Construction continues at the new Slade Elementary School site with progress on track for it to open next fall in time for the 2022-23 school year.
Located on the site of the former Laramie High School near the corner of 11th and Reynolds streets, Slade will replace its aging and much smaller predecessor a couple blocks to the south.
Randy Wilkison, director of operations for the Albany County School District, said the facility’s substantial completion date is July 12. Plans are in place for a moving company to begin transferring furniture, equipment and supplies from one school to the other as early as possible.
“We’ll have the month of June for us to figure out getting everything boxed up and ready to move,” he said.
During this month’s school board meeting, trustees failed to pass a change order by a 3-5 vote. The change asked for walkway pads on the roof. The denial was mainly because the order also added 12 days to the substantial completion date, which would have then become July 24.
Trustee Lawrence Perea said the July 12 date already strains the logistics of completing a move from one building to the other in time for the first day of school Aug. 25.
“That just doesn’t seem acceptable to me,” he said of pushing that back.
Trustee Jason Tangeman agreed with Perea.
“It’s a big deal to transition from one school to another,” he said. “Losing one day is problematic. It’s very problematic.”
Dan Odasz, president of Plan One/Architects, said he has been discussing the timeline with construction officials, and their strategy to expedite the move is to finish the classroom wings first, then complete other parts of the building.
“If we can have those three classroom wings done earlier, we can have almost all the teachers move in, get their classrooms set up, get the furniture set up and then fall back and use the extra time to finish the main corridor,” he said. “We’re looking at a split occupancy scenario that should help alleviate that situation.”
Supply chain strain
Roger Strube, the owner’s representative, said supply chain delays also have begun slowing the project. On any given day, they don’t know whether materials are going to arrive. For example, some exterior tile was delivered recently, but only 25% of the order.
“They can’t find the rest of it,” he said. “It’s missing somewhere in the world.”
The construction team has adapted wherever possible by adjusting supply orders, but even those types of adjustments take time, he said.
“It’s a very unique situation for a contractor and a design team and an owner to have to navigate, and I think we’re doing the best we can,” he said. “It literally changes on a daily basis. It’s hard to project out a few months.”
The Slade Elementary School project has been in the works since 2015, when the Wyoming Legislature appropriated $1.7 million for the initial design phase. Construction was put on hold, however, as the state entered an economic downturn.
The School Facilities Department unsuccessfully requested money for the project in 2016 and 2018, and funding was not included in the department’s supplemental budget request in 2019.
In late 2019, in preparation for the 2020 session, the Legislature’s Select Committee on School Facilities voted to support appropriating $19.2 million to finish the design and proceed with construction.
“This school has been at the top of the list for a long, long time,” said state Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, at the time. “It’s so old and beautiful, but it needs to be replaced.”
Gov. Mark Gordon didn’t include the funding in his 2020 budget proposal, but the Joint Appropriations Committee included it by a 7-5 vote.
As the budget bills moved through the Wyoming House and Senate in 2020 amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate removed the project on second reading along with numerous other spending proposals.
But Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, introduced an amendment late in the process that restored the funding, noting that it was rated the state’s highest priority based on its condition. The amendment passed by a 15-13 vote.
A year after its groundbreaking, the 60,000-square-foot facility is rounding into shape. It features three classroom wings that house four classrooms each for grades K-5. The kindergarten classrooms and a pre-K room have radiant floor heating.
In the middle of each wing is a common space that will house library materials and feature soft seating and break-out areas.
“This is like getting additional classrooms out here,” Wilkison said.
During a tour of the facility last week, Rothfuss expressed excitement for the finished product.
“The natural light everywhere is so wonderful in this building,” he said. “There are windows everywhere.”
The east side of the new construction abuts the old high school’s auxiliary gymnasium, which will become Slade’s gymnasium. Bricks used on the new exterior are from the same manufacturer as those on the original structure, minus about 60 years of weathering.
The school will have room for 460 students and 50 staff, which is about 200 students more than Slade’s current enrollment.
The exterior is accented with green metal siding, copper-colored metal and grey tile.
The 9.1-acre property also will have soccer fields, multiple playgrounds and two academic courtyards. Buses will arrive at the school’s northeast corner, nearest to the old Deti Stadium, while the main entrance is on Shields Street to the building’s south.
Richardson Construction of Cheyenne was awarded the bid for the project, which is budgeted at about $17.8 million and includes replacing the gymnasium roof.
The pavement around the stadium will be be re-paved, with money coming from the district’s major maintenance budget.