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Tear down old school building, don't sell public property

| April 29, 2005 12:00 AM

To the Editor:

I would like to review some of the real issues we face on the old Lincoln School building.

The building has been vacant for approximately five years. It has been through several freeze-thaw cycles. There is no heat, power or water connected to the building. The roof leaks and there is masonry deterioration on all walls. The building is located on the "gut."

In my quest to determine the validity of restoration I looked for the real issues and costs we face.

I developed the following list of criteria:

1. Historical data: Built approximately 1918 and is 31,000 square feet.

2. Community Survey: I surveyed over 80 businesses in the downtown and surrounding area. The results were almost 100 percent for demolition. Community groups including Chamber of Commerce, Healthy Communities Initiative, Libby Parks Board, county commissioners, sheriff, police fire department, Nordicfest committee, Igniters Club, Logger Days committee, Rotary, Kiwanis, Irish Fair Board and Kootenai Heritage Council also supported demolition.

3. What non-profit group could sponsor this major project?

4. What is the plan? Purchase or lease the property?

5. Facility use? What would it cost? How would we raise funds?

6. Building requirements: Architect design and blue prints; seismic update; Americans with Disabilities Act (elevator); state and local building inspection; fire codes; insurance; asbestos abatement; mold inspection; contractors and masons.

7. Other Community Projects: Downtown Revitalization estimate $7.6 million, city water, streets and sewers $20 million, Port Authority property $55 million.

8. Who are we as a community? Low tax base, high unemployment, small population with below average income and an EPA Superfund site.

New or old building costs have soared in recent years. Expanded building codes, abatement requirements, cost of materials, labor, insurance and utilities have made construction of new or renovated property extremely expensive. Whitefish School District constructed a new building identical to the old and saved $3 million.

Cost is only one factor. A broad base of community support and a well-organized group with a specific direction is imperative for success. I found neither existed in my local survey. The most important factor is the cost benefit analysis. Most large facilities in Libby have a government or public tenant to create the income base. I know of no tenant to support occupancy of a 31,000 square foot building.

The real question is are we willing to sell public property for private use?

I feel we are an event-oriented community and our economic future can be enhanced by leaving this property in public control. The real truth is if we sell the property to the highest bidder the building will be torn down, we will have lost the property forever, and what will be built?

When you vote consider the true value of this property. Once public property is sold it is gone forever.

Vote no - do not sell public property.

Gary Huntsberger