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Shoshoni hears detail on new school planning

Jun 7, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

The $45 million for construction would comes from state accounts, not the local tax base.

Fremont County School District 24 patrons are getting their first taste of the revamped school construction process in Wyoming, and a meeting Monday night helped resolve some confusion.

One of the biggest misconceptions in the community, superintendent Tammy Cox said, was that the $45 million Gov. Matt Mead has allocated for the new K-12 school comes from the local tax base. She said this was not the case, and that the money comes from the state.

State Sen. Gerald Geis, R-Worland, said state statute requires tax moneys be sent to Cheyenne where it is reallocated evenly to all of the 48 school districts. The Wyoming School Facilities Department has administered school construction in the state for about 10 years, but this is Shoshoni's first project under the new system.

One man at Monday's meeting pointed out that the money still comes from the taxpayers.

"The funds are from Wyoming people. I don't like that mentality that it's free," he said. "There is a cost to that."

"I agree the money comes from us, but if it's not spent at Shoshoni, it will be spent on another school," trustee Shawn Steffen said, adding that Shoshoni deserves a new school.

'You have a window'

New schools have been constructed in Riverton, Lander, Pavillion and Arapahoe by the state over the past decade.

"You have a window that's been provided," state Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, told the audience.

Many expressed concerns about future local bonds to help with the project.

Officials at the meeting said those are no longer needed because the state is required to fund appropriately sized facilities.

"We won't see bond issues anymore because those days are gone," Bebout said. "It's now the responsibility of the state."

Board member Kevin Smith also noted that the district a few years ago set aside $2 million for building enhancements, which are permitted under the state school facilities model.

Bebout cautioned the district to assure there will be no "unfair burden" on the town for infrastructure needs such as sewer and electrical lines for the facility.

"The town shouldn't have to spend anything on that," Bebout said.

Communication

Some patrons complained that communication had been lacking during the planning process. Trustee Kelly Gardner said it might seem that the Shoshoni school board hasn't been communicating with the public as well as it could have, but the process of building a new school in the small town is unfamiliar to everybody.

He said the allocation from the State of Wyoming was authorized just a few months ago, and he noted that the district is new at this, considering the current building was built about 75 years ago.

"Don't take it to heart that we're not taking input from you," he said.

The SFD and the school board have been looking at property for a new K-12 school since 2006, but it wasn't until two months ago that Gov. Mead's administration allocated the $45 million in construction costs, plus $4 million for planning.

An attendee at town meeting Monday, who said he's heard rumors that include putting in a new truck stop on the current school site, urged the crowd to come together and move forward in a united front.

Cox said she hopes a new fact sheet will help quash some of the misunderstandings.

An attendee asked if having the new school further away from the center of town would affect local business.

Monica Gabriel, who works at Fast Lane, said it would affect business but the bigger concern is student safety.

"They scratch our back, we scratch their back, but we're not concerned about the money," she said.

Disposition of current building

According to the fact sheet, the school board has the responsibility of building disposition and will consider all options with input from citizens. If the school board decides to demolition the building, the SFD will fund and carry out the demolition of the current facility, and the site will be left as an attractive grassed area.

The district will be responsible for the area's maintenance unless the land is sold.

Bebout, who is a Shoshoni school alumni, encouraged the board to salvage some of the aspects of the building such as bricks.

"A lot of us went to that school," he said. "Some of it has historical value."

District officials encouraged the citizens to attend future meetings with the core committee, which are held at 7 p.m. every second Monday.

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