In a sign of the shifting landscape of Wyoming school construction, the Natrona County school board recently approved $4.8 million worth of renovation and expansion to Park Elementary.
The work will include the addition of four new classrooms, along with the building of a new corridor to better connect areas of the school. Repairs will include $250,000 for a new roof, $350,000 for sprinklers and $600,000 for air conditioning replacements, according to Natrona County School District documents. In all, the lengthy list of repairs will cost $2.75 million, while the additions will run $2.1 million.
School board members explained that the work was necessary to simultaneously accommodate a recent influx of students to Park, which hosts one of the district’s dual-language immersion programs. The new rooms will expand how many students Park can hold, which in turn will help the district avoid having to replace the building in the years to come. Such is the goal of the renovations, as well.
Built in 1956 and located in central Casper, Park is already well over its capacity, by both local and statewide metrics.
In years past, this work may all have not happened. Before the bust, the district may have considered building a new, larger school. But in the wake of the recent economic downturn, there’s very little money available to Wyoming school districts to build new facilities. The Legislature has been signaling for years that the wave of construction that spanned the majority of the 21st century thus far has ended and that local educators and school boards need to make their buildings last as long as possible.
“Park (Elementary School) is one hundred and ninety-fifth (195th) on the State of Wyoming’s school list for replacement,” district officials wrote in a report supporting the construction. “As a result, it is unlikely the State of Wyoming would fund the replacement of Park ES in the foreseeable future.”
Still, the prospect of the district expanding an elementary school less than a year after it shuttered three other schools can raise eyebrows. Indeed, it did on the board: Angela Coleman asked Mike Jennings, one of the district’s point people for facilities, if enrollment at Park had ticked up after the schools closed. He said that no, Park had consistently maintained enrollment of 350 students or so.
Coleman, who lives in Mills, had been a vocal opponent of the school closure decision last year, a move that resulted in the shuttering of Mountain View, the last school in Mills. Though the decision to renovate Park would pass, she did not vote. Nor did trustee Ray Catellier.
Crucially, though, the money that will be used to renovate Park comes from two pots of money — one set aside for construction and another for major maintenance. Neither pot can be tapped for day-to-day costs, like running a school or paying salaries.
Other members of the board expressed support for the plan. Dave Applegate called it “outstanding” and said it was a “prudent expenditure.” Kevin Christopherson said the work will help Park stay viable for another 50 years.
The bulk of the construction is set to take place in two phases: October through December 2020, and January through August 2021. The school’s windows and HVAC system, plus some other repairs, will be made in summer 2022.