Bonding capacity may be needed for other school needs

by nathan oster

When it comes to using its bonding capacity, Big Horn County School District No. 3 may have more pressing needs in the near future than either an outdoor swimming pool or a strength and conditioning addition.

Supt. Barry Bryant on Feb. 9 briefed board members on two significant developments in the district’s quest to obtain funding from the state for upgrades to the Quigg Building and an expansion of the Greybull Elementary School.

Bryant said he’s been working with the state for the past two years to fund the upgrade of the Quigg Building, which he estimated at $1.3 million. The needs include an HVAC system, an exhaust system for the welding and wood shops, flooring, handicap-accessible bathrooms and lighting upgrades.

Bryant said the project ranked second among component projects in the state in terms of need and had passed through the School Facilities Commission before it ultimately got cut by a select committee.

“The select committee drew the line at $200 million — and our project was below the cut line,” said Bryant.

The school district has also been angling for $3 million in state funding to expand the north wing of the elementary school by six classrooms — three for special education, another three for regular classrooms (making it a K-3 wing).

Because it’s a capacity issue, the project ranked higher on the state’s priority list than the Quigg project, but it too was cut when Gov. Matt Mead drew the line at $80 million, according to Bryant.

Both projects are up in the air, as lawmakers are meeting in Cheyenne to hammer out a new budget. Given the “grim” forecast for the state’s mineral industry, the primary source of funding for school facility projects, the Greybull school district may eventually need to go it alone, if it wants to proceed with the two projects.

Right now, the district has no outstanding debt. The last time voters approved a bond issue, it was for a new high school. That was in 1995. The building opened in the fall of 1996 and the building has since been paid off.

For the current year, the school district’s bonding capacity is $11.4 million — which is 10 percent of the district’s total valuation. Business Manager Sandi Menke said the school district won’t know until July what its new bonding capacity is going to be. Bryant predicted that it’ll be “diminished to a degree,” likely in the neighborhood of $10 million.

The Town of Greybull and Big Horn County School District No. 3 are currently negotiating a memorandum of agreement for a bond issue, and if successful, the construction, operation and maintenance of an outdoor swimming pool next to the Herb Asp Community Center.

The school district’s only contribution to that MOA would be the use of its bonding capacity.

All other expenses would be the responsibility of the town, including the cost of the election.

Some who spoke during last week’s open forum questioned the legality of the school district allowing the town to use its bonding capacity. Tracy Copenhaver, the school district’s attorney, said he felt comfortable moving ahead, citing the experience of Barbara Bonds, who is putting the agreement together at the request of the town.

The question of whether the SFC would support such an arrangement was also raised. Bryant said he didn’t anticipate a problem, citing conversations with the project manager and a state planner. The key point as far as the SFC is concerned, he said, is that the money must come from the general fund.

Jamie Flitner, who chairs the school boad, said, “If we allow bonding capacity for a pool — and I believe this community needs a pool — but if voters agree to bond for this pool, and if we come back to you guys in two to five years because this thing has reached critical mass and we are asking to bond again because the state has said you’re on your own, will you do it? Will you support it? History tells us you’re given about one shot to get people to dip into their pockets.”

Flitner also defended the school district’s decision to convert the old middle school into an administrative building. One of the speakers at open forum that preceded the meeting suggested putting the weight room in that building.

“It’s nice being able to say our superintendent is no longer housed in a bus barn, along with staff,” she said, adding that all it took was “paint, some desks and furniture” to make it a reality. The building also has a community-use function, with a modern, spacious board room, classroom space and a location for daycare needs of women who attend classes.

Flitner summed it up this way: “We’re between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “We can’t be accused of not being pro-youth, but we are tasked with difficult decisions on how to improve and protect our community. These aren’t easy decisions.”

In one other pool-related item last week, Trustee Steve Hoblit asked if the DEQ had cleared the proposed site of the pool for ground contamination. The site is the former home of the Core Chevrolet building.

“Everything is up to DEQ standards,” said Marvin Hunt, a member of the town council and pool subcommittee.