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LADC hears proposals on school, arena

| May 28, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

Meeting without a quorum on Wednesday, two Libby Area Development Co. board members heard proposals on the construction of an outdoor event arena at J. Neils Park and the demolition of the old high school building.

Ralph Heinert and Don Bernall presented Jim Morey and Bob Parker — the only LADC members at Wednesday¹s informal meeting — with a briefing on their proposal to build an arena capable of hosting rodeos and other events at the county park. The cost of the project is estimated at $75,000 to build a 150-by-280-foot fenced arena plus $170,000 for a 1,000-seat roofed grandstand for a total of $245,000.

Heinert and Bernall said they would like to have the arena built in time for a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo scheduled for July 30-31, although they acknowledged that the grandstand would most likely have to wait until next spring. The rodeo is expected to become an annual event.

Heinert said the arena should pay for itself in two to three years. He estimated that two planned annual events — a rodeo and a bull riding event — would bring 2,000 people to town. If each spent $100, that would add up to $200,000, he said.

³You can¹t say that it¹s going to add jobs; you can¹t even say that it¹s going to prevent businesses from leaving,² Heinert said. ³But it¹s sure going to help.²

In addition to rodeos, the arena could host other activities like various horse events, outdoor concerts, logging contests and motorcycle events, Bernall said.

³It¹s about getting people in here to see this country so we¹re not all passing around the same $20 bill,² he said. ³Let them bring in another $20 bill and pass it around.²

The LADC members also heard a proposal from city councilman and former school board member Gary Huntsberger for the demolition of the old high school building at the corner of Mineral Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard. Huntsberger is seeking $66,000 to add to $34,000 the school district has set aside to fund the demolition.

A group interested in saving the building approached the school board in April 2002, but no preservation plan has been forthcoming, Hunstberger said.

³It¹s two years later and at this time we still don¹t have any concrete cost or estimate of what renovation would take,² he said.

Huntsberger said it would be less expensive ³to tear that building down and build one just like it,² than to renovate it.

³Most of the real estate people I talked with thought that property was worth a lot more without that building than with that building if the school district were to sell it,² he said.

Bob and Vicki Munson, representing the recently formed ³Friends of Historic Libby High School,² also attended the meeting and urged restraint. The Munsons said they are working on plans to find a private buyer for the building to facilitate renovation.

Representatives of an architectural firm specializing in historic buildings will be looking at the old school next week, the Munsons said, and the group will present a full plan to the school board on June 22.

³We just think it isn¹t of economic utility to just demolish that building without exhausting other efforts,² Vicki Munson said.

Kootenai River Development Corp. director and LADC adviser Paul Rumelhart had previously proposed that advocates of preserving the building and those in favor of demolishing it cooperate on a joint request for $150,000 to cover the school district¹s cost to either stabilize the building for renovation or to prepare the building for demolition and begin redeveloping the site. But a document presented to the LADC by the Munsons on behalf of the Friends of Historic Libby High School expressed skepticism about Rumelhart¹s proposal, concluding that ³the real motive is to find funding for demolition with a thinly disguised offer to have the school board consider either option.²

Both the arena proposal and the demolition proposal are scheduled to be presented to the LADC again at a meeting next Wednesday, along with two other proposals originally scheduled for this week but postponed due to the lack of a quorum. The other two proposals are a plan to expand the golf course at Cabinet View Country Club from nine to 18 holes and to fund a variety of improvements at the Libby Area Chamber of Commerce visitor center estimated at $285,000.