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The Old School

| January 18, 2007 11:00 PM

It's disappointing to hear that ConoverBond is no longer interested in renovating the old high school building in downtown Libby, but it doesn't come as a big surprise.

Stated reasons included the cost effectiveness of renovating the building in light of a recent $240,000 appraisal of the property along with a perceived lack of support by the school district and local government.

With renovation costs estimated at $2.5 million or more and the downtown Libby economy not exactly booming, it's easy to see why ConoverBond - which is, after all, in business to make money - may have been reluctant to invest wholeheartedly in the project.

The company had earlier proposed a partnership with the school district in which the district would donate the building as its share, and ConoverBond would be responsible for renovation and development. Profits would be split proportionately according to an agreed upon formula. School officials showed no interest in the plan and indicated they wanted to be free and clear of any association with the property.

The city council displayed a decidedly lukewarm reaction to suggestions that the city could be one of the renovated building's anchor tenants. While some council members showed a glimmer of interest, the bottom line for the city is that it owns the current City Hall outright and would be paying rent if it moved its offices. Mayor Tony Berget has said the city might consider the move, but it first has to find a tenant for the old Champion office building where its offices are now located. I think even the mayor would admit that the Champion building was built in a good spot for the offices of a lumber mill but a terrible location for City Hall, but rent-free is rent-free.

There is some hope. A Kalispell firm is now showing an interest in tackling the project that ConoverBond has turned down. Scott Holdings hasn't yet submitted a formal proposal to the school board, so it's too soon to tell what might happen there.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping Scott Holdings will come up with a workable plan that will save the old school from the wrecking ball. It would be a shame to lose one of Libby's few architecturally significant structures due to a lack of money or vision. - Brent Shrum