CHEYENNE – The happenings in the world today have made me so happy to be the Mayor of Cheyenne. I see what is happening to the cities in Ukraine and I think about the Mayors who are watching their cities be destroyed and their residents murdered. I can’t imagine their pain and torment. My prayers are with those folks and my hopes are for peace. The problems we face in Cheyenne are now clearly in perspective.
Tony Ross is our Senior Municipal Judge. He is best known as a past President of the Wyoming Senate. We have made some changes to the personnel at the court with the hiring of a part-time judge. Tony and I met to talk about the new organizational chart for the court. I appreciate the dedication of the court staff and their service to our community.
Did you know the Hynds building has been empty since 1982? That is 40 years that an important cornerstone has been out of use and dragging down the economy of downtown. Tuesday, I met with the Neelan group to discuss their interest in developing the Hynds for the second time. This time they brought the Overland Park Group, a developer of affordable housing, that they have partnered with in the past. They have converted historic buildings into housing all over the country, and they said the Hynds was in the best condition of any historic building project they have developed. After 40 years, it is time for something good to happen with the Hynds.
Our city council has made the Reed Avenue Corridor one of our seven goals for 2022. The reason we are so excited about this project is the potential for a transformational entertainment district along Reed Avenue. I met with the owners of the Old Cheyenne Elevator to discuss the progress of the Corridor, and how their building fits into the whole of the entertainment district. They have a great vision and the courage to make it happen. I love the entrepreneurial spirt of the people in Cheyenne.
The building of our new fire stations will cause the need to relocate the remote-control track along Converse Avenue. We asked the County Commissioners if the track could move to the Archer Events park. As usual, the Commissioners stepped up and a plan is being created to relocate this group. They hold races, and their biggest brings hundreds of enthusiasts to Cheyenne. It is great we will be able to continue to hold these events, now at Archer.
The Mayor’s Youth Council (MYC) is a blast for me to talk with. Their observations on our meetings are so interesting and I enjoy talking about what happens during our council meetings. This week I invited Greta Morrow, the founder of the Cheyenne Day of Giving to make a presentation to the MYC in the hopes that they will choose to get involved in the leadership of the Youth Day. This event collects donated goods and gives them directly to our local non-profits that take care of the less fortunate in our community. You will hear more about the Cheyenne Day of Giving and our Youth Day, and I hope you will choose to get involved this year.
It is budget time for the city, and part of that is an opportunity to meet with departments, outside agencies, and employee groups. This week I met with the Cheyenne Public Employees Association (CPEA). I enjoy hearing what our employees think about working with the city, and what they think would make the experience better. I love our employees and we will always look for ways to make their lives better.
Building a workforce and expanding our tech economy is something we all are working to improve. I met a company called Bitwise Industries. They build tech economies in underestimated cities. I think Cheyenne would be perfect for their model and got a chance to tell our story this week. Teaching folks who make minimum wages tech skills, that will result in a great career, is something I can get excited about. I hope they choose to make Cheyenne their next location. Cheyenne and Wyoming workers need their services.
I am not bilingual, though I wish I were. I had the French teacher from Central High School, Sarah Evans, bring a group of students and their teacher visiting from France. It was fun to talk with the students. They spoke English very well, and I was amazed to hear that many of them speak two or three other languages as well. This summer Mrs. Evans is taking 14 students to France to visit with these same visitors. What a great opportunity for both groups of students.
Our Urban Renewal Authority (URA) Board met for their monthly meeting. I appreciated the thoughtful way they are discussing what should qualify for URA funding, and what is a normal developer cost and responsibility. The first URA project is found on the old Hitching Post site. If you have not driven by lately, all the buildings have been removed, the asbestos properly remediated, and the site is almost ready for new construction. The URA has agreed to pay for the removal of the buildings, remediation of the asbestos, and to build a road to service the site. In the next month or two the decision will be made if any other expenses would qualify for URA investments. I appreciate the board for their service and thoughtfulness.
I am a curious person. I have heard for years that the schools in Cheyenne and Laramie County are some of the oldest and most in need of replacement in the state. I have learned that building disparity can affect the quality of learning our students receive. I asked Superintendent Crespo for a tour of Cheyenne schools to see the condition of our buildings. We started at Meadowlark Elementary, one of our newest buildings. You could see the thought that went into the design. Larger classrooms with built-in storage and technology, wider hallways for the bigger kids of today, more spaces to allow for individual student attention and learning, an amazing library, and a bright and welcoming environment. Then we toured some of our older schools. Hebard Elementary was built in 1945 and Arp Elementary in 1961. I loved the energy of the kids in the schools, but the buildings did nothing to help the situation. The libraries are tiny with no room for technology, the classrooms were small and hard to regulate temperatures, and there is no space for individual attention. I saw kids in the entry way sitting on a bench trying to get one-on-one reading lessons. The difference was astonishing. Interesting tidbit, Arp is at 159 percent capacity.
I learned that on the latest School Facilities Education Facilities Condition Index, that Laramie County has 11 of the 20 worst buildings in the state. Natrona County’s lowest rated building is 43 and Albany County has one in the top 20, but the replacement is scheduled to open next year.
I believe it is unacceptable for the state to slight Cheyenne’s students in this way. A sentence from the Campbell County decision from the Supreme Court is telling: “The Supreme Court reiterated that determination of the scope of those facilities (schools) remains the province of the legislature so long as similarly situated students have access to similar facilities.”. Casper and Natrona County are our peers in the state and there is no way our facilities are similarly situated. I recognize I am Mayor of Cheyenne and not the School Board, but I represent the parents and students in 24 of the 29 elementary schools in the county. It is time this inequity is corrected!
Thursday evening, we had our first negotiation session with the Fire Union. I have shared with you that we have spent many hours in labor management discussions to understand both sides of the discussion. Great news! We were able to settle the contract for next year in 45 minutes. I so appreciate the time the union members, fire chief, and city council have dedicated to make this a reality. We are used to several nightly meetings, what a nice change.
If you have a question for me, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll continue to answer them in my following Mayor’s Minute column.