The budget recommendation approved this week by the Legislature’s Select Committee on School Facilities calls on the statehouse to finally appropriate funds during the 2020 legislative session for construction of a new Slade Elementary School.
It’s been almost six years since the Legislature appropriated $1.7 million for the designs of a rebuild for the school on the site of the old Laramie High School.
Those designs have long been essentially complete, but actual construction of the school was put on hold after Wyoming’s economic downturn began in 2015.
“This school has been at the top of the list for a long, long time,” said Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette. “It’s so old and it’s beautiful, but it needs to be replaced.”
The School Facilities Department requested the project be moved forward in both the 2016 and 2018 budget sessions, but the statehouse wasn’t willing to comply.
But ahead of the 2020 budget session, legislators on the school facilities committee voted Monday to recommend their colleagues appropriate $19.2 million this winter to “clean up and finish the designs” of Slade and then proceed with construction.
That proposal will now go before the Joint Appropriations Committee, which has the task of formally sponsoring all legislation regarding construction of new K-12 schools.
The recommendation to move forward with Slade’s construction in 2020 even earned the support of Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, who’s been one of the Legislature’s most powerful advocates for limiting state spending, including new school construction, since the state’s economic downturn began.
“It’s good to spend money once in a while,” he said Monday. "This is one that I think deserves it."
Bebout is the only person in Wyoming history to have served both as Speaker of the House and Senate President. He now co-chairs JAC.
The Select Committee on School Facilities also recommended the Legislature appropriate $2.5 million for the University of Wyoming to have a new Lab School designed.
However, that recommendation faces a much tougher battle to get approved in the Legislature.
The UW Lab School proposal only passed the committee by a 5-4 vote this week, with Bebout and other committee-members speaking in opposition to the project.
Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, also sits on JAC and said it would be unfair to other school districts for the UW Lab School project to move forward; officials from the State Construction Department have identified a handful of other schools across the state more dilapidated than the current UW Lab School and still haven’t had replacements funded.
“I would suggest that (the Lab School) rises to the top in time as these others have done,” Larsen said, referring to the list of K-12 schools that are prioritized based on their physical condition.
To coincide with other major construction efforts on the northeast edge of campus, UW’s board of trustees had asked legislators to provide $27.5 million this winter for construction of a new Lab School. To have enough “swing space” on campus, trustees have said a new Lab School needs to be completed before the current College of Education building can be replacde.
Albany County School District No. 1 Superintendent Jubal Yennie told the Laramie Boomerang last week that there’s “not a real back-up plan” for alternatively funding the UW Lab School besides a legislative appropriated.
Legislators who voted Monday to move forward with design funding for the school argued that UW’s educational needs, as well as the state’s need for more teachers, merited moving forward with the Lab School project now.
The school serves both as a typical grade school for Laramie children while also providing the College of Education with a site to pilot cutting-edge teaching techniques.
The Lab School is currently housed within the College of Education building, which UW officials have contended is a significant security concern in an age when schools are expected to have “lockdown” methods to isolate school children from outside threats.
The proposal for a new Lab School is part of UW’s Trustees Education Initiative, an ongoing programmatic overhaul of the College of Education designed to churn out more teachers — and better teachers — for Wyoming schools.
The proposal to move forward with designs came in a motion from Rep. Bill Landen, R-Casper.
“There have been numerous times where our superintendents have come to our committees and testified about what’s going on in the teaching world (regarding staffing shortages),” Landen said. “If you read anything on the education front, you’re hearing that we have a nationwide problem. This is the start of something that I think is really important for that College of Education. If we’re going have enough teachers in the right places in Wyoming, we’re going to have to build them ourselves. The best way to do that is to have a lab school that we’re proud of.”