The students at Lovell Elementary School will not be getting a new school, at least not in the near future. That was the message delivered by School Facilities Department Planning Supervisor Troy Decker and Regional Project Manager John Rexius to the Big Horn County School District No. 2 Board of Trustees on Monday night.
The two traveled from Cheyenne to deliver the news in person and to present other options they hope will ultimately be recommended to the Wyoming Legislature for funding at their next session in early 2016.
“We had money to do a capacity study, while at the same time, over at your elementary school, there were some structural concerns about your food service area,” explained Decker. “So, we teamed up with the school district and did a structural analysis with a structural engineer out of Casper because we wanted to make sure you had a safe school and a safe environment.
Decker said the study used a methodology that looked at capacity and projected future enrollments based on a mathematical formula used by the state to determine the present and future needs of the school. He said the study also took into consideration that LES currently has one of the highest enrollments in the state in its special education program, acknowledging that those students may have special needs that ideally should be addressed through a restructuring of the building.
He went on to explain that the SFD hired the architectural firm MOA out of Casper to analyze and come up with initial concepts to address the structural problems of the food service area and future capacity issues. He noted that the SFD’s budget analyst recommended that one of those options under consideration be to build an entirely new school building.
“We needed to look at this option (new school) because state law tells us we need to look at the most cost-effective remedy,” said Decker.
Decker said after reviewing all of the options, it appeared that the top two options were to build an entirely new school or to remodel the food service area and make other modifications to the existing structure.
He explained that in a fairly recent statewide survey, the LES school building ranked well and, when compared to other schools in the state, actually ranked 188 out of more than 400 buildings.
“The building structurally-wise and condition-wise ranks very well,” he said.
He qualified that statement adding that their decision was based, for the most part, on the capacity study and not on the condition of the school building.
“When you voted (referring to the board) you voted that, of course, in an ideal world you would want a new building,” said Decker. “You based that vote not only on your capacity needs but also on your functionality and educational delivery needs. We respect that as an important part of your education. We, however, cannot support a recommendation of a new building as part of the School Facilities Dept. Once again, you are 188 on the list and we can’t start addressing your condition needs or functionality needs.”
Decker said his group does not recommend a new building, but instead recommends what is now referred to as “Option No. 3” or a slightly modified version of that
option. As outlined in previous recommendations of MOA Architects, the option would cost $12,743,486 compared to the $20,425,700 cost of an entirely new building.
The plan would include the addition of kindergarten classrooms at the southwest corner of the existing building and an addition of an entirely new cafeteria and kitchen at the southeast corner of the building. Once the cafeteria/kitchen addition is built, the old food service area would be demolished and the art classroom would be relocated to the northwest portion of the food service area, as well as the addition of a new special education area at the northwest corner of the building.
The current school building has 57,937 gross square feet with a capacity of 355 students, and the capacity study projects an enrollment of 401 students in the school year 2023-24. Option No. 3 would increase the gross square footage of the facility to 74,694 GSF, with a new capacity of 458 students. It does not include any renovation or updates to the existing structure.
Decker said the proposal he is presenting would separate the food service renovation as a separate funding request from the rest of the plan to ensure that, at the minimum, safety issues are addressed in that area, even if the legislature’s appropriations committee rejects the rest of the plan.
Board members were clearly disappointed. Some expressed concern that the school has already been added on to so many times over the years that it is already dysfunctional. Many questioned the condition of especially the older parts of the school that are already around 60 years old. Some expressed that they felt they were being “punished” for taking good care of the existing building. Board chairman Bruce Jolley, who was a volunteer firefighter for many years, said the maze of hallways is a nightmare for firefighters and other emergency personnel.
Decker said the proposal has a long way to go before receiving a green light from the legislature. He said the next step is to present it to SFD Director Panos, who will make the decision of whether or not to pass on the recommendation to the legislative committee responsible for reviewing school funding. The committee will decide whether the request is presented to the full legislature at the next session of the Wyoming Legislature in February of 2016. Ultimately, the governor will have to approve the request, as well.
Decker was firm in his conviction that this is the best plan, noting that, compared to other states, Wyoming has some of the best school buildings in the nation. He said when compared to school buildings in other states that are oftentimes more than 100 years old, school buildings in Wyoming are in much better shape.
By Patti Carpenter