Lander Council approves Community Center construction bid despite budget shortfall concerns

(Lander, Wyo.) – Nearly year to the date after the Lander Community Center burned to the ground, the city has awarded the construction of the replacement facility to a Riverton contractor.

In a 5-1 vote, the Lander City Council on Tuesday night awarded the more than $5.3 million construction to Sehnert Systems Inc. Councilor Buddy Spriggs voted against awarding the bid, and Councilor Dick Hudson was not in attendance. A ground-breaking date has not yet been set.

The original community center burned to the ground on June 28, 2012, from an electrical malfunction with a porch light.

The city received $1.3 million from insurance as a result of the fire. Since beginning fundraising earlier this year, the city has raised more than $1 million from local fundraising. Opportunities for the general public to participate will be opened in the coming weeks. Staff hopes to receive at least $250,000 from Fremont County CIMPL program. $1,455,000 in grants have been received and $250,000 in loans secured. Anticipating being able to raise another $500,000 from local fundraising, more than $4.7 million is expected to be available for the project, leaving a little more than $1 million to be funded by the city.

Lander resident Phillip Strong asked if any tax funds would be used. Mayor Mick Wolfe said yes, the state grants came from taxes, but no special voter initiatives approved a single revenue source.

Plan One Architecture’s Garrett Chadwick reviewed Sehnert’s low bid with the council, and Community Resource Coordinator Gary Michaud reviewed the funding sources. The bid that was ultimately approved included the construction as well as landscaping and irrigation. Four other bids were also received.

The majority of the discussion surrounded where the city would come up with at least $1,070,000 to cover what hadn’t been raised.

Councilor Cade Maestas reminded the council that they passed a resolution in February committing to come up with any shortfall. The resolution was used as leverage in grant applications and in other fundraising. “If you want to lose $4 million really fast, don’t award the bid tonight,” he said.

Spriggs said he thought it was a bad idea to award the project when the council didn’t know where the $1 million would be coming from. “I just don’t think we should be awarding a bid thats a million dollars over,” he said.

“We can’t keep going backwards. We’ve told people we’re going to move forward,” Council Monte Richardson said.

Ideas tossed around were using the city’s reserves or taking out a loan from the city’s enterprise (water and sewer) fund. Treasurer Charri Lara said the city has the loan capacity and the reserves to come up with the funding.

Noting the city is anticipating, but has not yet received, $500,000 in additional fundraising, Councilor Dan Hahn asked if the city could ultimately be on the hook for about $1.6 million. Wolfe said that is the case, but he’s hoping local fundraising will be “considerable.”

Lara also said that if the city was able to make the June 5 concert fundraiser an annual event, it could be used to pay off loans.

Council President Nancy Pieropan noted the lack of the community center has been felt beyond Lander and praised the donors who have stepped up. Maestas thanked the citizen committee who helped design the facility.

The entire project is expected to cost more than $5.8 million, including design, construction management and removal/replacement of the golf course shed. Maestas noted there might interest in funding a retractable stage that was left out of the bid for more than $200,000.