criteria differs from the district's when it comes to choosing a preference -- MOA was asked to find the most cost-effective options for the SFC to consider.

"We're not at odds," he said.

He plans to attend next week's school board meeting to speak with trustees.

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