City officials tour old WSH buildings

Councilmember calls tour, private meeting ‘waste of time’ and ‘verbal salad’

By Kayne Pyatt, Herald Reporter
Posted 7/3/24

EVANSTON — Local officials met with state officials in mid-June to tour some of the abandoned buildings at the old Wyoming State Hospital campus.

Evanston City Council members, Mayor Kent …

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City officials tour old WSH buildings

Councilmember calls tour, private meeting ‘waste of time’ and ‘verbal salad’


EVANSTON — Local officials met with state officials in mid-June to tour some of the abandoned buildings at the old Wyoming State Hospital campus.

Evanston City Council members, Mayor Kent Williams, city attorney Mark Harris, city department heads, and Reps. Jon Conrad (R-Mountain View) and Tony Niemiec (R-Green River) spent part of the morning on Friday, June 14, touring buildings with Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) Director Stefan Johansson, WSH Adminstrator Kristi Barker and others.

Due to the controversy over the demolition of the historic buildings, Johansson invited the group to go on a tour to see the inside of the buildings for themselves. The council had delayed a discussion concerning the council releasing an RFP (request for proposals) for the five buildings designated for saving until after the tour.

Organizers of the tour intended for access to be limited to just council members and department heads, but Johansson granted permission to Conrad and Niemiec to join the tour. Barker did likewise for the Herald.

The group of approximately 20 people entered eight of the historic buildings. Mold was visible in the ceiling of one building; there was broken glass from one door, where vandals had tried to enter; and furniture was scattered in some buildings. However, some of the buildings — especially the Karn Building, which was built in 1974 — appear to be in fair to good condition.

The group toured one of the single-family homes built for staff and found it to be in good condition. Clark Hall, which was used by staff and out-patients, also appeared to be viable for rehabilitation.

However, Johansson said, “It is what you don’t see that is bad — the bones of the buildings and the seismic conditions on this side of the campus. Our engineers recommended we not use these buildings when we were deciding whether to remodel or build a new facility.”

After the tour, a meeting with the parties involved was held at the new State Hospital facility and Johansson refused to allow the Herald to attend. Johansson agreed to call the Herald for an interview after the meeting. He said he wanted the group members to be able to speak without fear of repercussions in the press.

During a subsequent interview, Johansson said, “To rehabilitate those buildings is a mixed bag; some are better than others. There will be a need for infrastructure, utilities, all the heat goes through the tunnels … the cost will be enormous and, again, the seismic conditions are a negative.”

Johansson said the group had a good discussion. He reviewed the history around the decision to demolish the historic buildings and the process involved in disposing of state land, which involves the state lands commission. Any state land sold has to be sold at fair market value to the highest bidder. Currently, the bidding process is on hold, Johansson said.

“The next step will be for the state and city to come to an agreement for divestment,” Johansson said. “Will the city bid for the buildings or put it out for private bid? The state needs a statement from the city if they are interested in doing an RFP.”

Johansson said he will work with the Office of State Lands and Investment to suggest what the city needs to act on. Some questions remain: Does the city want to be gifted the property? What process is needed? What mineral rights on state land are involved? What will the agreement between the city and state look like formally?

“I want to conclude with the fact that I am proud of the new facility and the support from the city and community,” Johansson said. “Everyone is interested in what will happen to the historic buildings.”

The Herald was able to interview several members of the tour group after the private meeting.

Councilmember Mike Sellers said he thought the next step would be a memorandum of understanding between the state and the city to get the property into private hands. He added it would benefit the city to use those buildings for mixed commercial use. Sellers than excused himself to return to work.

Rep. Niemiec, who had co-sponsored the bill with Conrad to halt demolition for a year, said, “As an outsider, I love using old buildings for economic development opportunities and I think these buildings would be a benefit to Evanston. Rental and housing costs in southwest Wyoming are rising and we desperately need housing due to all the folks coming in with new industry.”

Conrad and Councilmember Jen Hegeman were asked if any concrete steps for moving forward were outlined by the state at the private meeting. They both said that the council had already passed a resolution to engage with the state to develop the buildings and Johansson didn’t come prepared to answer any questions as to what the next steps would be.

“The focus of the meeting was not an opportunity and moving forward, but was just a new round of verbal salad,” Hegeman said. “What Mark Harris said in the meeting about our resolution was misleading and wrong. The real purpose of it was to provide housing. Evanston is desperate for housing, and there are hundreds of possible housing units in those buildings. Verbal salad is not progressing toward a solution for housing; the solution is sitting up on that hill. It was just a stalling technique.”

Hegeman continued, “It was a beautiful tour on a beautiful morning, and an absolute waste of time. To come all the way down from Cheyenne and schedule 20 people and not be prepared with answers is unprofessional and disrespectful. Stefan Johansson was asking those present to make decisions and I wouldn’t say anything and break the law because it wasn’t a public meeting.”

Hegeman said Johansson used the mayor’s opposition to saving the buildings to stall and create more opposition at this meeting.

“In the meantime,” Hegeman said, “Evanston residents suffer from a lack of housing.”

Conrad agreed.

“We have a once in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve our past, engage the present situation and build for the future, which will promote Evanston and Uinta County for generations to come. This can be achieved with private investment if the city engages with the state. It is now up to the city council and mayor to communicate with the state,” he said.