Saying Goodbye to a School Tradition
As the snow melts this spring, a long-time fixture on Gillette Avenue will fade into history. The demolition of Parish Hall is scheduled to begin in March, weather permitting.
According to Dennis Holmes, associate superintendent of instructional support for Campbell County School District, the condition score of the existing Parish Hall is extremely low.
The Wyoming School Facilities Commission uses the facilities condition index (FCI) to calculate the physical condition of school district owned properties across the state.
“The FCI analyzes the condition of 53 building components – such as flooring, roofing, interior/exterior walls, windows, electrical systems, HVAC, etc. – to determines an overall condition score for each building,” explains the Schools Facilities Commission website.
Every educational facility around the state is then ranked on a list determining the need of renovation or replacement.
“To renovate the building would be an extremely high cost,” said Holmes. “The cost to maintain the building as is, is quite high. Therefore, the building will be torn down and replaced with parking for Twin Spruce.”
Ground was broken for the 10,500 square-foot Parish Hall in 1962. So, in terms of age, the building’s not all that old. District Supervisor of Building and Grounds Tim Volk said that the larger issue is some major cracks in the foundations that just aren’t feasible to repair.
Pre-School District Parish Hall History
The Parish Hall was a later addition to the original St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, which stood on Gillette Avenue where the current Cloud Peak Building sits. Construction of that original church was completed in 1951, according to the Diocese of Cheyenne, which encompasses all of Wyoming.
That same year, Mrs. Margaret Goings donated three lots in the 600 block of Gillette Avenue to the Parish.
At the Trustee meeting in January 1960, plans for a future Parish school were discussed and by Nov. 1, 1961, Ray O’Brien & Sons of Casper was awarded the contract in the amount of $52,500 to build the Parish Hall and Catechetical Center. The 120 by 40-foot building was constructed of steel and concrete block. A brick veneer was added the next year by W.G. Ross Masonry Construction Company of Buffalo, adding $11,408 to the total cost.
According to the Gillette News Record article announcing the Grand Opening of the Parish Hall Sept. 23, 1962, the building boasted four classrooms, kitchen facilities, a gymnasium, and an apartment to accommodate two teachers.
Jeff Shober, a Gillette native now living in Seattle, Washington, said the Parish Hall is a constant in his childhood memories, having attended catechism there throughout his entire school career.
Shober specifically recalls serving as an altar boy in Parish Hall during the celebration elevating Rev. James Ruddy to the level of Monsignor in January 1974. It was during that time frame, that the St. Matthew’s congregation had outgrown the church down the block, and mass was regularly held at Parish Hall during construction of the new and current St. Matthew’s location at Ninth Street and Butler Spaeth Avenue.
“I just have memories of setting up bingo in there after mass, all those catechisms, talking to the nuns out in the hall,” Shober recalled. “It was one of the few gyms in Gillette you could actually play recreational basketball in – there was no rec center, or anything.”
Shober and fellow classmate Tom Lubnau, both remember attending part of fifth-grade in Parish Hall.
“That was back when Gillette was growing so fast, they were just scrambling to put kids in any building they could to go to school,” Shober said.
Parish Hall was used for student overflow while portable classrooms were set up at many schools around Gillette.
The new, much larger St. Matthew’s church was dedicated in August of 1976.
According Volk, historical documents show ownership of Parish Hall was transferred to the Campbell County School District as part of a land swap in 1977.
Volk said, other than converting the Parish Hall playground once located on the south side of the building to a parking lot for Twin Spruce, it’s pretty much original construction.
Through the years, a variety of different district support services were located there, including district computer repair and technicians in the basement, which were a precursor to the modern day IT department.
The gym has been used for adaptive PE, physical therapy, and most recently cheerleading practice. Several clubs also have used the space over the years, including sewing club. Parish Hall has also been used for in school suspensions and other types of disciplinary programs.
Volk said although use of the building has been limited in recent years, the heat and lights were on up until this past Christmas break.
As for a cause of the foundation cracks, Volk said it’s most likely due to the poor soil conditions in Gillette. The first step in the demolition process will be asbestos remediation, which is a common occurrence in any older construction.
“We’re in the process of getting a quote right now from our asbestos abatement company,” said Volk. “[Demolition] is probably going to happen in the next month or two.”
Volk said right now there’s no clear cut time frame on how long the demolition should take if it begins in March, as anticipated. However, like many spring construction projects in Wyoming, weather will be a big factor.
Volk said the additional parking lot will most likely include some sort of neighborly buffer zone between the parking at the attorney’s office located directly to the north.
Be sure to share your favorite Parish Hall memory in the comment section.