It could cost more than $7 million to bring a ranch Casper College purchased up to code and build a nearby rodeo arena, a college official said.
The college’s board is still weighing what to do with the 167.5-acre ranch, which it purchased for $3.1 million in March 2014. The initial — and current — reason for buying the ranch was to construct a rodeo arena, said Shawn Powell, the college’s vice president for academic affairs. Secondary to that was expanding the school’s agricultural offerings.
“I believe now that Casper College is the only college without an inherent rodeo arena,” Powell said. “ ... That was the number one priority.
Spurred by rumors that the college was weighing different solutions to the ranch, several students and community members spoke in defense of the property at a March board meeting. Many talked about its utility as an educational facility.
“You have an opportunity with this ranch and farm that is unbelievable,” said Mary Owens, who owns a cattle and sheep ranch.
“I feel like this community college — because that’s what it is — should do more and do its job to prepare students for the world of work and for more post-secondary education,” said Brock Burch, a CC graduate and Natrona County High School teacher. “... There is an opportunity for a real-world education with application.”
But the zoning and coding of the property was not “investigated fully” when it was purchased, Powell said last week, and the college discovered that the ranch was not zoned for educational purposes in 2015. Officials commissioned a study to look at the cost of bringing the buildings up those standards. In January 2016, the study was completed, and the initial estimate was $4.2 million.
Powell said educational purposes of the ranch could include its greenhouse and livestock.
That number is on top of the $5 million that it would take to build the rodeo arena, a figure that included $1.2 million for a water-suppression system for the complex.
“The overall cost of this project suddenly went from a low estimate when it was initially purchased of less than $5 million to, with the purchase price, $12 million,” Powell said.
A second study was completed in September that looked at ways to cut the price to meet educational code, and that brought that cost down from $4.2 million to $2.8 million, Powell said.
Now, the college staff waits for direction from its board of trustees. There are essentially three plans the board could choose to pursue: It could pay the full price — with the latest estimate, at least $10 million and likely more — and provide both an arena and educational opportunities; it could sell the ranch; or it could build only the rodeo arena and essentially set aside educational opportunities.
Powell said future funding would have to come from a fundraising campaign. The college is still paying off loans to the foundation for the initial purchase of the ranch. There would also be costs associated with simply operating the facility, figures that neither Powell nor spokesman Chris Lorenzen said they could pin down.
Powell said he didn’t know when the board might provide some instruction on what might happen with the arena, though he said hopefully it would be in the coming months.
“It would be nice for the college to have a rodeo arena. It would be nice for the college to have the opportunity to expand agricultural programs,” he said. “Given the economic climate, I’m not sure what the reality is of those situations right now.”