The Wyoming Schools Facilities Division says more studies need to be performed before it approves replacing Arp Elementary School in south Cheyenne, a dilapidated facility bursting at the seams with students that was deemed unsafe for next school year.
Because of a rewrite of the state’s rules by the School Facilities Commission for approving new school construction projects, a new study of Arp Elementary’s condition must be performed to show that it deserves state money to replace it.
At 160% of capacity, Arp has become so overcrowded that the school district had set up five modular buildings in addition to its main building to hold its 330 students and 50 staff members. But even some of the modular buildings are coming to the end of their useful lives.
The infrastructure of the 62-year-old school facility is run down and falling apart, including recent problems with mice, bugs, sewage and holes and leaks in the walls.
Next year, Arp is slated to move into the now-empty Eastridge Facility in Central Cheyenne, former home of Carey Junior High School. Although that building was originally built before Arp, the portion of Eastridge that Arp students will occupy is much newer and offers adequate space for what the school needs. It’s been used as a makeshift facility for other schools in the past.
Valerie Hughes, Wyoming School Facilities Division Administrator, told the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on School Facilities on Thursday said until a new study is done, work can’t proceed.
Staff at the school and LCSD1 officials had hoped to have money approved this summer so that a new school could be built as soon as possible.
Now Tim Bolin, chairman of the Laramie County School District 1 board of trustees, said it’s most likely a study won’t be completed until the fall.
“There are certainly some people that are going to feel they’ve been slighted,” said state Rep. Brown, R-Cheyenne, co-chairman of the committee.
Even after being chosen for a construction project, a school district must further prove to the commission that where and how it plans to build a new Arp Elementary is the most cost-effective approach. Hughes said even once money is appropriated for a project, it’s roughly a three-year process before construction is finished.
$80 Million In Budget
The Select Committee on School Facilities had originally proposed in late 2022 for $80 million to be earmarked for building three schools in Laramie School District 1, a plan Gov. Mark Gordon supported in his supplemental budget proposal.
During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers passed a blanket $100 million spending package for school facilities around the state. There was no separate vote on the funding package within the budget.
Results from a statistical scoring system known as the Facility Condition Index and another index calculating school capacity to determine which schools will receive school construction moneyreleased in June lowered Arp’s priority on the list.
Brown said prior prioritization for school facilities was based on capacity and condition. Now he said it seems like a new study is being given top priority.
Hughes disagreed and said the process hasn’t changed because a need still must be identified to trigger a study. She said a thorough process must happen to protect public money.
She said two prior studies on the condition and age of Arp in 2016 and 2020 will be disregarded moving forward.
Bolin suspects the state only wants to consider a study that it has conducted rather than giving weight to others.
"I think they're playing politics," he said.
Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said a lot of the perceived shortcomings in the construction is a result of decisions made by the Legislature, not the School Facilities Commission.
He also expressed concern about wealthier school districts being able to beat out poorer rural school districts for construction projects by spending more on condition studies.
Projects for a new bus barn in Campbell County School District and a new elementary school in Teton County School District #1 also are being delayed for similar reasons.
Andy Knapp, executive director of Support Operations for LCSD1, told the Select Committee on School Facilities he supports what representatives from Teton and Campbell County School Districts had to say even though his district is technically competing with them for the same pool of money.
“I do have a little heartburn not having a school built that I do believe has been planned and approved,” he said.
Knapp said he and his staff had previously been under the impression that money had already been earmarked for their desired projects.
“I find the redundancy here and just the steps were forced to go through very concerning,” he said.
Bolin is holding out hope that the SFC will at least approve demolition of Arp at its July 18-20 meeting, but also admits that’s unlikely.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.