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Old school committee hears parking concerns

| May 25, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

A committee studying the sale of old Libby High School has begun brainstorming covenants that could be placed on the property, including one to retain the public parking lot.

Parking - or the possible loss of it next to the Memorial Center - occupied much of Monday's meeting between three school district trustees looking into details of a sale. It also drew comments from members of the public who were on hand.

Gary Huntsberger, speaking as president of the Heritage Council, called parking a key issue if the building is sold.

"That parking lot is very important to our future," he said. "The Memorial Center obviously calls for a parking lot."

Pam Peppenger, a spokeswoman for Libby Logger Days, said those involved with that annual event fear losing access to the land around the old school. Logger Days moved there for the first time last year, she said, and it gave the event a big boost.

"We want to make sure we have availability down here," Peppenger said. "We want something the whole community can enjoy.

"Everything is just one hundred percent perfect for us here."

Libby School District trustees Jim England, Kate Huntsberger and Melanie Wood urged Peppenger to have a Logger Days representative write a letter to the committee stating the group's case.

"I'd like to see all those people who use it give us letters," Kate Huntsberger said.

Earlier, Lee Disney raised the question of what would happen to public parking in the event of a sale. He said it's not unlikely that whoever buys the property would charge monthly rates or fees for single-event parking.

"It becomes a revenue source for the land owner," Disney said.

Trustees decided to compile lists of potential covenants on their own and have them reviewed by an attorney.

"Part of what concerns me is what we can put in there," England said of covenants.

The group emphasized the need to have covenants recorded at the city clerk's office before advertisements for buyers were released.

Wood said she prefers "proposal" rather than "bid" when it comes times to solicit offers. That's because the sale won't necessarily go to the highest bidder, she said, with future purpose of the building also a factor.

There was discussion Monday about placing a timeline on the purchaser so the building does not continue to sit idle. England suggested there might be a series of deadlines, such as getting electricity and heat installed as a first step.

Committee members also talked about the need to see a business plan covering the buyer's intended use.

"We have to be very specific," Wood said.

Superintendent Kirby Maki said there have been feelers from potential buyers, even without official advertisements.

"We've had several different developers call to look at the building," he said. "They were interested in that building … but didn't tell me what their plans were."

The trustee committee will meet again Tuesday, May 31, at 11 a.m. in the school district administration building. The meeting is open to the public.