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District 25 looks at eliminating occupied space

Nov 15, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

'Visible impact,' Snyder predicts

Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton is taking steps to cut the overall square footage of buildings it owns, hoping to reduce a funding deficit for building maintenance that has resulted from declining enrollment and legislative changes to state reimbursements.

The FCSD 25 Board of Trustees agreed in October to pay almost $40,000 to architectural firm Tobin and Associates to conduct a comprehensive review of all district facilities and submit a report suggesting ways the district can reduce its square footage.

The firm began its work about a month ago, and last week, FCSD 25 superintendent Terry Snyder and Tobin and Associates staff spent two days walking through every room in every building in the district.

Snyder said he hopes a report will be completed by early 2018, at which time the district can begin considering options and gauging public opinion.

"We do believe that we will have to reduce our square footage -- somehow, some way," he said. "I anticipate there will be a visible impact."

More scrutiny

In recent years, state legislators have increased scrutiny of Riverton school maintenance needs, especially since the district has had a disproportionately high number of its maintenance projects approved by the Wyoming Legislature in recent years.

"We've been very successful in get component funding or emergency money from the state," Snyder said. "(Legislators) were red-flagged by the success we had with getting component funding."

The study with Tobin and Associates now makes Riverton the first district in the state to be part of a "pilot study" for facility use and major maintenance, Snyder said.

"We know we weren't randomly selected. We were selected for a reason, and part of the reason is the fact that we've received significant additional funding to do big projects in our district that we can't afford to do through major maintenance," he said.

If the district finds success with the process, it's likely that other districts will follow Riverton's lead.

"The state has to believe that we're using our space efficiently," Snyder said. "We volunteered to be part of this pilot study in order to use our tax dollars effectively."

Times change

Three decades ago, Riverton actually was thought to have too many students for its buildings. That situation led to the construction of Willow Creek Elementary School.

But as the state has modified its maintenance rubric, the district now doesn't receive nearly enough maintenance money to cover the bills for its buildings.

A few facilities have a big impact. The Tonkin Activities Center, the old three-story old high school, and the current high school's career center require considerable costs for upkeep and utilities but receive very little state funding because the number of students who use those buildings is so small.

The district also has three elementary schools that are roughly 50 years old.

"By putting too much money into old buildings, you might not do the proper maintenance on our new buildings," Snyder said. "We're kind of getting backlogged. ... We have some of the oldest buildings in the state."

Tonkin is an obvious target for changes as Tobin and Associates studies how the district could save costs. Before Frontier Academy started using the building in 2014, Tonkin didn't have any students in it.

"Probably the one that gets the most attention is Tonkin because it's a large area with very few kids," Snyder said. "It costs us more to heat Tonkin than it does the high school."

Snyder said it's likely the district will ultimately stop using at least one of its buildings.

Demolition is also a possibility.

Closures cause problems

Any reduction of building use would require the district to find places for the displaced departments to go.

If the Tonkin Activities Center were shut down, the district would need to find a new location for the wrestling team, the facilities department and the storage that's currently housed in that building.

If the old three-story high school were shut down, the move would displace offices of the Wyoming Department of Education and the Fremont County Board of Cooperative Education Services.

It's possible that the district will use the Tobin study to address how local finances are hindered by the Riverton Aquatic Center, which costs the district roughly $650,000 a year to keep open, Snyder said.

However, he noted, closing the aquatic center "would not be a simple solution."

"It's an important part of the community and our programming," he said.

Only closing the facility entirely would help address the square-footage issue. The district also could scale back operational support for the pool's community access, but that change would surely come with significant pushback from the community.

Snyder said city public works director Kyle Butterfield has been made aware of the scope of the school district's study.

The study could also be used, Snyder said, to address the fact that the district has "basically" been "the rec program for the city of Riverton."

In 2017, R-Recreation has already used the district's buildings for a total of 373 hours on 251 days.

If the district ultimately ceases using a building, Snyder said the district would be open to partnering with the city to use that building as a recreation center.

Ultimately, Snyder said that any proposals would be brought to the community for feedback before decisions are made.

Tobin and Associates, a Cheyenne-based firm, has previously worked on renovations of Dubois public schools and the construction of Wyoming Indian's new elementary school.

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