News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Shoshoni school plans advance; town meeting Monday
Jun 3, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer
SHOSHONI -- Fremont County School District 24 is one step closer to building its new school after a construction advisory committee Thursday night agreed on where the facility should be built.
"It's the best we have going, so let's do it," Shoshoni school board member Shawn Steffen said.
After more than two hours of discussion, the committee came to a consensus to pursue a 71-acre property in the Greenough Subdivision north of Shoshoni and south of the airport.
In March, the Wyoming Legislature allocated about $45 million in capital construction for a new kindergarten- through 12th-grade facility in Shoshoni. Another $4 million was appropriated for design and $200,000 for land acquisition.
The project consists of a 95,000 square-foot facility and new sporting fields.
Roughly 20 people attended Thursday's meeting, which was facilitated by Casper assistant superintendent Mark Antram.
The decision to pursue the property followed an in-depth conversation that at times grew heated when concerns were raised about keeping the community informed about the project's progress.
Some asked why the school couldn't be built on the current site, as well as the board's decision to require the property be at least 25 acres.
Attendee Monica Gabriel, who identified herself as a Shoshoni school alumnus, parent and Fast Lane employee, asked about the board's decision made May 21 about the property's size.
"I'm frustrated with the board for deciding on 25 acres," she said. "We needed to have a town meeting first before that decision was made."
Longtime Shoshoni resident and former mayor Bud Currah agreed.
"At first, some of the trustees met with city council and promised a town meeting," Currah said. "For some reason it's been set back.
Meeting set Monday
A community meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, June 4, at the Shoshoni Senior Center.
"That's done after the fact," Currah said. "This board was elected by the people of District 24. They promised the meeting. I have no problem with the 25 acres. I have a problem with it being decided before a community meeting" could be held.
Antram told Currah that Thursday's gathering was a community meeting.
"No, this is a core meeting," Currah responded.
As a member of the committee, Gabriel said she felt the core group, which is supposed to serve as a liaison to the community, needed to have the information about the 25-acre requirement so that it could relay it to others.
"The community has got to be first," she said. "The community is shut out. ... This is going to stir the pot."
Lindy Linn, who works at the senior citizens center, said she hears comments daily about residents feeling left out.
"They're just frustrated," she said. "If they know the facts, that's OK, but they don't understand the process."
Trustee Kevin Smith said the board needed to have some decisions made before it went to the community.
"You have to have something substantial to talk about beforehand," Smith said.
Gabriel said a woman called her a foul name and displayed her fists at her one day at work because Gabriel sits on the core committee.
"She feels shut out," Gabriel said.
Antram said the board did not come up with the 25-acre requirement arbitrarily. State regulations calculate a site as 20 acres plus one for every 100 students. The Shoshoni school will be built for 500 students, thus bringing the required size to 25 acres.
"That's not a back-door move on the community," Antram said about the board's decision.
Zane Fross said the process needed to move forward.
"I think we need a new school pretty bad," he said.
Trustee Tracy Spence asked attendees to focus on the interests of the students.
"I think there are some personal and business interests being represented here," Spence said.
Gabriel said later in the meeting that she was there to represent Fast Lane, which is situated next to the current school, because the business counts on traffic from the school.
Spence later apologized to Gabriel about the comment.
Rich Hardt of the Wyoming School Facilities Department said the Shoshoni project has been bumped from the funding list in the past, but that his agency has been looking for a site since 2006.
Sites can only be looked at one at a time, and its cost $13,000 to $35,000 each time.
"There have been a lot of community meetings," Hardt said. "We have a great opportunity with this piece of land to build a great school. ... We can't do it on the current site. There are so many benefits to this new site that I'm surprised by this reaction."
Smith said he understood the community being anxious.
"But as a school board, we are frustrated with trying to find land," he said. "We haven't been idling."
Current school's future
Hardt said the SFD will give the district a year before it asks the district to do something with the current facility.
Superintendent Tammy Cox said the district would maintain it. It's the expectation at some point that the buildings will be demolished and the land sold.
"These buildings are old and expensive to maintain," Hardt said.
He said the district is required to have a plan for disposition of the current site.
"I think it's time for new kids to come in and build new memories," Jerry Dechert said. "Let's start making new memories in a new building."
Hardt was expected to make a preliminary recommendation to the SFD on Friday for the proposed site so that it could be voted on at the department's July meeting.
School District 24 trustees are expected to vote on a resolution for the land at their June 18 meeting.
"It's go time, from the board's perspective," Smith said.