In a sign of the changing times, the Natrona County school board voted last week to place $12 million in a special fund to pay for future “replacement and repair of major capital, specifically facilities.”
“I’ve been in this district long enough to remember when buildings were not being maintained well,” trustee Dana Howie said in support of creating the new fund.
“I think this fund shows a lot of foresight, primarily by our superintendent (Steve Hopkins),” said board member Dave Applegate.
The $12 million comes from the board’s priority fund, the leftovers of which have been set aside for this purpose, according to the board’s rationale published online.
The district recently completed a wave of construction — which included building Journey Elementary and fully renovating its two big high schools — that board members have said cost more than $500 million in all. The state has a system to dole out money for both construction and major maintenance of buildings, though that system is somewhat in flux. Thanks to the recent downturn, the old way of paying for construction and repairs — coal lease bonuses — has essentially run dry.
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While state legislators have spent the past three years discussing how to fund school construction and repair, and have made incremental steps, there remains no clear path forward. State leaders have indicated for two years that districts shouldn’t expect new construction anytime soon and that schools needed to be maintained. Essentially, officials have said, the state is moving from a climate of construction to preservation.
Enter the district’s $12 million fund, which has been in the planning process for the past two years, when board members “identified the need to establish a funding source to maintain the significant capital investment and meet future capital needs in the years ahead,” according to the district.
The board voted unanimously to approve the creation of the fund. It’s the latest effort to shore up current buildings. In late April, the board approved nearly $5 million in renovations and expansions at Park Elementary, which — board members say — will ensure the central Casper school remains standing for decades.
At the same meeting, the board approved a list of maintenance projects that will total more than $1.3 million. The projects range from major — installing security cameras at elementary schools for $300,000 — to minor — repair the drain in the boy’s locker room at Dean Morgan for $5,000.
The board approved an $8.4 million repair budget in April.