SHERIDAN — It’s easy to get excited about everything happening in Sheridan when you talk to Whitney Benefits President Tom Kinnison about upcoming and current projects around town.
He talks quickly, and with enthusiasm, as he starts to list the projects — Sheridan College is expanding annually; the ice rink is getting a new roof over its head; the Sheridan Senior Center is looking to expand its services.
“In five years, (Sheridan) is going to be fantastic,” Kinnison said. “ … we have some really great things going on.”
Recently, Sheridan has been improving itself on the shoulders of its nonprofit organizations. The numbers are staggering — in the past 12 months, just shy of $70 million has been slated for building projects for nonprofit organizations in the Sheridan area. Even more remarkable is that more than $57 million of that funding has or is expected to arrive from private and foundation dollars. Six local projects are searching for at least $1 million.
One of the largest nonprofit building projects taking place is the new building at The Brinton Museum. The building itself was budgeted to cost $15.8 million, but the capital campaign efforts put the total cost of the project near $21 million. Forrest E. Mars Jr. contributed upward of $10 million to that project, which began in June 2013 and is expected to be completed this summer.
Sheridan YMCA Executive Director Jay McGinnis said it’s not too uncommon for fundraising efforts to come in waves; momentum from one project often translates into other projects. Soon the city develops a culture of philanthropy, which McGinnis says is taking place in Sheridan right now.
But at the core of every project there has to be a perceived need from the community and at least some of the incoming projects are battling the consequences of aging infrastructure.
“Some of this stuff hasn’t been looked at for around 35 years,” Kinnison said.
Sheridan High School’s Leading the Legacy locker room project, a $5 million construction project which is seeking around $1 million from private funds, is responding to 30-year-old facilities that were not constructed to meet gender equity or disabilities standards. Likewise, YMCA’s nearly $12.5 million indoor aquatics project is seeking an alternative to the aging Kendrick Pool.
Other community needs highlighted in upcoming projects include adapting to evolving demographics. The $20 million Whitney Center for the Arts building on Sheridan College’s campus that is currently under construction began in response to the rise in enrollment at Sheridan College. The Sheridan Senior Center’s potential expansion efforts are intended to support the aging population.
While Sheridan has numerous willing foundations and donors, there is only so much money available. This could impact funding for many nonprofit projects searching for money. Kinnison said in times like these where there are numerous projects to potentially give to, organizations like Whitney Benefits has to maintained focus on their mission of improving local education.
“We have a lot of foundations in the community,” Kinnison said. “… We [at Whitney Benefits] have to be so extremely cautious of being an entitlement.”
But competition can breed success. With more nonprofits looking for funding, building projects are forced to increase their level of readiness which, in turn, can create a more successful end product.
“We kind of welcome other projects,” McGinnis said. “From the foundations’ perspective, they have a better choice of how their dollars will be spent.”
When the dust settles from all of the projects, which also include the rehabilitation of the Antelope Butte Ski Area and many others, nonprofit leaders said the economic results will be evident. Such projects can stimulate economic development and bring outside money into the county.
But both Kinnison and McGinnis agree that perhaps more important than any economic benefit is an increased standard of living in the Sheridan area.
“It tells me there are some really good resources and opportunities within this community that is going to make it better than what it is,” Kinnison said.
“The end result is a quality of life in Sheridan that invites a greater engagement to volunteer and a sense of pride for all of those projects,” McGinnis said.