City, county and school district discuss potential funding options for proposed athletic field
By Sarah Pridgeon
With all three parties willing to consider the possibility of a land swap involving the City of Sundance, Crook County and the Crook County School District, discussion has turned to how the project might be funded. The proposed swap would see the county fairgrounds relocated to an alternative site in town and the new high school football field constructed in its place.
The swap would involve several individual stages. Each involved entity would see different benefits and dilemmas and would assume specific responsibilities:
City of Sundance
For the City of Sundance, the swap would mean donating a parcel of land to the county at no cost. The suggestion currently on the table is to donate up to 25 acres near Green Mountain Cemetery.
Donating the land would be a formal process that includes an appraisal of the city’s land followed by public hearings to give the community opportunity to voice their opinions, says Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Lenz. The council will then vote on the issue.
For the city, the potential swap has several possible benefits, she adds. It could see more sales tax come in from the upgraded fairgrounds as more events take place and more fairgoers and event organizers are attracted to the area and could also lead to economic development for the community.
“We want this to be a positive and amicable process,” says Lenz. “It could be history in the making.”
Crook County School District
The school board would then purchase the land on which the fairgrounds currently sit from the county and construct the new athletic facility in that location. This would allow the football field to be built adjacent to the school campus, providing easy access for students.
To acquire the land, the school district would use money that has been provided specifically for land purchase and reconstruction of the football field by the Wyoming School Facilities Department, as part of the project to construct a new elementary school.
“The SFD has budgeted money for land and to construct the replacement football field and track,” explains Trustee Ken Rathbun on behalf of the CCSD Board of Trustees.
“Typically, the land purchase price will be based on a formal appraisal value.”
According to the Board of Trustees, the school district will be neither required nor able to add any more than the cost of the land purchase to the overall pot.
“There is no eventuality whereby the district would be willing or able to fund additional dollars above the purchase price of the land required for the new football field and track,” says Rathbun.
“However, the district and the school board are obligated to identify and analyze the feasibility of reasonable options for the new facility and will continue to work to determine if the proposal should be pursued.”
Part of the process of planning the new elementary school has always been to locate and purchase land for a football field – something that the district has been mindful of since the project was announced.
“The school district is planning to build a new elementary school on the site of the existing football field, requiring that a new location be found for the athletic facility,” says Rathbun.
“This location for the new elementary school was selected after lengthy consideration of the alternatives defined in a feasibility study that was prepared for the district by MOA Architecture in 2013.”
Situating the athletic facility on the current fairground site, however, is just one option under consideration.
“The school district has been and is currently pursuing various alternatives for a location for the athletic facility,” Rathbun continues.
“After the pros and cons of the various location options have been identified, the School District Administration and the school board will determine which location best meets the district’s needs.”
So far, says Superintendent Byron Stutzman, land has been appraised just east of the Forest Service buildings. This would be a good spot, he explains, because it allows for further expansion a couple of decades down the road.
“Ultimately, the preferred location will be selected by the school board, based on feasibility and which location best meets the district’s needs,” concludes Rathbun.
“The City of Sundance, Crook County, the Fair Board and the School District must all be comfortable with the obligations associated with such a proposal, and only then would this be deemed to be a feasible alternative for the district.”
The new athletic facility will be a “substantial upgrade” no matter where it is eventually built, says Stutzman. The football field can be leveled perfectly, he explains, while a six-lane asphalt track will allow the team to practice and the community to make use of the facilities.
Potential enhancements could see the facility expanded to an eight-lane track with a rubberized top layer to provide cushioning for athletes’ feet.
If the swap turns out to be the preferred choice, the school district may also choose to keep and make use of the bathroom and shooting sports buildings. Both were recently built at the fairgrounds through grant funding, says Stutzman.
Crook County, meanwhile, would need to fund construction of a replacement fairground facility once the land was donated by the city. This would provide the fairgrounds with an accessible but more spacious location that could allow for expansion in the future, as well as an opportunity to upgrade and enhance the facility.
The County Commissioners have stated that county funds will not be used to fund a new fairground. Instead, says Commissioner Kelly Dennis, the county could potentially use the money acquired through purchase of the current fairground site as matching funds for grants.
“I’m not interested in the county putting any money in it,” he explains.
Dennis agrees that a new location and better facility could be advantageous, but says that no discussion of the pros and cons of moving the fairgrounds has yet taken place between the commissioners and stresses that there is no direct need for the fairgrounds to move.
As discussion of the land swap is still in its early stages, the feasibility of the Green Mountain Cemetery site has also not been investigated, says Dennis.
“We really haven’t had any serious talks about it yet,” he says, adding that he would personally prefer for the county to have as little planning and grant-seeking responsibility as possible should the swap move forward.
The county will not be in a position to consider the exact configuration of the potential new fairground site until an appraisal of the current site is complete, which will indicate how much matching money would be available. The appraisal is expected in late February or early March, says Stutzman.
There are plenty of potential funding avenues that could be explored should the county decide to support the land swap, says Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Lenz. She has already investigated some of these options.
Lenz highlights consensus funds, the Mineral Royalty Fund administered by SLIB and the Wyoming Business Council as possible sources. The latter has already expressed interest and is looking into grant sources that would fit with the project.