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Old school decision delayed one month

| May 21, 2004 12:00 AM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

A local group interested in renovating the old Libby High School building was given until the end of next month to locate funds to stabilize the structure until further dollars can be secured, the Libby School Board decided at a regular meeting Tuesday night.

Vicki Munson of the Friends of Historic Libby High School presented possibilities for renovating the school, including potential sources of funding and future uses for the building.

Other proponents of renovation in attendance at the meeting discussed the historic significance of the decrepit building and underscored the intrinsic value of the old high school.

³Don¹t throw that historical monument away,² said Bruce Tate of Whitefish, whose father Ralph Tate was a longtime superintendent of Libby schools.

The pro-renovation group asked the school board for time to develop a restoration and funding plan. The school board granted the grass roots contingent until June 30.

Libby resident Gary Huntsberger was given the same deadline in February when he approached the board asking for time to develop a plan for demolishing the building. If Huntsberger is not able to come up with a plan acceptable to the board, the proposal will be nullified.

The board was adamant that funding would be the deal-breaker in either proposal, for restoration or razing.

³At this time, we¹re not saying it¹s going either way,² said chairperson Teri Kelly. ³It all comes down to money.²

Attending the meeting was a cross-section of the community, each person with their own personal views for the future of the building. Board member Melanie Wood acknowledged the sentimentality attached to a structure like the old high school, but added that the board¹s job is to place the education of children as top priority and the building poses a liability risk to the already financially strapped district.

³We have to weigh liability with sentimentality,² she said.

Libby Fire Chief Tom Wood emphasized the direness of the building¹s

condition. City Building Inspector John Norberg has also expressed his concerns with the structure and if not condemned by him, Wood said he could be forced to fence off the building and declare it a fire hazard.

³The city¹s got to do something one way or another,² he said.

Selling the building outright was another option discussed at the meeting. Although the idea found supporters in the community cross-section assembled and in board member Jim England, Superintendent Kirby Maki said that given the proximity of the property to the Central School and administration building, the board would be concerned with their new neighbor should the building be sold.

Former school board member Lee Disney suggested selling the building to generate much-needed school funds and to downsize assets.

³It¹s one other option and it might save you money and from having to tear it down,² he said.

Friends of Historic Libby High School will work feverishly in the next five weeks to locate sufficient funding to stabilize the building until more money is made available through grants and other sources.

In the meantime, Huntsberger said his plan is coming together and that he is now waiting for the remaining demolition bids. He was optimistic that his proposal would be available to the board by next month¹s board meeting, days before the deadline.