Save the gym committee moves forward

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BY BARBARA ANNE GREENE

An update on saving the Riverside High School gym was the major topic of conversation at a Big Horn County School District Four workshop meeting last Tuesday, Feb. 7.

School board member Brenton Paxton reported a few key items:

1. A group went to Cowley to tour the community center (log gym), which was run down prior to getting grants to fix it up. They met with Mayor Joel Peterson, who shared with them what membership to the center cost and ways they are creating income.

2. On Jan. 23, Shelby Carlson from Wyoming School Facilities Division (SFD) met with superintendent Dave Kerby and business manager Andy DeGraw. She requested that the Town of Basin sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the school. The MOU would state that the town would be taking over the building from the school.

3. Until the district gets the partial demolition cost and the utility study that is going to be done by MOA Architects, the town won’t sign an MOU.

Once the study is done the committee, which is comprised of district staff, board members, town council members and community members, will sit down and discuss the feasibility.

Kerby expanded on point two by saying that the district will have to go to the SFD to make a request for a partial demolition. A full demo is currently funded.

“With the brand new schools coming, we cannot continue to own that property,” Kerby said. “It’s too much square footage. What we were trying to do is to do a partial demolition to save three to four classrooms, as well as the gym.”

The district needs permission from the SFD to do so. In turn, the SFD wants the MOU in place before they give permission. The next School Facilities Commission (SFC) meeting is Feb. 22, and the district can participate via conference call to present the general concept. Then the district will go to Cheyenne in April to appear before the SFC in person.

“She (Carlson) said it would strengthen our plan if we had a few things in place,” Kerby said. One would be the MOU, he said. Another would be to have an engineering plan to show the layout and the cost of a partial demo. A third would be the ongoing cost of utilities for the portion of the building that is left. The cost of the total demolition would be around $900,000.

Board member Deb Craft asked if a partnership with Basin Rec would help. Town Council member CJ Duncan said that it would have to be like the agreement that is in place with the swimming pool. The school can’t own the building, but it can rent the locker rooms back from the town.

Another possible source of income for the town, should they take the gym, is memberships. Paxton said that Cowley has 200 memberships.

“The money that it is creating in Cowley is huge,” Paxton said, adding that Cowley has been able to hire a full-time person and are looking to add a part-time staffer.

In addition to Duncan, there were two other town council members in attendance, Carl Olson and Roger Stickney. Board chair Audra Crouse asked if they wanted to add anything to the discussion. Duncan said that the town hasn’t discussed the gym at length in a meeting but he has been out asking the public.

“The majority of people in town that I have talked to want this,” Duncan said. “They are willing to do some things. They are willing to work to keep the facilities. I get a positive feedback from members of the community.

“I don’t see any reason why it can’t go forward. I’m not speaking for the council. It just doesn’t make any sense not to save it. It would be absolutely stupid and foolish to lose this facility.”

He went on to say if the facility were gone, the town would have to spend at least $50,000 to make ADA accessible bathrooms for the pool. The town doesn’t have that kind of money to spend on bathrooms. Fiscally, from that aspect, it makes sense to keep it, he said.

Kerby said that the school could use it in the future for games, rec activities, practices, etc., an agreement similar to what the school has with the fairgrounds would be in order. He also stated that perhaps part of the lease agreement would be that the school pays for a portion of the utilities.

Craft told about her discussion with a council member in Byron. The town was able to save the entire old school and is heating it for next to nothing. She believes they would be a good resource for the gym committee.

Board member Heath Hopkin stated that the town could make the building their own single campus. They could move the offices, electrical, water and public works, then sell all the other buildings that they own. (The vocational/tech building is not a part of the demolition.)

Further discussion among the board, council and audience included ways to take a survey that would be done by the public. One idea was to put large jars in the newspaper and town offices. The public would put their change in the jar that reflects their opinion with the choice of YES or NO to keeping the gym. The majority agreed this would be a good idea, as well as doing a survey at parent/teacher conferences. Another question that could be asked is whether people would pay for a membership.

Another idea that came out of the meeting was to start a Facebook page. If it were found feasible by the town to keep the gym, a PayPal or crowd-funding element would be added. This would give people the opportunity to donate. The Facebook page is called “Save the Basin Gym.”

Architects meeting

On Feb. 9, Kerby, DeGraw, RHS principal Tony Anson and maintenance supervisor Dave Tharp met with representatives from MOA Architecture. Some of the goals of the meeting were to get an idea of the cost of the partial demo and to estimate what the utility costs of the partial building might be in the future.  MOA also met with the town at 1 p.m.

John E. Gudger from MOA said, “The meetings went well as we were able to confirm some questions the design team had regarding both the new construction and a separate project on demolition of the existing schools once the new construction has been completed.”

Gudger said the meeting at the town was to confirm comments made by Fire Chief Brent Godfrey and Dave Harley, Wyoming State Fire Inspector, regarding the proposed design for fire access to the new school location.

“Our goals to address questions and to confirm design approaches in meeting the 2015 International Fire Code were met,” Gudger said. “We were also able to confirm existing conditions for the current Riverside High School as we consider meeting the needs of the school district in their potential proposal to save a portion of the existing Riverside High School for future use.”

MOA hopes to have their findings/plans back to the district by Feb. 27.

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Brace for impact

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County prepares for ice jams this week

BY KYNLI SMITH

Big Horn County is bracing for possible flooding caused by ice jams along the Big Horn River this week. The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for possible ice jams for Big Horn County over the weekend and the warning remained in effect as of press time.

Normally an issue counties in Wyoming have to deal with in the early spring, the recent warm-up caused ice jams and massive flooding in Worland over the weekend.

Many in Big Horn County know from a history of ice jams that they are next.

“John Wayne always said ‘the good lord willing and the creek don’t rise,’” said Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn. “I’m afraid the creek is going to rise.”

In light of the possible flooding heading to Big Horn County, towns like Manderson started to prepare for the worst. In 2014 the town suffered massive flooding from ice jams both on the Big Horn River and the Nowood River.

On Sunday many local churches canceled services, rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Close to 100 people showed up in Manderson to help with sandbagging efforts. Thousands of sandbags were deployed around town.

“This shows what is so great about Wyoming with the community coming together like this,” said Blackburn on Sunday. “Thank you to all our volunteers in today’s efforts.”

Sandbag 1

According to Manderson operations chief Brent Godfrey, they hope to channel the water through town should flooding occur. They have also protected government buildings like Cloud Peak Middle School with sandbags. The school will remain open and evaluation procedures are in place.

According to Manderson mayor Tim Patrick, citizens in Manderson were placed on evacuation notice over the weekend and should be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice if massive flooding occurs.

Currently, only minor flooding and agricultural field flooding has occurred near the Manderson area.

If an evacuation were to take place in Manderson a shelter will be set up at the Big Horn County Fairgrounds in Basin.

On Monday, a disaster declaration was issued for Manderson, Greybull and Big Horn County. Blackburn said the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security has officials working with the sheriff’s office and towns to help with the incident. The sandbagging efforts are going toward public entities, but Blackburn cautioned private entities to continue to monitor and plan according to the situation.

On Tuesday the ice jam in Worland that caused the extensive flooding over the weekend had broken up from the bridges and made its way downstream near the Coors elevator outside Worland.

Godfrey said he wants to assure the public that these are precautionary efforts at this point. More sandbags were deployed with the help of Wyoming National Guard units in Manderson. Guard units are also helping out in Greybull, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

He also added people in low-lying areas should continue to monitor the situation and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

“We are in as good of shape as we could be at this time,” Godfrey said.

The Big Horn River was lower Tuesday than it was Monday, and water from Boysen Reservoir will not be released until officials absolutely have to, according to Godfrey.

An incident meeting with local, county and state officials for Manderson and Greybull was held in Greybull on Tuesday afternoon.

Guy Cameron, the director for the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, briefed the Greybull town council, Manderson representatives, county representatives and local law enforcement on the current situation.

Given the disaster declaration, the county and towns now have state and federal resources at their disposal on preventative measures.

“Rapid action teams are currently providing protection measures for the school in Manderson and along the rail line there,” said Cameron. “We are actively working that area to protect it should there be a threat. The governor has been very clear to be proactive.”

More than 60 members of the National Guard will be helping with the area this week.

Big Horn County Emergency Management Coordinator LaRae Dobbs said that planning meetings that have taken place to prepare for ice jam flooding have come into play in this situation.

The situation is being handled as one big incident for Big Horn County with operations in both Manderson and Greybull.

In Basin there is not a huge cause for concern other than the few residential homes down by the river in town. Church groups helped those homes with sandbags on Monday.

“The response has been fabulous,” said Dobbs. “The citizens showed up to help in Manderson. There has been a great response by our officials and county stakeholders as well. The state has been wonderful with the support and people they sent here. They have also helped with possible red tape and have made sure we are in compliance should we need federal assistance down the line. When you are prepared you don’t have to be scared.”

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Schools and government a place for guns?

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Locals respond after Wyoming House passes three gun bills

BY KYNLI SMITH

A variety of different gun related bills have now advanced through the Wyoming House as of Monday evening. House Bills 136, 137 and 194 all passed in the House and would allow people to carry guns on college campuses, elementary and secondary schools, town council meetings and county commission meetings.

House Bill 136 deals with guns on college campuses and college sporting events. House Bill 137 deals with guns at public meetings and House Bill 194 allows guns on elementary and secondary school grounds.

“There are a lot of people in Wyoming who fully believe in the second amendment,” said Rep. Jamie Flitner (R-Shell). “When I grew up, boys went to school with rifles in the gun racks in the back of their pickup — it was completely unheard of (to prohibit guns).”

Flitner attributed the prohibition from guns on school campuses to a national shift in policy possibly sparked by the rising number of school shootings. According to her, Wyoming has pushed to restore the right to carry guns in schools for almost a decade — prior bills have been introduced and passed by the House of Representatives, only to be stopped short in the State Senate.

The three bills will have a third and final reading Thursday and then will be making their way to the Senate chambers to be reviewed and debated.

Rep. Mike Greear (R-Worland) said he didn’t see why these bills would not pass through the final reading this week.

Sen. Wyatt Agar (R-Worland) said he has not seen the engrossed copy of the bills but will be reviewing them as they make their way over to the Senate.

Guns in Schools

It has been an ongoing debate in recent years on the place of guns in school buildings. Local school officials and law enforcement have weighed in on the House bills that involve people who carry guns into their gyms and classrooms.

House Bill 194 relates to school safety and security and would allow possession of firearms by school district employees on school property and would provide rulemaking authority to school districts.

“I’m concerned how the bill is finalized if it is passed in the Senate,” said Riverside High School principal Tony Anson. “What authority will the schools have to determine who can have a weapon? If it is any conceal and carry person I have extreme concerns.”

Anson added that he once spoke to a principal who was involved in a school shooting who said having a gun would have killed him. The principal was able to deescalate the situation without a gun. 

“If you have a student come in and start shooting, a teacher is going to hesitate one or two maybe even three seconds before they shoot a student,” said Anson. “But that student won’t have any hesitation at all because they have already shot several students.”

Anson also said RHS has a resource officer who carries a gun in the schools already and posed the question: If teachers were to be allowed to carry a gun in the classroom and there was an active shooter, would the teacher leave their students to go to the shooter?

RHS senior Autumn Bubla said she doesn’t have a problem with having guns in schools.

“Growing up in Wyoming around guns, I think it’s the best idea,” said Bubla. “It’s safe for a teacher, a secretary and a principal to all have a gun. I think they should have to be required to pass some kind of exam first.”

RHS school resource officer Kyle McClure said he doesn’t see a problem with the proposed bill.

I’m very pro-second amendment. It’s one of your fundamental rights to own a gun,” said McClure. “I’m in support of the bill, but I think the local districts should have some say in if they allow them.”

He also added that in
rural schools like Manderson, which is 10 miles from Basin, it would be good to have one because law enforcement response time would be slow.

“It might make anti-gun or more liberal people uncomfortable,” said McClure. “These country kids are used to seeing firearms. Their parents use them; they use them. Just because the state legislature says it’s OK to carry a firearm in the school doesn’t mean you will see an influx of people carrying a firearm in school.”

McClure did add that teachers do not have the training law enforcement has and that it would be beneficial to have a trained, uniformed law enforcement officer in the schools.

“Most teachers don’t have that frame of mind like a law enforcement officer has,” said McClure. “If an armed gunman is afraid that a person has a gun in that school, the gunman might be less likely to target that school.”

District Superintendent Dave Kerby said that during his time in Idaho the state legislature passed a similar bill.

“Most districts did not adopt it. Those that did were out a ways where it takes 30 minutes for an officer to get there,” Kerby said.

He added that typically those who had police officers who could be there did not adopt to have employees carry guns.

“Here in Basin we have a pretty responsive police force,” said Kerby. “We also have an SRO. If it passes it would be a school board decision.”

Guns in government

House Bill 137 would allow guns to be carried into public meeting places such as local town council, school board or county commissioner meetings.

The bill would remove restrictions and repeal gun free zones in government meetings for those who have a conceal and carry permit and allow them to carry guns to any “meeting of a governmental entity and any meeting of the legislature or committee.”

Local officials have shared and discussed their views on the proposed bill if it were to pass in the Senate.

Basin mayor and former police chief Dennis Peters said he doesn’t have a problem with the legislation.

“I think everyone should have a gun,” said Peters. “If it passes we won’t have a choice to comply, will we?”

Peters added that he, as a former law enforcement officer, along with current police chief Chris Kampbell and councilman Brent Godfrey, who works for the Big Horn County Sheriff’s office, should be able to handle a situation if one were ever to come up.”

“You have enough people to take care of a situation if one were to happen,” said Peters. “I’m not worried about it.”

County Commissioner Felix Carrizales worries that if guns are allowed in public meetings often heated meetings could escalate even further.

“I like guns myself. I have some. I don’t shoot them very often and don’t carry them around,” said Carrizales. “I do think people should be allowed to carry guns. I don’t think guns have a place in a public meeting.”

The Senate will be reviewing House Bill 137, along with the other two gun bills after the third and final reading in the House this week.

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