CHEYENNE, Wyo. — New school buildings are a goal of Laramie County School District 1.
In one of the district’s series of learning sessions for community members, called Navigating Laramie 1, Andy Knapp, director of Facilities Management, presented the process the district goes through to update or replace school facilities within the district.
“The purpose of this presentation — basically create awareness for community members,” Knapp said. “Creating awareness of our urgent needs for capital construction.”
The district’s long-term goal is to rebuild the schools and replace them to provide equity for students across the district. The current issue arises in that there are a wide variety of school buildings throughout the district, meaning some students have a different learning environment than others.
“The physical environment for education matters a lot today,” Knapp said. “There are older schools that are out there as we go around the district. … They’re more institutionalized. Generally, you see small, narrow hallways, narrow doors, low ceilings, not a lot of natural light in them.”
The new school setup the district wants to achieve incorporates a more diverse learning environment. Knapp expressed the vision for new facilities, saying newer schools in the district “are more open and [have] a lot of natural lighting. They have access to classrooms across from each other. They have big wide halls with group space in between them. A lot of pull-up rooms where they can do different collaboration or one on one work with students.”
Most schools within the district are more industrial, being anywhere from 50 to 60 years old. The largest issue for these schools is the capacity, with many buildings being well over the capacity they were designed for.
The vast difference in schools has caused issues in the district, as students are not getting the same learning experience, Knapp said. This is something that is addressed in Wyoming law. Knapp said the “Constitution requires the state to fund construction including major maintenance of school facilities.” This is in place to make sure students across the state have equal educational opportunities and learning environments that fit current teaching and learning practices.
When the state facilities department looks at school buildings, it does so from criteria that would determine whether a school is suitable for replacement. However, Knapp said that “when they assess the condition of these buildings, they have a real subjective scale.”
Another issue arises in how long it has been since the last assessment of these buildings. “When they assess condition, they’re supposed to assess it every four years,” Knapp said. “It’ll be six years as of summer, and they don’t have it set up to assess them again yet this year.”
The state has also deemed adequate schools built in 1997 or after, which puts many of the district’s schools in a state where they cannot be replaced, according to the state.
Jeff Daugherty, program administrator for planning and construction, spoke on the issue, saying “they look at the physical condition of the space. They look at the tech readiness of the space, they look at the size of the lots. So, for example, Cole and a lot of those elementary schools are not on mods that are adequately sized, but as Andy just pointed out, because they were built in ’97, they’re deemed adequate.”
A final issue with the state’s criteria is it puts the district in a bind as to how it manages the repairs for the schools. Arp Elementary School was originally in the top 10 on the condition list in the state. It got to a point where the district had to put a new roof on it.
“We’re trying to avoid those really big costs if we think we’re gonna have a replacement, but by their score, they come back and restore our building and put it 32nd on the list,” Knapp said. “So what happens is, you know, it starts defeating your purpose if you’re maintaining them as you should be for safety.”