by Susan Brame
Reprinted from The Leader, Summer 1999.
Plans are underway to expand NOLS' international headquarters in downtown Lander with a large, multi-phased office and green space construction project. The project will be built over several years and will boast a finished size of 40,000 square feet.
The facility was recently boosted by the donation of three city lots to the school by Wyoming State Rep. Dr. Harry Tipton and his wife, Alex. NOLS will start building new offices on the donated land in 2001. Currently, the school owns two buildings in the immediate vicinity, the historic Noble Hotel on Lander's Main Street, and the Kennedy Building at 188 North Third St. Under the plan, the Noble Hotel, a Lander landmark, will also see several upgrades and improvements.
"With our recent acquisition of the Wilderness Medicine Institute and our continued growth, this project demonstrates our commitment to the community of Lander and to downtown Lander," said Gans. NOLS has maintained its headquarters in Lander since its inception in 1965.
Tipton, who is also the speaker pro-tempore of the Wyoming State House of Representatives, said he and his wife decided to donate the land "because NOLS has been a good citizen in Lander and it keeps them downtown. We didn't want to see them move out," he said. "This will help keep downtown Lander viable."
When Tipton inherited the land in the 1980s, "NOLS asked if they could use the vacant lots for parking," Tipton said, "and I agreed." NOLS never entered into a formal agreement with Tipton over the land, and Tipton noted that Jim Ratz, executive director at the time, suggested that the school pay some rent on it.
"As I recently started looking at what to do with the property, Alex and I thought that maybe NOLS would like to own it, so we created a charitable remainder trust for them," Tipton said. "We're just pleased to have them stay here in town. Alex and I are very satisfied with how it will work out for us as well."
A citizens committee comprised of Wyoming State Sen. Cale Case, Linda Hewitt and Lander rancher Dave Raynolds was instrumental in giving the school feedback for the project. Hewitt, the community resource coordinator for Lander, was helpful in securing a $16,000 Wyoming Business Council grant so the school could study the feasibility of expansion. She noted the importance of retaining a long-time Lander employer such as NOLS.
"NOLS puts us on the map," said Hewitt. "It makes Lander world-renowned. There's ambience downtown because of NOLS. There's a real value for the city and all the retailers with the students and staff in the downtown area. My preference was to keep NOLS in this downtown setting and it thrilled me to have the opportunity to create some jobs with one of our largest existing employers."
"This is another example where a small investment at the right time assisted a major company in Wyoming to be able to move forward on a decision which now will benefit the entire region," added John Reardon, CEO of the Wyoming Business Council. "It was a pleasure for the WBC to work with a company with such a worldwide reputation."
The school, which has felt the need for expansion of its headquarters facilities for some time, initially looked at several options in and around Lander. John Gans said the donation of the land by the Tiptons enabled the school to stay in the downtown area. "Our staff had a bias to downtown Lander," said Gans, "and the study revealed that so do our alumni. They told us that Lander is a part of their NOLS experience, so we were quite happy that we can now merge our plans with the Tiptons' gift and establish a campus downtown."
NOLS announced an $8 million endowment campaign in October 1998, and according to Gans, "We are also firmly in agreement with alumni, who felt we should complete the Campaign for Leadership on its original timeline and celebrate that completion before we begin any active fundraising for new facilities."
Reaction from NOLS staff on the facilities decision has been positive. Cheryl Jones, a Lander native who has worked at the school for more than a decade, and whose two daughters are also employees at NOLS, said that she's happy about the plans.
"I'm excited to see how NOLS and Lander have changed over the years," she said. "It makes me proud to know that NOLS is so committed to this community and to staying in and improving a historic building like the Noble Hotel."
Gans noted that the school wants to set an example for responsible development with a balance of parking, office space and green space. NOLS plans to begin building by 2001, with completion slated in a number of phases.