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Libby School Board ponders about what to do with Asa Wood

by Brandon RobertsWestern News
| January 21, 2009 11:00 PM

Certain issues arise for the Libby School District when consensus is easily achieved. One of those discussions involves building a new elementary school to replace the 56-year-old Asa Wood building.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting, proposals on the project were reintroduced.

Superintendent Kirby Maki enlisted the assistance of architect John Peterson with Architects by Design in Kalispell, who has drawn up plans and presented construction cost estimates for a new building and a remodel of the existing structure.

“I am concerned with the condition of the school,” said Paula Darko-Hensler, School Board trustee. “These are our youngest kids and the most vulnerable.”

Trustee Gela Koehler said no money has been put into the elementary building for years. 

Maki informed trustees and meeting attendees that the building is “definitely in need of work.”

Former Trustee Gary Huntsberger said Asa Wood might be too far gone to sink money into the existing building.

“The school has got to go,” he said. “I think we need that new school and I think we can get it.

“That is when a levy is going to come forward. The most important role for the board is community relations,” Huntsberger said.

Maki said a 2010 appropriations request for $12.2 million has been sent to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Finance Committee chairman.

“We are requesting to be placed on the President’s Budget Request for FY2010 to receive as much funding as possible to help us finance the total cost of this project, … for a modern facility that provides for the safety and academic needs of our children,” the letter states.

A new school could fluctuate in cost, with a high figure of $14.2 million if a large gymnasium is included. Maki said a new building could be ready in a year’s time from groundbreaking.

A forecast on remodeling the existing structure would cost $15 million-plus and take several years to finalize due to construction during the school year and the transporting of children to different areas while sections are completed.

The letter also mentions the Feb. 22, 2008 incident when snow removal equipment knocked a hole in the building. The incident exposed children to asbestos during recess.

“The (Environmental Protection Agency) has refused to remove the hazard from the walls of our schools claiming that the insulation does not pose a health risk, unless disturbed; the recent incident has reaffirmed the need to protect our children and community from potential exposure to (asbestos),” the letter reads.

Maki said the district should know about funding in a couple of months. He also said the board should hope for full federal funding but that consideration should also be given to a bond to pay for construction.

Asa Wood principal Margie O’Brien-Johnson said Tony Snyder and the maintenance crews have been putting in a lot of extra time dealing with leaks in classrooms, offices and hallways.

The leaks have not only put holes in the school’s ceiling tiles and percolated through the asbestos insulation, but standing water has also created another potential health hazard, mold.

One office has already been diagnosed with a mold problem and O’Brien-Johnson said her office ventilation is a cracked window.