City staff is raising concerns about the city’s lack of participation in the process of planning and constructing the new dorms at the University of Wyoming, especially with the construction’s potential impacts on the city’s infrastructure and emergency response times if traffic on 15th Street is affected.
The Laramie City Council voted unanimously during its Tuesday meeting to approve a resolution requesting the state Legislature amend House Bill 293 to allow for local participation by city staff, city council and community members in the planning and construction process. The amendment also requests allowing the city to conduct a study on the construction’s potential effects on emergency response and traffic in the area.
City Manager Janine Jordan said city staff had not been included in any of the planning process for the dorms, despite the project being the “single largest public improvement in the city of Laramie in fifty years,” according to the proposed amendment text. She added city staff learned of the bill just last week when it was introduced.
“Municipal services and utilities will be extensively impacted and called upon to serve some $300 million in new construction that will occur in the area described in House Bill 293,” Jordan said. “At this point, city staff have more questions than answers.”
Jordan said the project could affect the “complex water infrastructure” in the area, as well as potential stormwater collection in the area. She added potential impacts could be felt in a multitude of other areas, including access to the Greenhill Cemetery as well as zoning changes to accommodate potential future retail space in the area.
Additionally, the city is concerned with emergency response times and access both inside and around campus with any potential temporary closure of 15th Street, which Jordan said is considered a “major corridor” to emergency services.
Jordan added the landfill “does not have capacity” to handle the demolition of the old dorms, even with the recent landfill expansion, which cost around $5.5 million.
“None of the city’s current planning documents — including the comprehensive plan, the water plan, the sewer plan, and the stormwater plan — contemplate dormitory replacement in this site,” Jordan said. “A long-term objective for the city will be to redo all of the long-range plans for Laramie to take into account various things that could change.”
While the bill does appropriate $3.5 million to the city to help mitigate potential traffic impairments to 15th Street during construction, Councilman Brian Harrington raised concerns that the amount wasn’t enough for the seven-year project timeframe.
Jordan said while the city appreciates the acknowledgement of potential impacts the construction might have on the area, it’s hard to know what to do with the money without any studies.
“We need to study the problem, and we need to make sure how we spend the money is actually going to fix the problems that could result,” Jordan said.
Many of the council members, including Vice Mayor Pat Gabriel, raised concerns about whether the Legislature and UW heard the hundreds of concerns the public had with closing 15th Street when the idea was first explored in 2016.
Jordan said regardless of what the Legislature or UW tries to push the city to do, any closure of the street would have to be approved by City Council. She added there are no current requests to temporarily close the street.
Many of the council members, including Gabriel, Councilman Paul Weaver and Councilman Charles McKinney, strongly recommended council members and the public contact their representatives as well as the UW trustees to voice any concerns about the construction’s impacts on the city, especially the potential closure of 15th Street.
“We all need to voice our opinion on how we feel about this,” McKinney said. “I think the public should, too. I don’t think that anybody should sit still or idle, because this is going to come and it’s going to come fast.”
Weaver clarified, however, that the city has issues with “elements of this project that seem problematic for Laramie” and not with the project itself.
The bill passed its second reading on Tuesday.