The suggestion came from Guernsey Town Councilmember Joe Michaels, who was hired as the ChalleNGe Academy budget officer when it first opened in 2005 and later served as director of the program.
Michaels addressed the Wyoming Legislature’s Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee during a meeting Thursday, asking lawmakers to direct the Wyoming Military Department to “produce a viable alternative as to how we could reintroduce (the) residential program.”
“We have to continue to support our youth,” Michaels said. “There is a need for this in the state.”
He further recommended Wyoming consider “co-locating” the ChalleNGe Academy with a community college, adding that “the one that I think would be the best would probably be Riverton.”
Riverton is preferable because it also hosts the Wind River Job Corps Center, where Academy graduates could “learn how to get a profession and continue on (to) become a productive member of society,” Michaels said, though he also mentioned community college towns like Powell and Rock Springs as potential alternatives.
All three cities offer “a larger community to draw on” for staffing support, Michaels noted, especially compared to Guernsey, where the ChalleNGE Academy was previously located.
“Guernsey has 1,140 people in it, (so) trying to find 40 people, even from the local area, to be able to work there … was very difficult,” Michaels said.
It was even harder to attract potential employees to Guernsey from out of town, he continued.
“(When) you tell the spouse that the closest Walmart is 100 miles away, they very quickly lost interest,” he said. “A viable program (would) have to be in a larger community in Wyoming.”
Legislators pointed out that the state is pursuing a study of potential future locations for the ChalleNGe Academy.
In the meantime, the Transportation Committee considered a bill draft this week that would have let Wyoming continue sending students to National Guard youth programs in other states, but the proposal failed to pass.
The committee meeting resumes Friday morning in Cheyenne.