CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Gov. Matt Mead has proposed slowing the process of razing old and constructing new schools for budget reasons.
The Alliance for Historic Wyoming likes that idea, for different reasons.
“A slowdown in construction might be good news for some of these historic schools,” Alliance for Historic Wyoming President Mary Humstone said.
The alliance is pushing for school repurposing, or adaptation, as part of its “More than Bricks and Mortar” campaign.
Since the state took over the construction of schools a decade ago as a result of a Wyoming Supreme Court mandate, the pace of razing and rebuilding has been feverish and costly.
An unfortunate consequence, according to some people, was the demolition of schools that failed to meet the standards of the new state School Facilities Commission.
This was particularly painful to people in small towns where the school was the heart of the community.
Nearly 50 schools were destroyed in the past eight years because of the push for new schools, Humstone tells the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/UGFw94 ).
The list includes National Historic Register schools in Buffalo, Upton, Lander, Rawlins and Rock Springs. Other historic schools are threatened with future demolition, she noted.
There have been some success stories. The old Pine Bluffs High School was turned into a community center in 2004; and College Heights Baptist Church in Casper successfully bid on the old Garfield Elementary School and converted it into the College Heights Community Center.
The governor’s plan would still leave plenty of funding for school construction — $600 million over the next five years. But as Mead and state lawmakers prepare to make budget cuts in the wake of sagging natural gas prices and flat-lining coal prices, he wants to redirect some coal bonus money dedicated to school construction and use it to pay other bills. Mead has noted that the school construction needs list is getting shorter.
The Alliance for Historic Wyoming and the Wyoming Business Council have worked to help preserve and repurpose old schools.
Since 2005, the council has awarded $47 million in grants for about 30 school projects, said Dave Sorensen, manager of the council’s Community Facilities Grant and Loan Program.
Sorensen said the council requires a dollar match and a business plan from the applicants to show where the money to operate and maintain the facility will come from.
“We also require a partnership, like a joint powers board or a county-city board,” Sorensen said.
The application for a grant to repurpose the school in Hyattville was filed by the cemetery district. Because Hyattville is not incorporated, it is not considered a public entity. But the cemetery district, under state law, is a public entity eligible to apply for the money.
Humstone said the old Pine Bluffs High School is a good example of how a community can work to save a historic school and put it to another good use.
The struggle to save the school began in the 1990s. The alliance worked with local Historical Society members and put together a one-day charette, which is a community planning and design process.
“We got community leaders, architects and talked for a day about how the school could be put to better use and could be self-supporting,” Humstone said.
The joint powers board formed for the project took ownership of the school from Laramie County School District 2. The supporters took documents from the charette to the Wyoming Business Council when they applied for the community facilities grant.
“It’s a wonderful facility for that small town,” Humstone said.
The concrete-domed gymnasium is still used for high school proms because it is such a spectacular space compared to the new high school, she said.
Other dances and community events are also held there. Tenants include a Peak Wellness clinic, Head Start and a Laramie County Community College branch. Additionally, the local library stores records in the old school.
“I think it’s a great success story that involved many years of a community working hard and not giving up,” Humstone said.
While state and Natrona County School District officials finalize details of a plan to renovate Natrona County and Kelly Walsh high schools and move alternative Roosevelt High School into the planned new Center for Advanced and Professional Studies campus in 2016, Casper area historic preservationists and the Alliance for Historic Wyoming are drumming ideas to help save the Roosevelt building.
Roosevelt is on the National Historic Register and is a great building, Humstone said.
Dennis Bay is the school district’s executive director of business services. He said the district’s goal is to save the old Roosevelt school in north Casper and sell it to an individual or a company for reuse.
Barbara Dobos of Casper, an alliance member and founder, said the public should be involved early in the decision-making process on the use of the old school.
“Having the charettes in the early planning stages for Natrona County High School (renovation) were extremely beneficial to the public and to the school,” she said.