By Grace Moore
The room filled quickly as council members, the mayor, chamber liaisons and many Moorcroft citizens arrived for the MTC Focus Group meeting last week. Facilitator Tracy Jones passed out an agenda as well as rules of conduct among the tables.
Jones noted that people in Moorcroft have a lot of good ideas and some of them are “good intentioned”, but said, “you’ll never get anywhere with appreciable effort unless you [get] together and come to terms with what your goals are”.
In an effort to bring all of the submitted ideas together, guests were asked to write them down and tape them to the wall under one of three categories. Many of the ideas were based on reaching self sustainability so that the building does not continue as a burden on the community; others lead the conversation to the future viability of the building as a place for businesses and community functions; and the third aspect to which the ideas alluded was the future management of the facility.
Ideas were shared by those present and they were asked to stand and explain their thoughts. One such proposal is a library; MHS teacher Andrea Wood spoke to her and others’ wish to see the public library moved to the MTC.
“If you can have a one stop shop, if you can bring people to one place where they can come to work out, check out a book, drop their kids off at preschool, meet up with their friend and go see their grandma in the senior room before they go to lunch at Donna’s,” she said.
“Whatever it is, the more you can offer in one location without people having to wander around town, the greater success you’re going to have in all of those areas.”
The reason, according to the governing body, for the library refusing the move when previously offered is because they wanted the town to pay for all improvements to the interior. Every other business has been and will be responsible for their remodeling and the council decided not to change that policy for the county library.
Mayor Steve Sproul suggested selling the newest part of the building to the library for $1, saying, “We don’t have to fix it. I say give it to them with the parking and everything. Kids need the library and the one we have down here is rough, you’re up and down the stairs and there’s not enough room … We give it to the county, we get the benefits of a nice library.”
It was put forward by a member of the group that, if the county sold the existing library, which they were able to build with a grant, they would be able to remodel the MTC rooms to their satisfaction.
Another suggestion is the town hall and police department. This popular idea was discussed realistically with the council acknowledging the cost of the move could be about $30,000 more than the originally anticipated $200,000.
However, relieving the town of the double cost of maintaining both the MTC and the current town hall building would bring significant savings, partly from the move itself and also from having a management presence within the MTC, which would alleviate any future cost of onsite management of the building.
When asked about the budget for the work the town wants to do on the building, Claar admitted, “We don’t have a budget to do this this year and probably into next [fiscal year] I don’t see a whole lot more money coming in than we already have in our budget; we’re going to be okay, but this is all going to cost, of course.”
Jones, having researched the matter, told the audience that many municipalities are facing the same issues as they try to get town-owned older school buildings up and running as assets to the community.
Resident Jane West said she did not want to see the municipality move, “I think they should stay down there because the post office, Diehl’s and the town hall is all in a one block area and I see people walking from one to the other and doing everything at once. If the [town hall] is here, they still have to go down there to get groceries and the post office so this is just another location, then.”
A short digression from topic was initiated by the mayor when he again attempted to share the opinion that the building has no certificate of occupancy. However, this view was met with informed disagreement by members of council and audience members who must keep abreast of the strict regulatory demands on the building, including Lisa Lovitt, who is responsible for the federally regulated preschool on the premises.
Jones agreed that the fire marshal would not have allowed occupation, particularly of the resident preschool, without the certification. Sproul refused to acknowledge the correctness of the certification, saying, “There were a lot of Is that weren’t dotted and Ts that weren’t crossed.”
Focus was reestablished as the group talked over other ideas. A culture and art center, youth center, senior center, early head start, hair salon, conference rooms, transportation service provider, craft mall and a Boys and Girls Club were all thoughts shared.
Creating a number of basic offices of the rooms currently occupied by Starfish Second Hand Store, “for those who just want a desk and internet service” and not much foot traffic, was a suggestion of Councilmen Ben Glenn and Dick Claar.
Child care was mentioned, again centralizing services for the public, to the strong objection of Margaret Lynch, who currently rents the building formerly known as the Hub Café to a private child care provider.
“No, absolutely not,” she said. “That’s how I’m making money; you’re taking business from the other businesses.” However, Sara King opined, “I think the need is great, especially when we go to the four day week,” to which Lynch agreed.
Lynch voiced her consternation, though, regarding pulling business away from the South Big Horn Avenue. “I’m saying to you, let’s not lose the downtown, [but] if you don’t want to preserve the downtown area, then go with what you’re doing.”
Claar reminded Lynch that every business in Moorcroft has moved or died over the years. Coffee Cup, Subway and Pinnacle Bank were examples of the continued movement of the town. Jones acknowledged, as well, that many towns no longer entertain a “main street”.
After a quick meal of pizza, vegetables and cookies, paid for with a grant from Powder River Energy for the MTC meetings, an anonymous vote was taken to ascertain the prioritization of ideas, giving the council and MTC committee positive direction. Management of space was the clear front runner.
“So, it is important to people that you do develop some sort of management procedure for this place,” said Jones.
Moving of the town hall had a high approval vote as well. These two were joined by recreation space as the three to receive the highest number of votes during the meeting.
After more discussion on how to bring the varying facets of these ideas together to better stabilize a strong plan with which to move to the next step, the meeting was adjourned.