SHERIDAN — The effort to construct an institute for improving the education of indigenous populations took another step forward last week when architects publicly unveiled a feasibility study for the ambitious project.
Officials at the First People’s Center for Education said the stage is now set to begin a comprehensive capital campaign for the project which they believe stands to benefit the entire Sheridan area.
“I think that’s something we’re really enthusiastic about,” Director of Development Rod Trahan said. “We have a lot to give back to the community.”
While the institute’s focus is likely to remain on improving educational systems for Native American communities, officials at the center said their vision includes features that will make the space a cultural contribution to people of all backgrounds.
Set to feature professional development areas, classroom space and multiple libraries among other components, organizers hope to make the institute a national center for dialogue on issues pertaining to the education of indigenous people around the world.
Expected to open in 2017, the roughly 10,000 square foot building at the Wrench Ranch will be built on four acres of land donated to the First People’s Center by Neltje and Butch Jellis.
Currently, officials at the organization expect the building to cost about $3.5 million. Additional features such as energy efficient options could bump up the total cost to around $4.8 million.
And while the nonprofit doesn’t currently have any money stockpiled away for construction, officials are hopeful that a combination of grant funds, donations and possible state money will help see the project through.
“It’s a tight economy and we recognize that, but we also think there’s opportunity out there,” Trahan said.
Plans for the institute were drafted by architect Tim Belton of the Sheridan-based firm Malone Belton Abel. City of Sheridan officials have also stepped up in recent weeks by applying for a Wyoming Business Council grant aimed at expanding infrastructure in the Wrench Ranch.
While organizers at the First People’s Center are still in the early phases of planning the group’s capital campaign, Executive Director Charitina Fritzler said the unveiling of the feasibility study last week has infused her staff with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism about the project.