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Group offers to purchase old school

| June 25, 2004 12:00 AM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

A local group interested in renovating the old Libby High School building offered to purchase the building from the school district at a regular board meeting on Tuesday evening.

Vicki Munson of the Friends of Historic Libby High School told the board that a group of private investors had committed $100,000 to purchase the old high school building.

Covenants could be inserted into the purchase agreement by the district, Munson said, to ensure the building is used in a manner compatible with the trustees¹ wishes.

³This would be contingent upon mutually agreed upon terms,² Munson said.

The property would be sold as-is, absolving the district from any further liability. The purchasers would foot the bill for asbestos abatement, freeing up $34,000 originally budgeted by the district to finance the cleanup.

The purchase agreement Munson submitted to the trustees said that the grounds of the building could be used for community events such as Nordicfest and Logger Days.

³Other suggested uses include a park-like setting, parking for events at the building and at the memorial center, monument sculpture garden and/or fountain/splash pad, and use of the band shell for public events,² the agreement read.

A renovation proponent from the Montana Preservation Alliance emphasized to the board that demolition of the building is irreversible.

³If you sell the property for renovation purposes and it doesn¹t work out, then at least you tried,² he said. ³If you tear it down, it¹s permanent. As a thought for the future, the building could be a source of reinvigoration.²

Munson¹s group presented one of the three proposals the board will examine before deciding on the fate of the old high school building. Former trustee Lee Disney submitted a letter to the board advocating selling the structure and property.

³I think you ought to sell it, I really do,² he said. ³It would give you a plus instead of negatives. The district can always use some extra money. We¹ve never been flush. It¹s our job to get the biggest bang for the buck and use it for our children.²

Disney said that should the district decide to sell the building outright, the option could be put on a ballot in November to give the community an opportunity to vote on the decision.

Gary Huntsberger, who proposed demolishing the building months ago, told the trustees that they would need to submit a proposal to the Libby Area Development Company before the group would consider doling out funds for the razing.

Huntsberger said that the struggling Libby economy would not be able to support a project like the proposed building renovation.

³I have no problem with the other proposals, but I have a problem with the reality of the other proposals,² he said.

Trustee Jim England said that the old high school building has become the board¹s cross to bear.

³That building is an albatross and it¹s consuming all of our time and energy,² he said.

To put the district in a legal position to sell or demolish the property, the board passed a resolution allowing for disposal of the property.

³The resolution really moves the ball forward,² said Superintendent Kirby Maki. ³It allows us to proceed.²

The resolution allows the district to dispose of property that is or about to become abandoned, obsolete, undesirable, or unsuitable for school purposes.

Before making a decision, Maki agreed that the building should be appraised to give the board an accurate picture of the property¹s worth.

³I think we need to know how much this is worth,² said trustee Kate Huntsberger.

If the trustees decide to sell the building to the Friends of Historic Libby High School, they will consider placing the option on a special ballot, allowing for community input.

³This is an important thing,² Maki said. ³This could be a way to let the people decide.²

Until the board commits to one of the proposals, to minimize the district¹s liability the area around the decrepit building will be fenced and signs will be posted to dissuade people from trespassing.