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July 23, 2008 1:40 pm

State action may force early decision on gym

Written by Tribune Staff

Efforts to save the old Powell High School gym face another bump in the road due to recent action by the Wyoming School Facilities Commission.
In a report to the school board last week, Superintendent Kevin Mitchell said the district was informed that the commission has allocated funding for the planning and design of a new middle school — but there's a catch. The district will not receive the money until a site is chosen for the school.
Mitchell said designing a building is “site-specific,” so planning can't begin until the designers know where the building is going to be.
If the district is not ready to use the money in a timely manner, the commission will reallocate the money to another district, and district would have to wait for the next funding cycle by the Wyoming Legislature to receive the funding again. This would delay the start of planning for up to two years.
The School Facilities Commission, which funds school buildings in Wyoming and has the final say on where a school is sited, has indicated that the preferred site for a new middle school is at the present school site. The new school would be constructed on the site of the old gym, while the present middle school continues to occupy the current building, which would be demolished once construction is completed.
At its June meeting, the board voted to mothball the gym for a year rather than demolish it this summer. The action was intended to allow time for a group trying to save the gym as a community recreation center to come up with a plan to take over the gym and find funding for the project.
Mitchell indicated that the commission's action means the district probably doesn't have a year to make a decision on the site.
“That puts a little more squeeze on the board,” Mitchell said. “We need to consider the ramifications of our decision on the gym.”
Mitchell reported that enrollment projections for the district by the commission indicate a larger student body in the future, resulting in overcrowding at the middle school in about five years, and the district needs to begin preparing for that situation now.
“If that happens, we'll need to be ready to move,” Mitchell said. “Waiting two years to decide on a middle school site will have a negative effect. If there's a chance for the district to take advantage of state funding, we need to be ready in less than two years.”
With regard to finding a different site for the new middle school, Mitchell said that likely would result in additional expense to the district and the state, one reason why the commission prefers the current site.
“The SFC has always said that is the preferred site,” Mitchell said. “They haven't even given us permission to look for a different one.”
A recent site study conducted for the district by an outside consultant did evaluate several sites around Powell as possible locations for new school, but the consultant's final report has not been received. Mitchell said he expects that report, which may identify other sites that would be acceptable, before the board's August meeting.
Although the commission might approve a different site based on its educational suitability, the district would have to buy the land and bear the expense of extending utilities, streets and other necessary infrastructure to the site.
Mitchell said Ric Rodriguez, who is spearheading the attempt to convert the gym to community use, has indicated he will have a plan to present to the board in August. Noting that the district could only hand the property over to another government entity, Mitchell said he had instructed Rodriguez that his plan has to include a written commitment from the city of Powell that the city would accept ownership, responsibility and liability for the building.
When contacted, Rodriguez said he did hope to have a proposed plan for the August board meeting. However, he has asked the commission for some information and hasn't received a response as yet.
Rodriguez said that, following the board's decision to mothball the gym, he thought his group had a year to work with, but now that doesn't appear to be the case.
“They keep changing the time-frame,” Rodriguez said. “I'm going to contact (commission director) Ken Daraie and try to get a more solid time-frame.
Rodriguez said he understands the district is concerned about having to continue using the lunchroom in old high school building for the middle school, but he thinks they could come up with an interim solution that would serve until the district is ready to build the school. He said he believes there are alternate sites for the middle school, even though the state has decided on the gym site.
“I have a couple of options, and I think they'll be acceptable,” Rodriguez.
Rodriguez also said he believes city officials will be willing to take ownership of the building.