Opinion: Superintendent McGovern states case for State funding for new Rock Springs High School

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Submitted by Kelly McGovern
Superindentent Sweetwater County School District #1

Dear Editor,

The building of a new Rock Springs High School has now reached a critical juncture, and I’m writing to appeal for your help for a project that represents an important investment in the young people we are charged with educating and in our Sweetwater County community’s future.

As you may be aware, Sweetwater County School District Number One acquired land in 2006 for a high school to replace the now 53-year-old Rock Springs High School. Since 2014, the District has been following the careful process outlined by the State of Wyoming, studying the costs and benefits of every alternative, to obtain funds for new school construction.

RSHS is currently scheduled to receive funding for remaining design work, allowing us to move forward with construction. With the Legislative Session now underway, we hope the financial support for the design budget and the eventual construction costs are approved. Despite the disparity between the House and Senate, there is still time to fund school construction.

As the attached Fact Sheet details (*see below), our school district’s needs for a new high school have reached potential health and safety concerns. Facilities Condition Assessments, conducted by the State, have documented system and infrastructure deficiencies that do not meet educational standards. Those deficiencies and needs also have independent verification from assessments conducted by Facilities Engineering Associates, hired by the Wyoming School Facilities Department, and engineers from Bureau Veritas, a world leader in testing, inspection and certification services, commissioned by the Wyoming State Construction Department.

Years of studies and assessments all reach the same conclusion: Building a new high school is the smarter, more financially prudent decision for the State of Wyoming and Sweetwater County.

We have worked hard to be careful stewards of the public’s money and over many years we have worked to make Rock Springs High School work. Now, we are close to realizing a project that will give back to our community and the State of Wyoming for many years by providing the children of Rock Springs who want to learn and work hard at their studies a better opportunity to fulfill their individual potential in the community where they reside.

For 10 years, Sweetwater County School District Number One has been following the careful process outlined by the State of Wyoming in our pursuit of a much-needed new Rock Springs High School. Now, with important decisions about to be made about this request, we would like to address two questions that have arisen over the years and seem particularly common lately:

  1. “What about the needs list?”
  2. “How can we jump your school ahead of other schools on the list?”

Both are fair questions and both are understandable, particularly given that the methodology for determining school construction priorities has evolved over the years and that each community wants to provide the best possible education for students. Since 2014, we have been working within this system to obtain approval for a new high school and we’d like to provide you with the facts and context around these important questions.

What about the list?

Since the Wyoming Supreme Court charged the State of Wyoming with the responsibility for the construction of schools, the School Construction Department has relied on a scoring system to evaluate the need for replacement buildings. Scores have been used to create a ranking order, or list, for replacement buildings.

That list has been developed and revised many times over the past 18 years. And it is important to understand that the list is one of several tools the School Construction Department uses to evaluate building deficiencies and capacity issues across the state. Other tools include an evaluation of the school district’s Facility Plan as well as studies conducted by both the School Construction Department and outside professional service companies that help determine the most cost-effective solution for a school district’s building needs.  

Thus, the list, while easy to interpret as the order in which school districts get new buildings, actually has NEVER been that definitive. The State does not use the list to start at Number One and then move to Number Two and so on until all the buildings have been funded or legislators draw a financial line.

How can we jump your school ahead of other schools?

To smartly use the State’s money for the most pressing school building needs and with a focus on providing the educational programs required by the State, legislators searched for valid ways to help school districts with needs or circumstances that might not be reflected in a scored ranking. The School Facilities Commission took on that charge and in 2023, under the guidance of the School Construction Department, revised Chapter 3 of the Uniform Adequacy Standards. Here is that revision:

Chapter 3, Section 1 Authority. This Chapter is promulgated pursuant to Wyoming Status 21-15-155 (a)(xv) (ix) and 21-15-115.

Chapter 3. Section 8. Adequacy of Educational Space for Required Programs. Educational buildings shall provide adequate educational space. Educational space shall be deemed adequate if a district is able to provide the educational programs required by Wyoming Statute§ 21-1-101. If a district board of trustees makes a finding that the district is unable to provide the required programs because its educational space is inadequate, the district superintendent shall immediately notify the Department in writing and provide a detailed report explaining how the current space is not adequate for the delivery of the required educational programming … Based upon the district’s report and the Department’s recommendations, the Commission shall determine whether a remedy is necessary. If the Commission determines a remedy is necessary, it shall direct the Department to perform a most cost-effective remedy study in accordance with Chapter 8 § 6(b)(iii) of these Rules.

Issues concerning Sweetwater County School District #1 and the list

Our proposal for a new Rock Springs High School is an object lesson in the inconsistencies with scoring and why the State prioritized moving beyond a simple ranking to best serve students.

The needs list is usually reflective of the Facility Condition Assessment (FCA) scores, done by Facility Engineers Associates (FEA) for the past 18 years. FEA’s assessments were confined to the buildings, connecting parking lots and walkways. The most recent assessments, done by Bureau Veritas, included buildings, walkways, parking lots, track and field facilities and tennis courts.

In other words, the entire site and all amenities are included, even though some, such as tennis courts, are not supported by state funding.

The list released in June 2023 placed the new Rock Springs High School 6th with an FCA score of .390 and the accompanying message that RSHS was in line to be funded. In November 2023, the School Construction Department informed Sweetwater that Bureau Veritas neglected to input all of the numbers for the final calculations, leading to the list being shuffled and RSHS falling to 31st..

To compare apples to apples, we examined FEA’s building only component scores, and Bureau Veritas’ building only component scores – and found the assessments to be almost identical for RSHS.

Here’s the bottom line: Any ranking can be changed with a change in methodology. But the needs of our Sweetwater County students haven’t changed. Strictly following all State rules, the Sweetwater school district found that the educational space is inadequate. And any notion that Sweetwater is receiving favorable treatment or hasn’t followed the rules is simply false. Our needs for a new high school have reached potential health and safety concerns, as documented by State and independent assessments. Years of studies and assessments all reach the same conclusion: Building a new high school is the smarter, more financially prudent decision for the State of Wyoming and Sweetwater County.

Sincerely,

Kelly McGovern

Kelly McGovern  Superintendent
Sweetwater School District #1

*Attached Face Sheet Details

Need For a New Rock Springs High School Facts

Rock Springs High School in Sweetwater County School District Number One is not adequate for the required educational programming based upon Chapter 3, Section 3 (Safety of the Educational Environment) and Section 8 (Adequacy of Educational Space for Required Programs) of the Uniform Adequacy Standards (W.S. 21-15-114 (a)(xv), (ix), 21-15-115) of the School Facilities Commission. The educational space in Rock Springs High School is unduly inhibited by inadequate educational space and
an outdated facility as outlined below.


● The situation for Rock Springs High School (RSHS) has been occurring for over two decades. The needs of the school have reached system, potential health, and safety concerns. Sweetwater Number One is not a District that lets maintenance needs deteriorate in order to warrant a new school. This is not the case. We have work orders and state documentation on all repairs to the school. The current needs list as compared to previous Facilities Condition Assessments (FCA) considered playing fields and the entire site. Previous FCAs focused on the actual building and parking lots. In essence, we put $3 million of Recreation Mill funds into a field and track which lowered the overall FCA score of Rock Springs High School. However, the needs of RSHS remained the same. Addressing the main component needs would require displacing the students. Modulars are not an option. The current location is limited acreage, the building is land-locked and has elevation issues. Modulars at the Satellite site, (minimum of 25 would be
needed) would require foundations (per city code). Electrical, plumbing, sidewalks, parking, gas lines, etc. would also be required. This would affect 1,500 students grades 9-12 for the length of the renovation, which was estimated to take 4 – 5 years. It is important to state that this instructional delivery model, classes in modulars, does not support educational standards and would not include gym space, cafeteria space, media centers, or any collaborative learning space.


● Engineers from Bureau Veritas and *Facilities Engineering Associates (FEA) have sited the same deficiencies, pertaining to the building’s infrastructure. Both assessments identified needs costing in the range of approximately $57 million, excluding student displacement cost (i.e. modulars and cost info listed above), for the immediate to five-year range of deficiencies, providing we could relocate the student population. An additional $40 million would be needed to take care of the remaining long-range
issues bringing the total to $97 million, 61% of the cost of a new building.


● Sweetwater Number One does not have other buildings that could be used as swing space to accommodate students, while completing renovations. This project has been on the State’s radar since 2002 with numerous assessments verifying the need for a replacement high school.


● Engineering assessments have been completed on the condition of RSHS (2007 MGT, 2022 Bureau Veritas, 2023 Facility Engineers Associates). Since 2014, the District has completed 13 engineering evaluations of Rock Springs High School. In addition, the District previously procured a tract of land and a design for a new Rock Springs High School as a result of planning that started in 2006.
*FEA has performed all previous facility assessments hired by the Wyoming School Facilities Department.


● Bureau Veritas, a world leader in testing, inspection and certification services, commissioned by the Wyoming State Construction Department, cites numerous examples of infrastructure in immediate need of replacement, Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) equipment, plumbing and electrical systems, as well as several site issues including severe slab and foundational movements. With four (4) major additions to the facility over the years, it is extremely difficult to conduct incremental repairs,
replacements, or upgrades without shutting down the school. The extensive needs of RSHS puts a strain on the District’s Major Maintenance funds while maintaining 20 other Major Maintenance funded District buildings.


● The District has previously provided the State with multiple assessments and Most Cost Effective Remedy (MCER) studies demonstrating known deficits in the current facility which was initially constructed in 1970 including: lack of compliance with current code standards, and issues with compliance of applicable standards for educational facilities in Wyoming.


● Engineering Assessments show 74% of infrastructure systems as well as some structural subsystems are rated fair to poor condition and past the end of their Remaining Useful Life (RUL).


● Severe movement (slabs on grade) have resulted in gas, sewer, and glycol line leaks, beam deformations, doors binding, windows breaking, walls separating from floors, steps pulling away from substructure, etc.


● The RSHS Cafeteria has a maximum capacity of 220 students. This was mentioned in the 2007 MGT report as being undersized at that time with only 1,000 students. Current enrollment is approximately 1,440. The school has attempted to deal with the inadequate facility by conducting multiple lunch periods and other options over the years, which disrupts educational presentations, and by permitting an open campus resulting in many students seeking lunch outside of campus, causing congestion and traffic
hazards in the residential neighborhood where the school is located. At the current enrollment, RSHS would need 7 lunch periods to accommodate a closed campus which is unreasonable.


● Land-locked, railroad tracks, residential area, traffic flow, limited parking.


● Many deferred maintenance tasks would require the relocation of some or all of the students and staff,
some for indefinite periods of time (i.e., replacing sub structure mechanical, electrical, addressing movement in slab on grade, etc.)


● Classrooms were designed for 20-25 students with a current average enrollment of 27 students per class. Other classes are limited to 16 students per class due to electrical systems and design.


● Environmental controls are antiquated pneumatic controls and no longer function throughout 70% of the building. As a result, equalizing temperatures in the building is impossible during all seasons and allweather conditions. The inability to maintain a constant temperature for students and staff is detrimental to the teaching and learning process for both students and staff and may constitute a health hazard for vulnerable individuals.


● Sewer lines need to be replaced. With age, sewer lines throughout the facility suffer pipe degradation, leading to sewer gas escaping and raw sewage backing up. The multiple additions to the facility over time further complicate the issue with building construction over pre-existing service lines. As a result of the deficiencies, restrooms and shower locker rooms are frequently closed.


● Inadequate electrical service and load capacity prevents the addition of most mechanical system upgrades as well as students from utilizing needed technology and other resources dependent on electrical power. In most cases there is one (1) circuit for two (2) classrooms. It is not possible to add additional circuits due to the lack of circuit availability in the main electrical panels. Today nearly all textbooks and other classroom materials are provided on student laptops.


● Glycol lines from the boilers leak due to aged and rotted pipes, often requiring students to be displaced from classrooms, for their safety, interrupting the education process.


● The natural gas supply line runs under the building and the additions and has had numerous issues leading to building-wide evacuations again interrupting the education process.


● Aged slab on grade flooring, which was poured on an old landfill, continues to have sub-surfacemovement evidenced by building walls cracking and separating.


● Any major project upgrades would require code compliance in all areas including ADA, Fire, Electrical and Building Codes which would require excessive cost.


● The lack of adequate building and facility accessibility access under the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) and its amendments prohibits students and staff with disabilities from accessing portions of the facility and accessing educational or services located in those areas. See Chapter 3, Section 8. Rock Springs High School recently used emergency measures to address a Complaint filed with the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, concerning non-compliant exterior
access for a facility built substantially prior to the passage of the ADA.


● Classrooms have been shoehorned into former custodial closets.


● Teacher workrooms and former lab areas are utilized despite being an inappropriate space for education according to state standards and guidelines.


● Original doors and door hardware need to be replaced.


● There is limited Air Conditioning in the building. During the shoulder seasons of the Fall and Spring, room temperatures within the building can vary between 75 to 90 degrees and above, depending upon the location. As a result of the heat, staff and student health concerns are present. Options for air flow are extremely limited. Opening all interior doors presents safety and security concerns and is an ineffective remedy. Attempting to permit airflow into the interior classrooms from outside air through the roof, and over-pressurizing the corridor, presents feasibility and additional safety concerns due access limitations, the inability to properly filter the outside air, and capacity issues with the ventilation system.


● There are no door closers on any of the 1971, 1975, and 1977 addition doors. **These would be District expenses. This is a safety and security hazard in case of fire or an active shooter or other emergency situation.


● Preliminary research and studies demonstrate that new school buildings and facility investments lead to improvement in student test scores, and dramatic improvement in student attendance, issues which confront RSHS on an ongoing basis (Burnette II, Education Week, April 17, 2019).


● We currently average over $1 million of Major Maintenance funds to maintain the RSHS, which is more
than 25% of our annual Major Maintenance funds.


● Upon comparison of the assessments, the District Board of Trustees has made a finding that the ability to provide required educational programs at Rock Springs High School is unduly inhibited by inadequate educational space and outdated facilities. The District presents this report to explain how the present facility is not adequate for the delivery of educational programming required and to request a review of Rock Springs High School, under the criteria detailed in Chapter 3, Section 8 of the Uniform
Adequacy Standards of the School Facilities Commission.


● The District has, over many years, worked to make RSHS a productive and responsive contributor to Sweetwater County’s growth and stability. After years of studying the costs and benefits of every alternative, the District has come to the conclusion that construction of a new Rock Springs High School is an obligation owed to the students of the District who want to learn and work toward a better opportunity to fulfill their individual potential in the community where they reside.


● It is our understanding that other districts advocating for a new school fall lower on the current needs list than Rock Springs High School.

**Major Maintenance is for repair and replacement of existing items.