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Old school confab scheduled Dec. 1

| November 10, 2005 11:00 PM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

Libby School District Superintendent Kirby Maki and the Board of Trustees will meet in Libby next month with a Spokane development company that has expressed interest in renovating historic Libby High School.

The tentative date for the session is Dec. 1, although an exact time and place have not been set, said Betty Jo Wood, executive director of Libby Revitalization Inc. Wood said she has been talking with representatives of Conover Bond Development for nearly a year about the old high school.

Libby School Board members voted in September to demolish the building. However, an Oct. 1 letter of interest from Conover Bond convinced them to keep the issue open a little longer.

On Tuesday, the school board authorized Maki to attend the Governor's Study Commission on Historic and Cultural Resources in Helena on Nov. 14 to meet with Conover Bond officials who planned to attend the event.

Board member Jim England said he favored sending the superintendent, although other board members were initially cool to the idea.

"If they were interested, they'd contact us," board member Lisa Bardole said.

"The mood I'd like to cast on this is they come to us, we don't go to them," board member John Herrmann said.

But board chairwoman Teri Kelly said there wasn't anything wrong with Maki making contact in Helena, and possibly setting up a meeting in Libby.

"We chose to delay so they can get whatever information they have and bring it to us," she said. "If there's anything new, they'll bring it to us. If they have a good plan, then great."

Since Tuesday's school board agenda meeting, Maki's trip to Helena has been called off and the Libby meeting is on. Representatives from the Montana Preservation Alliance and the National Trust for Historic Preservation also will come here for the talks, Wood said.

"The project is in Libby, not Helena," Wood said. "It makes a lot of sense to me."

Members of Friends of Historic Libby High School, Libby Revitalization Inc., and city of Libby staff members also are being invited to the meeting.

On Oct. 20, Ryan Romaneski of Conover Bond and representatives of the two other groups sent a letter to Libby School Board members saying they "would like to further discuss the redevelopment of the historic Libby High School."

"We believe it is feasible to successfully redevelop the school, and that it will become a true asset to the community," they wrote. "The success of such a project requires participation by the entire Libby community. We appreciate the additional time that the Trustees of Libby Schools have granted to further explore options."

The board advertised the building for sale with an asking price of $350,000. Friends of Historic Libby High School offered $100,000 and pledged $250,000 worth of in-kind improvements to the building.

The board rejected the offer, saying it was too low. No one else made an offer before the deadline.

Ryan Romaneski, Conover Bond's director of new market developments, did not include a specific offer in his original letter to Maki. However, he said the company has a proven track record of renovating historic buildings.