District Trustees: Yes for Natrona County High School Pool, No to Bridge
The proposed Natrona County High School pool floated.
The proposed bridge to connect its buildings sank.
Monday, the Natrona County School District's board of trustees voted 7-2 to approve a $10.2 million swimming pool project.
But a proposed $770,000 bridge -- a project touted for safety, security and convenience -- to connect the main building on the campus to the nearby Mustang Athletic and Community Center failed on a 5-4 vote.
The effort for a pool had been a long time coming after voters narrowly rejected a bond issue five years ago. Since then, the district had set aside $1 million a year and would tap about $5.3 million from its portion of the county's recreational mill levy to pay for it.
Requests for proposals would go out in September. Completion is scheduled for December 2021.
Two weeks ago, the district's infrastructure committee proposed the eight-lane, 25-yard practice pool with a deep-well for diving.
Then, and again Monday, students from the girls swim team -- boys swimming is a spring sport -- plus parents, teachers and coaches told the trustees a pool would save travel time for practice, ease overcrowding because the Kelly Walsh High School pool is used for practice and physical education, offer another pool for community use, and bring the high school up to a competitive level statewide.
Jessica Snell, an NCHS 9th grade English teacher and head coach of the girls and boys teams, said the pool also is used for the Swim America program to teach swimming for children, and she's seen a community interest in expanding these. "Through all these programs, we're at capacity."
The inconvenience for her, students and parents is daunting, too.
She gets up at 5 a.m. to get to the Kelly Walsh pool before teaching swimming, teach at NCHS, then finish night practice by about 8 p.m., Snell said.
Most trustees favored the pool.
Clark Jensen said the district has tried to keep parity among the high schools in sports, but Kelly Walsh has the advantage when it comes to swimming.
Kevin Christopherson said it would be a shame for the district to have saved the money for a pool and then not approve it.
Dana Howie said a pool is another classroom and not an "enhancement" as deemed by the Wyoming State Building Commission.
Kianna Smith, on the other hand, said she favors a pool at Natrona County High School, but she's concerned about the cost and believed the project should be scaled back by several million dollars.
"We are the stewards of the taxpayers' dollars, and I have to make sure we are spending it as efficiently and appropriately as possible," Smith said.
She and Angela Coleman cast the only "nay" votes against the pool.
The proposed bridge proved far more contentious.
Smith, Coleman, Dana Howie, Debbie McCullar and Chairwoman Rita Walsh voted against the bridge for a variety of reasons.
The four businessmen on the board -- Dave Applegate, Ray Catellier, Kevin Christopherson and Clark Jensen -- favored it for not just safety and security, but for its cost effectiveness over the next half-century.
During the public comment session, fewer people spoke about the bridge than the pool.
But no one opposed it.
Casper Police Officer Charles Simons said it would enhance security at NCHS by reducing the school's access points from four to two. He's seen sex offenders in the area, drug deals and people passed out in the area between the two buildings.
Natrona County High School Principal Shannon Harris said during a recent winter, water drained from a roof on a sidewalk, froze and was a sheet of ice for six days.
Several people said it will never cost as little to build the bridge as now.
Christopherson said he initially thought it was an extravagance.
But when he did the math, he found the cost of the bridge over 50 years would be about $15,400 a year. Not having the bridge costs about $16,000 when counting the time school personnel must let in students and to maintain the area between the two buildings, he said.
When factoring the number of students that would use the bridge, it boiled down to about $10 per student per year, Christopherson said.
That doesn't count the liability for the district if it knows snow and ice between the buildings will result in accidents, that it had the opportunity to prevent them but didn't and that would leave the district vulnerable to lawsuits and a possible court order to build the bridge, Christopherson said,.
But the opposition was more widespread.
Howie said the state still anticipates a budget shortfall for education and the district needs to be cautious how it spends what it has.
Students at other schools have it tough, too, she said.
Kelly Walsh students must walk three times as far from the main building to the building with the pool and the music education classes, Howie said.
She and Coleman also said the district needs to consider other safety issues at the other schools, and several other trustees agreed.
After the vote, Christopherson said he was disappointed.
"I think we made a big mistake tonight," he said. "I think we're going to regret it."