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November 17, 2011 10:21 am

NWC lassoes rodeo arena

Written by Ilene Olson

A 17.5 acre equestrian center and rodeo arena east of Cody will become property of Northwest College, following the NWC board’s approval for the purchase at its meeting Monday.

The negotiated price for the Heart Mountain Equestrian Center is $550,000. That money will come from the college’s $5.3 million operation reserve fund, said Kim Mills, NWC vice president for administrative services.

For years, the college has rented the facility, which is located on Park County Road 2AB, north of U.S. 14-A near the Corbett Bridge.

NWC President Paul Prestwich said Wednesday the center has been up for sale for “quite some time,” and college leaders had investigated the possibility of buying it for several months.

Several factors combined to convince them to negotiate to buy the center.

“We weren’t sure whether new owners would be willing to rent to us,” he said. “The facility needed some updating, and we were hesitant to spend a lot of  money on a facility we didn’t own. For that, as well as a couple other reasons, we felt it was best to purchase the facility.

“We feel very fortunate, because it’s a big building and a lot of acreage. I think it’s a fair price, and it’s something we can afford from reserves. I think it’s going to be great for the rodeo program.”

The purchase is expected to be complete in the next four to eight weeks. NWC officials are negotiating with Terry Orr, whose father owns the facility.

The Wyoming Community College Commission previously approved the purchase at a meeting late last month. No approval from the Legislature is needed because the purchase is below the threshold for required legislative review and approval, Prestwich said in an email Wednesday.

After the college purchases the facility, “We’ll use the arena in a similar way to how we currently use it. By far, the biggest use is as a practice facility for our rodeo team,” he said.  “In the cold Wyoming weather, it’s important to have an indoor facility.”

The indoor arena measures nearly 45,000 square feet, he said.

While the college already owns an agriculture pavilion on Road 8 and the Equine Center off Seventh Street west of the main campus, neither of those are big enough for the rodeo team to practice in, he said.

“Neither of those other facilities function for that type of activity, and they’re utilized for their own programs,” he said.

In addition to the arena, the center has a large parking lot and 17.5 acres of land could be used to raise hay or graze animals, he said.

The center’s location is practical, being close to Cody for students who participate in Cody rodeo activities, but also a reasonable distance from Powell for students and coaches, he said.

Prestwich said the heating system in the arena needs to be updated, and work on the access doors also is planned.

“We’ve already made some general improvements to pens, and we’ll continue to identify needs on the property,” he said.

Prestwich said the purchase aligns with the college’s increased commitment to the program, as evidenced by last year’s change to make the rodeo coach a full-time position instead of the part-time one it has been in the past.

Prestwich said he thinks the college’s ownership of the center will make the coach position more attractive as well.

The college will start its search for a new rodeo coach within the next few weeks, he said. For now, Becky Nose is serving as the interim coach, assisted by Dan Mortensen.

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