Explanations for Center land acquisition full of half-truths

The process through which Sheridan County School District 1 and its Recreation District went through to acquire the land on which a new community center is planned to be built raises some eyebrows.

Conversations with members of those organizations recently did as well.

• “Equal is not always fair.” — Jeremy Smith, SCSD1 business manager

• “I don’t understand the frustrations.” — Zac Cummins, SCSD1 Recreation District board member

Community members on the Ranchester and Dayton side of the county have expressed concern that Big Horn residents will gain access to a community center that they did not have to work toward. Meanwhile, when the nonprofit Tongue River Valley Community Center started more than a decade ago in Ranchester, organizers had to scrape and struggle to become the successful organization they are today primarily through private donations rather than taxpayer dollars.

Cummins responded in an interview with The Sheridan Press earlier this week by saying, “Why should one person not want someone else to have what they have?” But, Ranchester and Dayton residents aren’t opposed to a community center in Big Horn. They feel maybe there needs to be more investment in the process from individuals in Big Horn who want it. Investment in a project breeds appreciation and responsibility.

It is also discouraging that administrators’ answers to those seeking explanation on the plan were dependent on who was doing the asking.

When Karen Walters, who had been elected to the school board but not yet sworn in, asked to be brought up to speed on the community center SCSD1 Business Manager Jeremy Smith highlighted three key pieces of information.

1. Negotiations for the recreation district to purchase the property had started before a fire destroyed the building. The fire simply accelerated the process and hopes are high that local foundations or other donations will help to pay, or completely pay, the bank note on the property.
2. The recreation district reorganized themselves into a grant giving organization rather than a programming organization.

Number three is where it gets interesting.

“The third and final thing to make sure that you understand is the value of the BHCC (Big Horn Community Center) location. That is a bus stop that produces approximately $450,000 per year in tuition revenue from kids that live in District 2 and attend our schools,” Smith’s email to Walters said.

That fact has never been said publicly by school or recreation district administrators.

When asked about the bus stop being an important part of the purchase, initially, no mention was made of the funding issue at all.

Instead, Smith and others emphasized the district’s safety concerns for students who utilize the bus stop.

Perhaps a genuine concern, but disingenuous at best when safety was not once mentioned in the conversation outlining the importance of the bus stop to Walters.

The bottom line is this — a community center in Big Horn is a great idea.

Even gaining the property for the center at a relatively cheap price ($375,000) due to the circumstances after the fire may have been a wise move on the part of the school board.

But, the way the move has been explained and the interactions the school and recreation districts have had with the communities involved to explain their reasoning and gain support for the project have been full of missteps and half-truths.

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