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.”
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.