Perseverance, lobbying pays off for school

Supt. of Schools Dan Coe, Lovell School Board Chairwoman Judy Richards and Rep. Elaine Harvey are to be commended for whatever arm-twisting they did to get the Wyoming School Facilities Commission to reverse course and fund the planned second and third phases of the Lovell High School remodeling project.

Things looked bleak earlier this month when the SFC staff announced that the high school had slipped down on the facility funding priority list because of upgrades to heating and air conditioning, window and the electrical system last summer.

But that was precisely what was NOT supposed to happen when the SFC accepted Lovell as a pilot project for remodeling existing qualified facilities rather than tearing them down as part of the state’s efforts to upgrade school facilities across Wyoming.

Coe knew that, with the way the SFC ranks projects, if Lovell completed phase I of the planned three-phase remodel, the school would be dropped on the priority list because, then, the needs wouldn’t be as great. In other words, the district would be penalized for doing the right thing – for upgrading facilities.

So Coe secured a promise from the SFC to keep Lovell higher on the priority/funding list as phases of the project are completed – with the agency agreeing to not “re-score” the school until the project was complete.

So much for promises. When Coe met with the SFC staff on June 7 for the district’s annual facility review, he was informed that phases II and III wouldn’t be on the funding list because the school had slipped from 70th to 100th on the priority list.

That didn’t sit well at all with Coe, who immediately called in the heavy artillery: board chair Richards and Rep. Elaine Harvey, then Sen. Hank Coe of Cody and Rep. Steve Harshman of Casper – co-chairmen of the Select School Facilities Committee of the Wyoming Legislature.

Rep. Harvey is a former member of the same committee and knew that the new legislation designed to take politics out of school planning and require “re-scoring” every year was not intended to penalize projects already under way.

A few days and some arm-twisting later, the SFC reversed its decision and placed Lovell on the funding list heading into the 2012 budget session of the legislature.

Nothing is set in stone. The legislature must still approve the SFC funding priorities and projects, but things are looking much better for a remodeled school than they did three weeks ago.

Students may wonder why they won’t get a “brand new” school like other districts have received, but the remodel is far better for students and the district than a new facility. It’s far cheaper, it can be completed much sooner and the school will be able to retain its square footage rather than having to slash space with a new facility, which wreaks havoc on vocational education, classroom space, fine arts and other components of a quality education.

And students will get a “brand new” commons/multi-purpose area and new fine arts facilities, updated classrooms and new vocational education facilities.

Coe and the Lovell School Board were wise to pursue this course of action three years ago, and now, thanks to a little bit of intense lobbying, it looks like the plan will succeed. Hats off to those who made it happen.

–David Peck