In the coming years, the city of Gillette has a big decision to make about the future of the Gurley Avenue overpass.
In a presentation to the Gillette City Council, Brian Shippy, a structural engineer with Structural Dynamics, said the city should start planning for at least a major overhaul of the bridge, if not a new bridge, in the next few years.
The original surface, or deck, of the bridge, which was built in 1982, lasted 18 years. The first deck overlay, in 2000, lasted 11 years. That was replaced in 2010.
Shippy said each deck overlay has lasted 60-70% of the lifespan of the preceding deck. If this keeps up, the current overlay will last five to six years, he said. It was installed in 2018, meaning it will have to be replaced in 2024.
The city is conducting annual maintenance and inspections on the bridge to extend its life, but even with this, the bridge will need to be replaced some time in the mid-2020s, Shippy said.
Another overlay is out of the question.
“Each successive overlay is getting deeper and deeper into that deck to the point that there’s very little of that original concrete deck remaining,” Shippy said.
If the city tried to do one more overlay, it could break through the bottom of the original deck.
When the time comes to replace the bridge, the city has three options:
Shippy recommended the city start planning for one of those options two to three years before the end of the current deck overlay.
All three require a lot of planning, design and money.
The city won’t get much help from the state Department of Transportation. The Bridge Replacement Off System program is a federally funded bridge replacement program to reduce the number of deficient off-system bridges. It applies to bridges owned by cities, towns and counties, located on a non-federal aid roadway and open to the public.
To even get on WYDOT’s radar for the program, the bridge has to reach a certain level of disrepair, city engineer Joe Schoen said.
The Gurley overpass is not at that level yet, so it does not qualify for the program.
“It seems like the state’s working against us,” Mayor Louise Carter-King said. “To get to (that level) we have to give up some of this maintenance that keeps it up.”
“It’s a double-edged sword,” said city administrator Patrick Davidson, adding that the city would be “ill-advised” to rely on the state to help fund this project.
Schoen said even if the bridge reached the level tomorrow, because of the money that has already been allocated, “we’re about seven to 10 years out.”
The city has set aside $1 million each of the last two years for the upcoming bridge replacement.
To completely replace the overpass at the current location could cost anywhere from $15 million to $20 million.
The council has discussed other alternatives to route traffic over Highway 14-16 as well, and costs for those locations have been estimated between $10 million to $16 million, not including costs of buying land to build a new bridge.
Local school trustees reached a consensus this week to go ahead with an armed educator policy, but the direction is anything but clear.
Trustees on Tuesday were split on whether to allow armed staff in all schools with about half of them agreeing with the idea and half favoring other options.
“I think the beauty of an elected board is that we all come together with our different backgrounds, which will occasionally bring a difference of opinion,” Campbell County School District trustee Lisa Durgin said Wednesday. “I don’t feel our board was truly split on the ideas of arming staff in schools. We are still working out what this will or will not look like.”
Trustees want to have more discussions on the issue.
One thing they agree on is putting into place a rule to arm educators at rural schools because it would take law enforcement too much time to respond to a potential emergency.
To arm or not to arm
The bone of contention is whether Gillette schools should arm educators in all schools.
For some, it’s a necessary response to today’s society.
With an increasing number of mass shootings across the country, the district needs to be proactive despite the job it has done in implementing safety measures, Trustee Joe Lawrence said at a Tuesday school board meeting.
“Bottom line is, we are here to protect our students,” he said.
Trustee Linda Bricker agreed.
“We have to take these changes in our world very seriously,” she said. “We live in a different world. We have to change the way we do things.”
Trustee David Foreman said he is against arming educators in Gillette schools because various national educational associations, like the National Education Association and the U.S. Department of Education, oppose the idea.
Durgin said she was on the fence until she had more information.
Instead of arming staff in Gillette, some trustees suggested the district examine all options.
Ken Clouston said he would prefer not to arm staff in Gillette schools. Instead, he wants the district to look at hiring more school resource officers.
There are now four SROs, one at Campbell County High School, one at Thunder Basin High School, one at Wright Jr./Sr. High School and one who is shared between Sage Valley and Twin Spruce junior high schools.
“That would the be the most amazing situation we can have because these men and women are trained for this,” Bricker said. “We’ve got to be prepared no matter what we do.”
It’s difficult for the city to hire additional police staff and get them trained in a short period of time, but the district will continue to explore the issue. In the meantime, the board is directing administrators to work with city officials to add four more school resource officers. They would split the costs.
If the city is unable to accommodate the request, the district could shift its focus to the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, or both agencies can work together, Chairwoman Anne Ochs said.
Trustee Toni Bell said she agrees with having more SROs, but the district should be realistic about the costs of hiring them. She said while she does not advocate arming educators, schools should look at training their staff as SROs.
On Tuesday, Ochs presented a list of options that could be presented to the public for a possible first hearing. They include:
The policy needs to cover every angle the district can consider, like determining who would be eligible to carry a gun, she said.
“I think as the process continues, we will no doubt come to an agreement on what will be best for the district as a whole, whether it is enacting a new policy or not,” Durgin said.