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State OKs money to buy land for elementary school

Oct 23, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Fremont County School District 25 has received much-wanted news from the Wyoming Schools Facilities Commission. The state agency has approved $408,200 for the purchase of property for a new elementary school in Riverton.

The approval came last week, and superintendent Terry Snyder informed the Riverton school board Tuesday night.

"I indicated that we'd like to move our project as quickly as we can because we needed capacity yesterday -- last year," Snyder said during Tuesday's board meeting.

Snyder then confirmed that a contract to purchase the property at 1200 W. Monroe Ave., located near Rein Park on the south side of Riverton, has been reached.

"We have some young families down in that area, and we really believe that we will be able to enroll students very easily, very naturally into that community," Snyder said, adding that the district does not operate formally under a system where students must attend the school closest to their residence.

"This is a school that we believe is in an excellent position to serve our community," he said.

The State of Wyoming mandated several years ago that the student-to-teacher ratio in elementary classrooms could not exceed 16:1. District 25 remodeled Rendezvous Elementary School extensively to add classrooms, and that school now is the largest-enrollment elementary school in Wyoming. Even so, the district still is not in compliance with the 16:1 rule.

Not near other schools

The commission also requested the district avoid acquiring land adjacent to another school, Snyder said. He acknowledged that has been done by the district in the past. Riverton High School and Riverton Middle School are on adjacent property, as are Jackson and Rendezvous elementary schools, with the former Riverton High School property also in the same vicinity.

"I've learned that it creates traffic problems and issues for security that now are more of a concern," Snyder said. "So this distributes our schools nicely across town."

The district requested the state approve a fair market value for the new land. Snyder said it was a fair purchase price that was significantly less expensive per square foot than the Aspen Park school property in east Riverton. After the state determined it was fair, Snyder said the SFC added $50,000 to the amount to be used to purchase the property.

"Thus, with the money they provided, we will not have to take any money out of the general fund or the depreciation account to purchase this property," Snyder said.

Good data for state

Snyder said information the district provided to the SFC before a decision was made definitely helped get the approval. With the help of local engineering firms, Snyder said, the district performed studies on the property to better show the work that would need to be done for construction and other components.

"As a result of those studies we followed up by saying, 'OK, these are the conditions of the property (and) what will it cost us to get the property ready for construction," he said.

The cost for site development on this property was estimated at $1.25 million. That would include the infrastructure, streets, the covering of an open irrigation ditch, and soil removal.

"That may not be the exact price but I wanted the SFC to have some idea of what it was going to cost to develop this property before they purchased it," Snyder said.

He said the district also worked closely with city staff regarding sidewalk and curbside requirements and to incorporate egress functionality.

"We're trying to do it right. We're trying to design in a way that's going to work for the community and for everybody involved," Snyder said.

The money approved would be used for design work and to purchase the land. Money has yet to be acquired for land development and construction costs. Snyder said that money could possibly roll in by March or July of 2014.

New public committee

Also provided to the SFC was a list of members for the new School District 25 Collaborative Facilities Commission, comprised of 41 members so far. The committee will amass public input and distribute planning information to the community as well. The first meeting is Oct. 29.

"It's important for people to know what we're doing and why we're doing it, and the more people who have that first-hand information, the better," Snyder said.

The formation of the committee is required by the state, and Snyder said he believes it worked in District 25's favor to have shown the SFC that the panel already is being formed and will meet soon.

"They're going to provide a good profile of the community," Snyder said. "That committee is going to be important to us because we have projects other than this building that I think are important for this district also, and I want their input."

Members were contacted directly after recommendations were received from school officials. The committee also would help in applying for grants.

Snyder told the board that once a prototype design is complete, the SFC will have to approve it before the project can advance.

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