CASPER, Wyo. — North Casper has a variety of spaces for residents and visitors to the area. But it lacks something critical.
That could change as the Casper Housing Authority prepares to transform the former North Casper Elementary School into an anchor for the neighborhood.
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CHA Director Kim Summerall-Wright says that North Casper is somewhat of a “food desert.”
She says that there aren’t grocery stores in the area and that North Casper lost a couple of food options with the closure of gas stations in recent years.
The housing authority intends to do something about that as they plan their new “Casper Housing Authority Campus.”
“90% of the commercial kitchen equipment is already purchased,” Summerall-Wright says.
They plan to add a commercial kitchen at the former elementary which will primarily serve kids at the daycare center which will also be added.
Summerall-Wright says they’re also working on an idea to offer a United States Department of Agriculture approved summer feeding program.
If such a program gets implemented it would be open to all children as an option for summer meals.
The Kids Kampus daycare will also be relocating once the former school space has been renovated.
“Our center is over on the east side of town and it has been there a long time,” Summerall-Wright says.
It is located near the interstate and HQ BBQ. With bustling traffic and sounds from the interstate, Summerall-Wright says that it is “maybe not the best spot for a daycare center.”
The new North Casper location will provide an option for parents in a more residential setting and will also be available to CHA employees who may be working at the housing authority’s new administrative space that will go in on the other side of the former school.
Summerall-Wright says the daycare center will likely offer new evening and weekend hours once the move is complete.
“We know that is a critical need,” she says, pointing to parents who may work outside of normal 9-5 hours, such as restaurant staff or those traveling for work in oilfields.
With space also planned to facilitate a Seton House spearheaded program called “Connections to Success,” Summerall-Wright says the new facility will offer educational opportunities for kids and parents alike.
“When mom goes to school, kiddos go to school as well,” she says.
There are plans to offer “a more formalized pre-school.”
As CHA considers preliminary designs for the space, they’re really thinking about how to use the space to encourage children’s active movement.
“Every childcare center has its own identity,” Summerall-Wright says.
With a lot of wide hallways in the existing school space, one idea that CHA will implement is adding interactive hallways where kids can skip and hop along. Interesting tactile objects for them to interact with will be added to the walls.
That will allow kids to “burn off energy and learn something along the way,” Summerall-Wright explains. “Busy kids are happy kids.”
She says they’re also being very conscious of the therapy room space that will be added. That will ensure that when therapists work with children, the space will support that work.
CHA has also already purchased some playground equipment that will be installed outside.
But an indoor playground in the “big gym” will serve more than just daycare and preschool students.
Summerall-Wright says that the idea is to open the gym up to the public from 11 am to 3 pm when it is not being used by Kids Kampus.
For the outdoor playground, CHA plans to have artists get involved. Space to allow kids to ride bikes and interesting surfaces for them to step on are also part of the vision right now.
CHA will also be moving their administrative headquarters from their North Durbin Street offices once the North Casper space is ready.
Those administrative offices will be separated from the daycare space by fire doors. They’ll have an entirely different outdoor entrance.
A “ReFabb” store, which is the old “Habitat ReStore” will be built along K Street, Summerall-Wright adds.
That store employs veterans and people in the housing authority’s programs. It sells building materials and some furniture, geared toward helping people conduct upgrades to their homes “at a fraction of the cost” of regular retailers.
A roughly 3,000 square foot maintenance shop will also be built near the former school. That will allow CHA’s maintenance teams a more central location to conduct their efforts, as Summerall-Wright says the current set-up requires maintenance teams to travel between shops too frequently and inefficiently.
38 people working with the housing authority (they once only had five employees) will operate out of the new North Casper community center.
Summerall-Wright says that this may prove attractive to other developers, particularly with North Casper designated as an Economic Opportunity Zone.
With those employees working in the area and needing lunch and other amenities, Summerall-Wright says it may be a good opportunity for savvy developers to explore.
She says that North Casper already has some good things happening, pointing to Marion Kreiner park and the free pool and splash pad there.
Home owners in the area have also been conducting visually enticing renovations recently, giving the neighborhood a more vibrant feel, Summerall-Wright adds.
The housing authority also plans to substantially overhaul the landcaping at the new campus, adding in grass in some spots and more durable wood chips in others to accompany flowers, plants and trees.
Community garden space will also be added, which will reinforce existing community garden space at the former Roosevelt High School, which Wyoming Food for Thought supports.
Right now, CHA is getting their design vision together themselves.
They are waiting for the Casper City Council to approve a rezoning of the former school so that the project can really get underway.
Summerall-Wright says that an architect firm will be hired to set the designs in stone based off of CHA’s vision. CHA has a budget of about $1.4 million for the project.
A bidding process to find a contractor to conduct the renovations is likely to begin sometime this fall after the city council completes the re-zoning.
Summerall-Wright says that construction is expected to take about nine months once it gets underway.
That puts the housing authority on track to expect a move in mid-summer 2020.
“We want to move as quickly as we can,” Summerall-Wright says.
The existing Kids Kampus and housing authority downtown office space will then be sold.