Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Grant could lead to new fire station

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| June 18, 2009 12:00 AM

With $210 million in stimulus funds available nationwide to build or renovate fire department buildings, firefighters see a good opportunity for the Libby Volunteer Fire Department. Their original idea of tearing down the old city hall and building new, however, is not likely to happen on Libby City Council’s watch.

After assistant fire marshal Bill Watt presented the department’s ideas at Monday’s meeting and asked for the city’s permission to apply for the grant, Mayor Doug Roll asked, “Are you talking about tearing (the old) city hall down?”

“Yes,” Watt replied, appearing to surprise Roll and some council members.

Watt said that with the problems of the building – asbestos and outdated electrical and plumbing – it’s more cost-effective to build new than to renovate.

“I don’t think we’re going to approve tearing down the old city hall,” Roll said.  He explained that not only were he and the council against demolishing a historical building, but many people in the community would be, as well.

Located on Mineral Avenue and West Sixth Street, the brick building currently houses the Libby Police Department, the Montana Highway Patrol and three LVFD vehicles. The LVFD’s offices and remaining garage space are located in the building next door.

Watt suggested that if a grant were secured, LPD and MHP could take up residence in LVFD’s current building, leaving one large, centrally-located area – the old city hall – for a new building. He added that the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to tear down the building at no cost, a saving to the city of about $350,000.

The council voted unanimously to allow Watt to apply for the grant on the condition that he does not include in the application plans to tear down the building.

Councilmember Peggy Williams was hesitant to vote on the measure so soon after it was introduced even with the stipulation.

“I don’t like hasty decisions, and I feel like that’s what this is,” she said before the vote.

The council was rushed because the July 10 grant application deadline is fast approaching. In order to apply, Watt explained, the fire department must have available land that has utilities and is zoned for a fire hall.

“My first choice is to tear the whole thing down and start from ground zero,” Watt said later, “but we will have to look at other options.”

LVFD has identified other possible locations for a new building, such as Kootenai Industrial Business Park or the camping area at Fireman’s Park. Watt explained that the current location is the most ideal, but that the cost to renovate the old city hall or to at least build around its façade could be immense. He hopes to have something on paper for the application by next week. 

Watt foresees a two-story building similar to the Libby Volunteer Ambulance facility with five long bays for its trucks and some space to eventually accommodate bedrooms and a fitness room. A new building, based off of LVA, would cost roughly $1.8 million to $3 million, Watt said. 

In other news at Monday’s meeting,

• The city unanimously approved a mail-in election for its primary and general municipal elections this year.

• The council unanimously voted to allow LVFD to use the Lee Gehring Field for donkey baseball as part of the department’s 100-year anniversary in July 2011. Watt assured the council that the animals would not tear up the field.

• In a 6-0 vote, the council awarded Edstrom Construction a contract for the Cabinet Heights sewer extension project on the condition that the city acquires all needed funding.