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School safety

Students work on their lessons at North Casper Elementary School in 2014. Casper City Councilman Dallas Laird has discussed bidding on the now-vacant school with the hope of eventually turning it into a homeless learning center.

File, Star-Tribune

City Councilman Dallas Laird received “long letters and long emails” after he floated the idea of buying the vacant Grant Elementary with the aim of eventually transforming it into a homeless shelter.

“There’s not one neighbor in that neighborhood that wants that done up there,” he said of the school, which sits atop a hill above the YMCA near 15th Street in central Casper.

The sentiment from the neighbors, Laird said, could be boiled down to one sentence: It’s a noble idea, but do it in your own yard.

Laird had previously told the Star-Tribune he was interested in buying Grant, an elementary school that was closed last June after 94 years of service, and donating it to the Rescue Mission to turn into a shelter. After that report, Laird said he received long letters, as did the district and the Wyoming Rescue Mission, opposing the suggestion.

At the next school board meeting after the report was published, a woman told the board that she lived near Grant and was monitoring the building’s future.

Laird said he’s starting to shift his gaze toward North Casper Elementary, another school the district is set to put up for sale. Unlike Grant, the building has yet to be appraised twice to determine its value.

The councilman and lawyer said he may still bid on Grant, albeit for a price lower than the average appraised value of roughly $350,000. He said North Casper may be used as a learning center for homeless people, with space for them to stay there overnight if needed.

Brad Hopkins, the executive director of the rescue mission, said the group was honored that Laird had thought of them. But he said he understood that here was no appetite within Grant’s neighborhood to turn it into a shelter.

Still, there’s need in Casper and the state as a whole for more housing like it, he said.

“A year ago it was about 875 (homeless) throughout state,” he said. “And 260 for Natrona County. If you combine all the facilities statewide, there’s not even a third of the bed space based on need. For Natrona County and our region, we’re the only homeless shelter.”

Earlier this month, the district jumped through a final regulatory hoop to begin selling Grant, North Casper, Mills Elementary and the abandoned special education services building. The School Facilities Commission OK’d the plan in early May, clearing the path for the district to advertise for the building’s sales and begin accepting bids.

Dennis Bay, the district’s executive director for business services, said bids are going to be open for Grant around May 31. He said he hopes to bring the bids to the board on June 11, at which time the trustees can accept or reject them.

Mills and Grant are the only two buildings to have been appraised. Next will be the special education building, followed by North Casper.

Laird told the Star-Tribune he may still offer a lower-than-advertised bid on Grant, especially because the building needs a new roof. He said he had also heard that someone was interested in buying the building, tearing it down and building apartments on the plot.

Bay said that if a bidder lowballs the district, the board may accept it, but the buy “better have a real good description on what they’re intending to do with it.”

“Let’s say a nonprofit comes in and says, ‘We’ll give you a $100,000 less, and we want to do this or that,’ then we can turn it over to the trustees and they may or may not accept it,” he said.

The North Casper bidding won’t come before the board until October, Bay said.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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