Casper College Ranch causes controversy
Casper – Three years ago, Casper College purchased a property west of Casper with the intention of building a rodeo arena and utilizing the 167 acres of farm ground and associated buildings as an educational facility.
The original intent was to develop a rodeo arena for a practice facility, but the property also provided an opportunity to bolster academics by providing a field setting for coursework.
The property was dubbed, “The Ranch,” and students began attending courses at the facility. When the property was purchased, upgrades like emergency exits and public building requirements were necessary for the facility.
In late 2016, students learned they could no longer use the facility for classes, labs or practices.
Rumors spreading through the Casper College community surfaced that the facility would be sold in favor of other options, such as purchasing undeveloped land, for the use the college.
With rumors flying across campus and around the community, locals and students attended the March 23 Casper College Board of Trustees meeting to speak up about their viewpoints.
Jack Stewart, a Casper attorney and chairman of the Casper College Ag Department Advisory Board, said, “When the Board purchased the ranch campus, they showed real vision for helping the department to be vibrant, attract students to Casper College and to grow the community.”
“Let’s move forward with the ranch campus,” Stewart added. “The agriculture industry will continue into the future. We need to develop the ranch campus.”
Mary Owens, a rancher from north of Casper, commented that the agriculture industry is vastly important to Natrona County, and students need to have the opportunity to learn about the agriculture industry in a hands-on atmosphere.
“The opportunities out there are unbelievable,” she asserted. “What we have at Casper College in the ranch campus is something special. It makes Casper College different and unique. What an opportunity.”
Students also echoed Owens sentiment, stating that the ranch campus was part of the draw to attend Casper College.
Sophomore student Cheney Peterson said that the ranch campus provides students with a chance to get their hands dirty in learning, citing a meat fabrication course and the opportunity to learn about livestock and crops on the campus.
“The ranch campus is part of the reason I came to Casper,” she asserted. “I couldn’t help but see my life happening and see myself taking classes out there when I toured the campus. I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty and learn from experience.”
Burt Andreen, a civil engineer in Casper, explained that the obstacles cited in rumors may not be as big as they are portrayed.
“When the work was priced for the ranch campus, we priced a Cadillac,” he said, “but we should try taking this one bite at a time. Let’s break it down into baby steps.”
Andreen continued, “One of the big obstacles is the zoning. There is no education zoning in the county, so any property would have to also have a conditional use permit.”
He noted that the application for a conditional use permit is only $300.
Natrona County Building Official Jason Gutierrez echoed Andreen’s statement.
In addition, Natrona County Commissioner Rob Hendry said, “The Natrona County Commissioners have been involved since the beginning. When the college came to us and needed a road, we made the road a county road.”
“We’ve got a lot of money in this, and I think selling the property to buy a piece of land is the wrong way to go,” he continued. “If the college comes to the Commission, we will support a conditional use permit. We’d like the college to use the ranch campus.”
Andreen continued that building codes, such as installation of emergency exits, emergency lights and more, could be conformed to for a relatively small amount of money, which would allow Casper College to hold classes at the facility.
“If we look at this in small steps, doing small upgrades like panic hardware on the doors, we can make the facility useable today,” Andreen emphasized. “Let’s take small steps so we can use the facility today.”
One local businessman explained that the opportunity to help students learn in a hands-on manner is what businesses are looking for.
“Our most successful means of finding employees is from Casper College’s campus, and the ranch is the best way to create high-quality employees,” he said.
At the conclusion of the public comment period of the meeting, Casper College Board of Trustees President Matt Loucks commented, “We’ve had record attendance at this meeting. We’d like to thank the public for speaking up and voicing their concerns. Without public comments, it’s not a full board meeting, so we welcome participation.”
When the Roundup reached out to Casper College for comment on these rumors, they commented, “At this time, we are facing a significant funding challenge with the ranch campus and have to consider all possible solutions.”
They added, “One potential solution, and the one that raised the most concern, is to look at an alternative location should the current one prove difficult to appropriately zone or too costly to improve.”
The college additionally stated that the ranch campus would require a change in zoning, as well at $5 million in facility improvements to bring the building up to codes for a higher education facility.
“We anticipate another $5 million is needed for the rodeo practice arena, which is identified in the campus master building plan. Funding at that level is a key concern,” Casper College said.
Community members argued those figures were highly inflated.
Regardless of the assertions of community members and students, Casper College said, “We’re very proud of the Casper College agriculture programs, the faculty instructors, the rodeo team, clubs and their many achievements. We want to continue the strong tradition we’ve established in these areas of the college and will continue to evaluate all possible options with that in mind.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.