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Trustees to hear demolition proposals in May

| April 23, 2004 12:00 AM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

Proposals for demolition of the old Libby High School building will be brought before the Libby School Board next month, said Gary Huntsberger on Tuesday night at a regular school board meeting.

³We¹re getting closer and we will have a total pack of proposals by next meeting,² he said.

Several months ago the board granted Huntsberger permission to pursue funding to accomplish the demolition. The former board member came forward after no other groups or organizations offered alternatives.

³I go back to the beginning,² Superintendent Kirby Maki said. ³Nobody¹s taken the steps Gary has.²

Prior to speaking with contractors about the logistics and costs involved with demolition, Huntsberger blanketed the community with a survey, soliciting input on the future of the old building. An overwhelming number of people were in favor of demolition.

Huntsberger recently returned to the community to gather feedback on the board¹s decision to allow him to pursue demolition. Once again, the businesses, agencies, organizations, and individuals surveyed were in support of razing the building.

³I felt this was very important,² he said. ³I didn¹t get 100 percent, but a large majority gave support to head in that direction.²

Maki received a letter from the Montana Historical Preservation Society at the end of last month, cautioning the district from moving ahead too quickly given the building¹s historic significance.

³An important point we ask you to consider in your decision is that the Libby High School is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places,² wrote Historic Architecture Specialist Pete Brown. ³Because of its eligibility status, any federally funded undertaking on this building will require review by the Montana State Historic Preservation Office under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.²

Money contributed by the school district would be limited to $30,000 budgeted for asbestos abatement of the building. Maki is researching the validity of Brown¹s claims, although the district money would not be considered federal.

Huntsberger has approached the Libby Area Development Company for possible funding, which would equate to federal money being used. He said he would also research the legalities before returning to the LADC.

³We knew this was going to be controversial,² he said. ³There was no doubt about that.²

The district has been mulling over the future of the old high school building for years. During a recent tour of the decrepit facility, the city building inspector determined that the building would need to be fenced in the near future to protect passersby from decaying bricks at the top of the structure.

³That wouldn¹t look good at all and it would limit access to the park area,² Maki said.

Board member Jim England applauded the district for spending money to make McGrade accommodating to the state agencies that will lease the building. Given the amount of time the old high school building has been vacant, he said a similar plan would not be plausible.

³I don¹t see that happening in this case,² England said.

An unsightly fence and falling bricks would be bad for community morale, board member Melanie Wood said. With summer events approaching, the building could become an eyesore.

A petition to renovate and save the building has been circulating Libby. Huntsberger acknowledged the effort, adding that other interested parties have not stepped forward and taken initiative.

³I¹m at least here each meeting, telling everyone what I¹m doing,² he said. ³Nobody in over two years has done that.²

If asbestos abatement is not completed before the end of the fiscal year, the money allotted for the procedure will not be carried forward to next year¹s budget.

³That money has to be used,² Maki said. ³I love old buildings, but right now it¹s a liability. We have to make some decisions.²

In other business:

The board passed a resolution declaring 323 square feet of school property unsuitable for school purposes to allow the district to sell the land to the Montana Department of Transportation.

The state agency will be making stoplight improvements around the Libby schools, including the rounding of a curb on the corner of Louisiana Ave. and U.S. Highway 2.

³That will be a major enhancement for the entire town,² Maki said.