Wyoming legislators hear about need for new schools

On the last day of their two-week budget hearings, the Joint Appropriations Committee of the Wyoming Legislature scrutinized a bill draft seeking $347.6 million for K-12 school construction projects. Lawmakers opted to defer a decision on the bill until the 2024 budget session, intending to consult with constituents regarding concerns about school facilities.

Representative Landon Brown, co-chair of the Select Committee on School Facilities, emphasized the significant challenge facing lawmakers: the imperative to construct three new high schools within the next five to seven years. Brown informed his colleagues that the estimated cost for building these high schools would be approximately $750 million.

As chairman, Brown urged the Joint Appropriations Committee and the entire Legislature to dedicate substantial time to find funding solutions for these projects. Notably, there are currently no savings earmarked for these initiatives, and Brown identified this as a top priority for the select committee in the upcoming 2024 interim session.

All three high schools, located in Sweetwater, Campbell, and Teton counties, are designated as high priority due to capacity issues. Brown encouraged those interested or with differing opinions on the projects to visit the high schools in Sweetwater and Campbell counties, both facing capacity needs according to the 2016 assessment of school facilities. The Teton County high school is also grappling with capacity issues and is in urgent need of replacement.

Brown emphasized the state’s obligation to support students and schools comprehensively. While funding for the Teton County high school is not included in the current budget request, Brown indicated it would likely appear in the next year’s budget request.

The select committee’s bill designates $9.9 million for the design of a new Rock Springs High School in July 2025. Representatives from Sweetwater County School District 1 expressed gratitude for the allocation but stressed the urgent need for the high school replacement, citing inadequacies in the current building and its failure to meet modern standards.

Acknowledging the lengthy timeline for designing and building a new high school, Representative Tom Walters stated that even if the funds were provided immediately, it would take five to six years. The committee redirected funds for a backflow preventer project to support the high school’s design in 2025.

Despite the challenges faced by the State Construction Department and School Facilities Commission over the past two years, including the absence of an updated facility condition assessment (FCA) list, Representative Brown highlighted the efforts to address these issues. A new FCA assessment is scheduled for 2023, aiming to rectify the delayed schedule caused by the Legislature’s failure to fund the assessment in 2020. The challenges include changes in prioritization due to a new contractor, Bureau Veritas, which conducted the assessment, impacting projects that were prioritized in 2016. The completion of a Most Cost Effective Remedy (MCER) study for Laramie County School District 1 remains pending, influencing future construction plans for elementary schools in the district. Officials hope to conclude the MCER study before the School Facilities Commission’s first quarterly meeting in March.

By: Politics406 staff