Superintendent pitches plan for auditorium to state commission

Jun 11, 2013 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Building an auditorium for Riverton High School is long overdue in the eyes of School District 25 leaders.

Fremont County School District 25 superintendent Terry Snyder wants to waste no time in the push for an auditorium -- and a new wrestling facility -- at RHS.

Considering how long the approval of a project of this size could take, Snyder said pressing the issue now is significant for the community.

"I have a commitment with this. We didn't want to wait. We need to start advocating," Snyder said.

"We need to establish our need, not just sit on it."

The district uses the old gymnasium what's left of the former Riverton High School that also serves as a wrestling room. It was built during the old high school's expansion project in 1950. The entire school was abandoned in the early 1980s when the new school was built on West Sunset Drive, and the original high school was demolished.

The surviving gymnasium on West Main Street, is about a mile and half from the high school and doesn't have the capability to accommodate to disabled visitors. Snyder said the distance also makes it difficult for the district's athletic trainer to be at both buildings at once and to attend to the student athletes in case of an injury. Travel to and from, which is frequent, also is a concern during inclement weather.

The old gym also is the closest thing RHS ever had to a real auditorium. It features a wide stage on the west side of the gym and was the site for many school plays and community concerts through the years. It has since been reconfigured and is no longer suitable as a performance space.

"I truly believe that our kids need and deserve a high school auditorium and wrestling room," Snyder said.

A survey performed by the district showed that out of all of the Class 4-A and 3-A high schools in the state of Wyoming, RHS is the only school without an instructional and performance auditorium. Many Class 2-A schools have auditoriums.

Snyder has presented the request to the Wyoming Schools Facilities Department.

"They didn't say no, they didn't discourage us, they acknowledged our need," he said.

The public information officer with SFD, Anthony Hughes, said after "the most cost effective remedy" is determined, the request is then passed on to the Schools Facilities Commission and later to the state legislators, for further consideration.

Funding to build

When RHS was built, Snyder said the structure was designed so that an auditorium, wrestling facility and vocational tech building could be added later. One reason the project could be on hold for a long time, Snyder said, is because there isn't a secure funding source.

"There's no funding mechanism established to be able to do this," he said. "We want them to tell us what the district can do in a situation like this."

A vocational tech building is not in the request, Snyder said, because the district wants to be "fair" with the state and taxpayers. RHS uses the nearby James H. Moore Career Center for vocational education.

"We don't want to be greedy. We don't want to ask for more than we can get," Snyder said.

The auditorium once ranked as a higher priority with the facilities commission, but the state body later "restacked" its projects and moved the auditorium much farther down on the list, effectively ending consideration for it in the foreseeable future under normal funding models.

Nelson Architects of Riverton estimated project construction cost to be more than $9 million and require square footage of 26,200 to be added. According to Nelson Architects, the estimate showed that the new auditorium of 16,500 square feet would have 770 seats, with nine handicapped seats included, a lobby, public restrooms, music practice rooms, storage, and an extended commons, and the wrestling room area in an area of 3,500 square feet.

Local support

Central Wyoming College shares its facilities with the school district when possible, but with each school hosting numerous events, the availability of the CWC facilities is not always assured during the desired times or days. In recent years the prize-winning RHS drama department had to stage its annual productions in the Riverton Middle School lunchroom.

In a letter of support to the district, CWC president Jo Anne McFarland, noted that the college's future plans couldn't necessarily match District 25's interests.

"Because of CWC's interest in expanding our current intramural and intercollegiate sports program, I fear that our ability to provide such space for your wrestling program may even be more limited in the future," she said.

McFarland added that new facilities would be able to hold and attract large state, regional and cultural events. Along with the request from Snyder to the schools facilities department, attached were signatures of support from parents and students.

Snyder became aware that other districts in the state have made similar requests. Currently, 14 school districts in Wyoming have made requests for some kind of facility, remodel, or asbestos removal for their schools and are in the planning stages, which means the schools undergo studies that will then determine a full project request for the SFC.

Also, more than 20 districts currently are approved for projects that Hughes said "are in different phases of construction."

Snyder said hopes his commitment to the project travels far enough to influence and encourage those other districts who are concerned about students and communities.

"There is no guarantee for success," Snyder said "(But) I will do what I can to exhaust all the options."

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