Meeteetse residents worry about library's fate

Posted 1/19/10

Board chairman Joe Hicks, however, told the group that the the board was considering the sale as a way of preserving the presence of the branch library in the school, and it was just one of several options being considered.

By a long-standing …

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Meeteetse residents worry about library's fate


An item on the Meeteetse school board agenda drew unexpected attention last week from patrons who saw it as a threat to the community's branch library. Nearly 20 people, including Park County head librarian Francis Clymer, attended because the board's agenda included a discussion item listed as “sale of the library area to reduce school's square footage.” That raised fear that the community would lose its branch library, which shares space with the school library.

Board chairman Joe Hicks, however, told the group that the the board was considering the sale as a way of preserving the presence of the branch library in the school, and it was just one of several options being considered.

By a long-standing agreement with Park County, the Meeteetse Branch Library has been housed in the Meeteetse school library, a situation unique in Wyoming.

However, according to the standards of the Wyoming School Facilities Commission, the school, which has seen declining enrollment for several years, has more square footage than the commission's guidelines allow for the number of students in the school, currently 120.

Hicks said the fear is that the commission's decisions about the future of the school building will force the branch library out of the school.

“We are not looking to eliminate the library or duck our obligations,” Hicks said. “We have a contract with the county.”

In recent years, the district has reduced the square footage of its facility by selling the swimming pool to a joint powers board, but district facilities still cover nearly 64,000 square feet, including the ag shop and the gymnasium.

The school's current facility has a number of shortcomings, and several years ago, the School Facilities Commission funded design for an extensive remodeling project to correct them. The district developed a design including a replacement for the ag shop which is most in need of replacing.

However, superintendent Bob Lewandowski said the commission has asked the district to consider modifying the remodel plan to reduce square footage. The suggestion is that a new ag shop be constructed to take advantage of square footage already in the building.

The remodeling, as proposed by the commission, would reduce the size to less than 59,000 square feet; however, the commission's formula calls for a facility of less than 50,000 square feet.

Lewandowski said the project already has decreased the size of the library, and the district is working to forestall any other reductions to the space.

“We've been making concessions (on square footage), and (selling the library space) is one of the things we might have to save the space from being used for something else,” Lewandowski said.

Commission staff suggested relocating the library into a space that is now a courtyard within the school building, but doing so would make it impossible to provide outside access to public library patrons.

“The SFC wants us to cut more square footage, and we want to secure (the library) square footage,” Lewandowski said. “I don't even know if we can do it, but we have argued for the library with the SFC.”

Clymer told the board that she and her staff appreciate the board and community for maintaining a supporting the library, and said the joint effort has resulted in a good library.

“We would like to continue the relationship,” Clymer said. “If, in the future, the board wants to sell the space for a reasonable price, I would approach the county commissioners about it.”

Board members noted that they had sold the swimming pool to a joint powers board for $10.

“We're not looking at this as fundraising,” Hicks said.

Comments from the audience included the concern that having the library in the school was important to keep the community-school connection active, and some wondered if the county could afford to take possession of the library space.

Terry Sporkin expressed concern that the state was forcing reduction of the school building in an effort to force consolidation.

“I think we're being nicked to death,” Sporkin said.

“One of the things we're trying to do is reduce square footage so, hopefully, they can't cut us any more,” said board member David Beer.

Lewandowski indicated that maintaining the school's enrollment is a key to avoiding consolidation, and the board has to look at ways of using present funding efficiently to provide a quality education.

“If parents aren't convinced we have a good school, they will take them to another school,” Lewandowski said. “If we can't provide an equitable education, our enrollment will continue to shrink.”

Hicks restated that the inclusion of the library issue on the evening's agenda was only a discussion item related to the development of next year's budget.

“We're working on efficiency,” Hicks said. “We're looking at several ways to use funding more efficiently.”

Hicks also apologized for “causing undue emotion” in the community over the agenda item.