Save the Gym hits a snag after fire marshal denies permit

By JESSICA ROBINSON

Demolition has started at the old Laura Irwin Elementary School. However, the old Riverside Middle/High School gym has hit a snag. It was revealed at the Big Horn County School District No. 4 school board meeting on April 7 that the fire marshal had denied a permit. The school may need to have fire sprinklers installed. 

Owner’s representative Tom Farrens and MOA Architects drafted an appeal letter that was signed by the Town of Basin as well. Business manager Trevor Whitaker reported they (the fire marshal) would meet on Wednesday, April 8, and work through the options they have. If the decision is no, the district can go before the fire commission for appeals. 

Supt. Dave Kerby said it is extremely frustrating. He explained that the initial reviewer gave them a no because the building needs to have fire sprinklers in it. He had talked with MOA about why this would happen. The explanation Kerby received was, typically, they are getting the building ready for the school and not getting it ready for the next owner. He said the fire marshal is now saying that because it’s a change of ownership, it needs to be in shape for that new owner. 

In regard to their response to the fire marshal, Kerby said it is a change ownership, but not a change of use. It will still be used for the Basin Recreation Department and basketball teams. The offices will probably be used for town meetings. 

Kerby explained that the one reviewing the plan must have a document from when the building was built in 1957 stating that it was in compliance, which the district doesn’t have. 

Time is of the essence with getting the matter resolved. Kerby explained they are in the middle of their demolition. Demolition over at the elementary school will take another two and a half weeks. If it is not approved by then, it holds up the demolition at the high school. 

Board member Chris Kampbell asked why this is coming up now. Kerby reiterated the answer that was given by MOA.

In regard to the building changing ownership, Kampbell said it hasn’t been a secret for five years. Supt. Dave Kerby agreed with him. 

Kerby added to what MOA said, saying that they could only go apply for the permit within six months. However, he was in agreement they have been talking about this for five years at least.

Board member Brenton Paxton asked why they needed the original document from 1957 instead of any other time. “If it was OK in ’57, I’m sure it was OK in 1970,” he said. 

Kerby said that is the argument they are presenting before the reviewer. They have all the documents. Kerby said this person (the reviewer) is being a stickler. 

Farrens explained that when they first discussed the possibility of saving the gym, he had called the fire marshal’s office and discussed whether the gym had to be brought up to code. He was given a verbal over the phone that there would not have to be any changes if they were not changing the use of the building. Farrens further explained that once the plans were completed and since they were not allowed to file for the demolition permit until closer to the project. Once they submitted the plans, Farrens reported that the plan reviewer said since they wanted to use the international existing building code, which is adopted by the state of Wyoming, it doesn’t require the building to be brought up to the current code as long as the use does not change. Farrens said (the reviewer) is saying by changing the ownership, it is therefore changing the use. 

In one final comment, board member Greg Gloy said under their (the reviewers) argument, if the district would transfer the building to the Greybull school district, they would have to meet the fire code. “It makes absolutely no sense,” he said. 

In a follow-up interview after the board meeting, Supt. Kerby said they still don’t have an answer from the fire marshal. He reiterated even with the change of ownership, the use for the gym is very similar. Kerby believes there will be fewer people in the building since there is no school in there. 

Kerby emphasized they are trying to help the town make a community center. 

In other business

Speech and Debate coach Kaitlyn Miller gave a report on the season and shared the state competition will be held virtually.

RMHS Principal Matt Jensen gave a report on the progress of the online school, which included giving praise to teachers, finding balance for curriculum and the online survey. He reported that he is focusing on being optimistic, but at the same time being realistic. He wants to try to do the things that students want to do at this time of year such as prom, scholarship awards and graduation. He informed the board that they got word from WHSAA that all spring sports were cancelled, which means there will be no track season. Skye Cervantes is heading up the graduation committee. 

LIE Principal Jeff Fuller gave a report, which included moving forward with activating email accounts for third graders. He also reported helping families with internet issues. 

Farrens reported the demolition over at LIE is moving forward and should be completed by April 24. He also reported working on contracts with MOA for the track and field along with the final FF&E items that were changed out due to warranty issues. 

Supt. Kerby gave a report on the timeline of what has happened with the district since the closure of the schools. He reported on attending a call with the Riverside seniors. He also participated in handing out food to kids one day. In his report, Kerby addressed the process of contacting students that are not logging in. 

There was an executive session in regards to personnel and student matters. After coming out of executive session, the board tabled approving rehiring coaches. They approved hiring extra duty assignments, with board member Linda Osmond abstaining from voting and Kristen Schlattmann voting against. 

There was a motion to approve the use of the old Riverside gym for the Big Horn County emergency medical needs. There was concern in regards to whether there would be electricity due to demolition. The motion was amended for any gym to be used and was approved. 

There was discussion on what to do with some of the bricks from the old schools.

There will be a special meeting on April 28.