More than a year after the Natrona County School District decided to start closing schools, it plans to hold a public hearing on the buildings’ futures.
The school board voted at its bi-monthly meeting Monday night to hold the hearing, a month after Mills filed a lawsuit against the district over the imminent closure of the town’s last school. Part of the suit included an allegation that the district had failed to hold a public hearing before shuttering the school, in violation of state law.
After the meeting, Superintendent Steve Hopkins said the hearing was not related to the lawsuit, which was filed after Mountain View Elementary was slated for closure. He said the school district’s attorney told officials they had to hold the hearing before they could proceed with selling, bulldozing or indefinitely shuttering the buildings.
The district had two regularly scheduled meetings between announcing its board would consider closing the schools and voting to shutter them. But neither meeting had an explicit period set aside for discussing the fates of the buildings.
The decision not to hold a public hearing was controversial with parents and community members throughout the county.
Last year, the district sold the old Roosevelt High building and the Fairground Center, apparently without a prior public hearing. After Monday’s meeting, trustee Dave Applegate said he didn’t think those buildings had their own meetings prior to their sale. Hopkins could not remember if they had but suspected they hadn’t.
The batch of buildings that will be discussed at the board’s March 12 meeting are largely from two waves of closures. Four of them — the district’s special education building and Grant, Mills and North Casper elementary schools — are up for sale or demolition.
The remaining five schools — Mountain View, Willard, Willow Creek, University Park and Westwood — would all be mothballed, or effectively emptied and maintained, should the district decide it needs them in the future. The process costs between $6,000 and $8,000 per building in one-time costs, largely for antifreeze, the district’s facilities manager said.
“A building is considered mothballed when there is spare footage of a district building that is closed and not operational,” Doug Tunison wrote in an email forwarded to the Star-Tribune. “To mothball a building: domestic water system is drained and filled with antifreeze, water heater is drained, heat is set to 55°F. Phone and mail service is stopped. Equipment, materials and personal items removed from the building.”
Hopkins said the buildings will be mothballed should they be needed in the future. The district’s board voted to close Grant, Willard, Mountain View and University Park because of a drop in enrollment and declining state funding. But, he said, both of those conditions may change in the future, and the district may find itself in need of a building again.
He predicted that Mountain View — the prepared closure of which prompted the Mills lawsuit — would be the first to reopen should more students and dollars flow into Natrona County.
Asked after the meeting if the hearing signaled the district was close to a buyer for one of the for-sale buildings, Applegate suggested the hearing may clear the path for officials to begin discussions with buyers.