Public meeting Tuesday, July 5
With financial pressure looming in connection with the former Byron school and the town council’s hope to acquire it, the community is being spurred for a decision on its commitment by Big Horn County School District One because of factors related to the Wyoming School Facilities Commission.
The situation came to light during a regular meeting of school district trustees Tuesday night, June 14, in the new administration building in Cowley. With grant monies of some $1.75 million, the district has renovated the historic site of the former Big Horn Academy to consolidate all administrative functions. The moving-in process began last week and was continuing this week. Gathering in the new meeting room, which formerly was the auditorium, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited there for the first time in more than a quarter-century.
Superintendent Shon Hocker subsequently advised the board of trustees that he recommends disposing of the unused school facilities in Byron and Deaver. His recommendations to allow the towns of Deaver and Byron to take over the properties were approved 5-0, as trustees Ed Riding and Brett Crosby were absent. Most significantly, the board approval for Byron includes a stipulation “to delay demolition as long as feasible to ensure disposal (acquisition by Byron) prior to winter.”
Because of impending deadlines that will affect a town council decision on the Byron site, the council will conduct a public meeting on Tuesday, July 5. Mayor Bret George said Monday, June 20, that the community meeting to obtain views from the citizenry will begin at 5 p.m. in the town hall. A mass mailing to all box holders likely will occur next week, he stated.
“We need to make some decisions,” George explained. “We need more financial specifications, and we want the community involved because the town council wants to have a fiscally-responsible approach for all citizens of Byron.” He noted that should the town become the new owner of the district property “costs would be incurred.” The public gathering on July 5 is seen as the possible tipping point as to which direction the town will go.
Hocker told district trustees that he wants the district “to help the town get the building and to delay demolition as long as possible.” He indicated that September or October appear as the final months prior to the district taking action to demolish most of the facility.
Additionally, a process known as “asbestos abatement” is pending, plus the need to cap off utilities and winterize the former school. Hocker stated that neither the district nor the facilities commission should shoulder the costs of winterizing. Part of the problem is that the town will not know about a state grant for its plan until November “and that deadline will not work for the district,” said Hocker.
He indicated that the district would be “taking a huge financial risk” by waiting too long to demolish most of the former school, as funding from the facilities commission might not be available.
The audience Tuesday evening included Rep. Elaine Harvey (R-District 26), and Sue Taylor, director of Lovell Inc. They also urged trustees to cooperate as much as possible with Byron so that if the town council and citizens favor acquiring the property, they will have time available, notwithstanding the outstanding circumstances. Harvey expressed “mixed emotions,” as she “wants the town to succeed and be able to use the former school site to help economic development.” But simultaneously, she said that sometimes “one must bury the dead and just move on.”
“It’s a dilemma,” she noted, as she wants nothing but the best for the district and Byron.
Taylor outlined the three-year history of the town and its hope to acquire the property. She noted various financial difficulties, including a state requirement that a tenant would have to repay the state for a grant used for remodeling. She said that Lovell Inc. has been working with the town “looking at all possibilities.” Regarding the July 5 Byron community meeting, she said that “there is no point” in the town proceeding toward acquisition “if the majority of the town doesn’t want” to do it.
In other matters, the board:
*Made no changes in the preliminary budget approved last month. Adoption of final figures will come on
July 20 during a meeting in Cowley, said Hocker.
*Approved a contract with Heavenly Reflections Cleaning Services of Cowley to spend 20 hours per week cleaning the new administrative site. The company has guaranteed holding its
current prices for two years.
*Accepted the resignation of Dani VanLake as a teacher at Burlington school and employed Shauna Migneault as a custodian and bus driver in Burlington, Craig Lundberg as a Burlington elementary teacher and Sheralee Lynn and Jake Jones as summer bus help.
Last week’s regular meeting began later than usual due to an extensive executive session, closed to the press and public, to discuss “personnel, property and student issues,” announced Chairman Dave Monk. Although closed sessions usually last an hour or less, the one on the 14th ran for an hour and 38 minutes due to the number of matters needing consideration, said Hocker after the meeting. What took the most time, he said, involved salaries and hiring.
The regular meeting, which got under way actively at approximately 8:47 p.m., adjourned at 10:50 p.m.
Prior to the meetings, Hocker conducted an impromptu tour of the new site, which at one time served as a high school. Trustee Koleen Sponsel, who graduated there, explained what the rooms were used for prior to the renovation. Trustee Paul Rasmussen also graduated from the school.
BY BOB RODRIGUEZ