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Asa Wood fate to be put on agenda

by The Western News
| January 3, 2012 10:54 AM

Superintendent urges board to put item on January docket

With the understanding that action soon is necessary to get consideration on the EPA’s spring work list, Libby School District 4 is expected to make a decision on razing contaminated wall sections of Asa Wood Elementary School.

During their recent meeting, board officials were urged to take action on the recommendations of its Building Committee as to the fate of 50-plus-year-old building. Upon the end of the 2010-’11 school year in May, the district closed the school and began a renovation and consolidation process that produced two campuses.

“We’ve got to make a decision,” Superintendent K.W. Maki said last Tuesday morning, the day after the board’s meeting.

“I strongly suggest a decision in January. Right now, we’re turning the boiler on for one hour to keep the building warm enough,” he said. “We’re trying to be fiscally responsible.”

Maki said he has had conversations with the EPA’s Remedial Project Manager Mike Cirian.

“Mike said if we are to get the EPA’s assistance in this project (in 2012), we need to make a decision soon so it can be considered,” Maki said.

Cirian, reached Thursday, said scheduling the project soon is a necessity.

“If we do something next year, it needs to be (scheduled) as soon as possible,” Cirian said.

The local EPA official said he then would “make a recommendation based on merit to his superiors at the EPA for approval.

“I can make the recommendation, but they have the final decision,” Cirian said.

Cirian was quick to point out the EPA only would be able to assist in the project with portions of the building that contain the cancer-causing substance of vermiculite, a substance mined here in Libby used for insulation.

The walls have been tested, and Maki has recommended the district  raze about three-fifths of the current building, which includes the West Wing that contains the library and the south wing, Maki said pointing at a floor plan of the school. The South Wing is the same area that was damaged in January when an ice dam in Flower Creek pushed eight inches of water into that section of the building.

The superintendent said it appears to be the board’s sentiment to keep only the North Wing, which includes the gymnasium and the classrooms north of the main entrance along Idaho Avenue. That configuration includes eight classrooms, the school office, the principal’s office, a room just south of the principal’s office, the gymnasium and two rooms across from the gymnasium that at one point were locker rooms and could be converted to bathrooms.  Currently, there are two bathrooms — a boys’ and a girls’ about midway down the North Wing Hall on the west side of the building.

“The public has indicated it wants the gymnasium and meeting rooms,” Maki said. “This plan considers that while minimizing the amount of the building we’d have to heat. Ideally, we’d like to get this to the point where it is self-sufficient, community center that fees will pay for the lights and the heat,” Maki said.

While the superintendent favors a demolition of two of the three wings, Board member Lee Disney, who chairs the Building Committee that will make a proposal on the fate of the building, says not so fast.

“We’re going to recommend the demolition of just the West Wing,” Disney said. “(Superintendent Maki) Kirby wants to knock down perfectly good walls, which I am opposed to. Yes, I think we should take down the walls where there is Zonolite (vermiculate), and we should do it while the EPA is here. But I’m against taking down the South Wing, too. If they board votes to take it down, too, that’s it’s choice.”

Essentially, the plan is to cut the 43,060-square-foot building down to about 18,000-square-feet, or down to about 40 percent of what it is now.

Maki said the decision to keep the North Wing, which he said is actually three years older than the rest of the building makes sense mostly because of the absence of vermiculite but also because of its proximity to the gymnasium.

“There are people who’d like to keep the library, but as you can see,” Maki said pointing at the floor plan, “the walls around the library and laden with vermiculite. What then? Then it becomes a construction project for (building) the fourth wall (of the library).”

Maki said a decision soon on the building will lead to the downsizing of the building that will cut heating and lighting costs while also getting the assistance of the EPA.

“If we put this off a year, or later, what do we do if they are unable to help,” Maki said. “Getting the EPA on board now just makes sense.”

The board will take up the issue at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17.