CASPER, Wyo. — The Natrona County School District board of trustees has narrowed its options for temporary space for students who will be displaced during renovations to Natrona County High School from about seven to three. Each option would keep the 550 displaced students on campus, as opposed to a few proposed options of using other sites in the district.
The board will ask the state School Facilities Department to determine how much each option will cost the district and how much the state will fund.
Several board members said the solution the district created — to build temporary space during construction that will later become a permanent athletic structure on campus — is the most beneficial to students and the most economical. The temporary space is called swing space.
Board members voted Monday to request the SFD compare that plan with two other options, which some said will show NCSD's solution is the best. The board wants the decision on what each option will cost by Sept. 21.
Planners can’t create a master plan for the campus until the district finalizes a swing space option, according to NCSD officials. The board hopes to start construction as soon as possible because costs inflate and the district risks a chance of losing funding to other districts more ready to build, according to board chairwoman Rita Walsh.
"We need to get it done," she said after the meeting.
The board approved a motion to keep students on campus during renovations in an effort to cause the least disruption. That motion quotes Senate Enrolled Act Nine, state legislation that provides an opportunity for districts to participate in planning swing space and to augment state funds for the temporary space.
“My argument is that by requesting them to give us an analysis of what our responsibility is for all three [options], that it will give strength to our argument that our option is providing not only swing space but permanent education space,” trustee Dave Applegate said during a Monday work session.
The cheapest estimate of the three swing space options involves portables at $7.5 million. But that option also would require an additional $7 million for a permanent physical education space incorporated into a west gymnasium, according to trustees.
Another option is a permanent 41,000-square-foot structure that would combine with the 33,000-square-foot west gym. That swing space would cost $15 million. Like the portables option, this plan also would cost an estimated $7 million extra for permanent west gym space. Bassetti Architects, the firm designing the renovations, created that option, which would be compatible with the rest of the school architecturally.
The option NCSD created is an 80,000-square-foot structure that will cost about $12 million. This plan involves scrapping the west gym from the architects' master plan and instead incorporating the permanent physical education space into the 80,000-square-foot building. It might not be quite as pretty, according to trustee Donn McCall, but would provide the best educational space at the most reasonable cost, he added. The swing space eventually could feature an indoor track and field, three basketball courts, three tennis courts, classrooms, concession areas and seating for 900, according to preliminary plans by GSA Architecture of Casper. The idea was presented at a meeting with Bassetti Architects last month as an alternate option.
Per state statute, the district must pay for whatever projects it chooses that the state determines go above education space required by law.
Some trustees wondered why bother with the other two options.
“Why are we not asking them how much are you going to put into what we want to do, which we have a statutory right to do?” trustee Audrey Cotherman asked.
Trustees Applegate, McCall and Steve Degenfelder defended the motion, citing past experiences with the SFD and saying the analysis will be useful in negotiations.
“I think if our working relationship with the SFD had been positive and we hadn’t had some of the experiences we’ve had in the past, I would fully agree with your suggestion,” Applegate said.
“The political arena is that the state is still controlling, until this statutory law on construction is changed,” McCall said. “So it is in our interest to support this motion to give us the tools to say, ‘Look, that $7.5 million dollars that goes with a 33,000-square-foot facility costs $4 million more than our option. So let’s look at our option with $7.5 million going into it.’ But it’s not going to come out that way if we just say that we want $12 million.”
The district could end up footing the entire bill if the state determines the facility would be an enhancement, rather than an educational necessity, according to McCall. He added after the meeting that he wants to demonstrate that the district is willing to discuss options.
Cotherman said it’s a convincing argument, and asked during the meeting why the “dog and pony show” rather than just making that case.
“Those letters have been sent and that culminated in the appeals that we’ve had before with the School Facilities Commission,” Degenfelder said.
He added after the meeting that the board will keep an open mind about swing space and examine the costs of each option to make the most responsible decision.
NCSD superintendent Joel Dvorak will send a letter to the SFD detailing the swing space options and asking for cost estimates, according to Walsh. The board will vote on an option at a future meeting.