From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 9, Number 1 - March 26, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Annex handoff moves forward, stops

by Derek Farr

The possibility of the Sublette County School District No. 9 (SCSD#9) offering its Annex building to Big Piney and Marbleton was the topic of a meeting Tuesday.

Representatives from the Big Piney and Marbleton town councils, SCSD#9 administrators, SCSD#9 employees and community leaders met at the Annex to discuss the proposal’s complexities and possibilities.

While many questions remained in the air, three issues found consensus.

First, both Big Piney and Marbleton are interested in the structure.

Second, representatives from both towns agreed they could afford to split a $500,000 annual operating cost if county, state or federal money was not available.

Last, the parties agreed the building should initially be utilized with minimal investment.

The possibility of a handoff originated at the February Big Piney Town Council meeting when SCSD#9 Supt. Gerry Chase proposed the idea.

The school district wants to drop the building from its books for one main reason: It needs to build a new elementary school. In order to build, SCSD#9 must gain approval of the notoriously abstruse State School Facility Commission (SFC). A prerequisite for gaining approval requires the district to drop its square footage. In order to do that, Chase proposed the Annex handoff.

For the towns’ part, their dreams of a recreation center were dashed in November when voters shot down a one-cent tax that would have provided funds for a $20-million recreation center in Marbleton.

The Annex proposal comes with a much smaller price tag, but finding funding for the project could prove to be difficult for one main reason: The district doesn’t want to part with the land.

Laurie Latta of the Sublette County Community Partnership said little grant money is available for a building that sits on a different entity’s land.

Big Piney town councilmember Scott Scherbel suggested a land swap between the towns and SCSD#9 to remedy the hurdle. Chase suggested forming a joint powers board that included the school district.

In the end, Scherbel asked if both towns could afford an estimated operating budget of $500,000 per year. Big Piney Mayor Phillip Smith agreed on his town’s behalf while Marbleton council members Sue Hoefer and Bob Beiermann agreed on their town’s behalf.

The Annex building is actually the old Big Piney High School, which opened in 1971. With several classrooms, a gym and a swimming pool, it functioned for 15 years until the new high school was built at its current location. Since then, the building’s classrooms have been used for a preschool and professional office space. The gym is still used by the school and the swimming pool has been filled with sand and converted into an archery range.

Retrofitting the building into a recreation center would be surprisingly inexpensive. Exercise equipment could be placed in the old classrooms, while other classrooms could be converted to accommodate after-school programs.

The meeting’s attendees agreed a minimal investment – until the towns could gauge the success of afterschool programs and exercise rooms – was the most practical route.

But the prospect of creating a recreation center is not without its losers.

Several offices – including the county nurse, mental health, Wyoming Department of Transportation and the water commissioner – would be forced to move.

SCSD#9 Business Manager Amy Anschutz said five of the seven entities end their leases in June, adding the district is required to give a 90-day eviction notice.

The archery range would also be in jeopardy. Its space could eventually be converted into movie theaters or a second gym.

The members agreed the Learning Center should be allowed to remain.

The biggest obstacle lies in the hands of the SFC. The commission will eventually decide whether to allow the handoff. Its next meeting is on April 3.

“Everything they’ve asked for they have,” Chase said. “Hopefully we will have an answer at that time.”

SCSD#9 Board Member Curt Meeks indicated that similar handoffs have occurred in Kemmerer, Worland and Evanston.

Beiermann was anxious to get the project started saying there are many contractors looking for work. “I feel the timing is good,” he said.

“We could have our own stimulus program,” Smith said. “This would be a number-one priority as soon as the state says ‘go.’”

That approval will begin serious talks about the building’s property, funding, staffing and uses.

But until the SFC makes its decision, nothing will move forward.

“We know enough to know that we don’t know enough to go to the next step,” Latta said.

That reality prompted the group to schedule a meeting sometime after Chase hears back from the SFC – the timetable for which is still very much in the air.

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