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Potential buyer eyes Asa Wood site

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | July 16, 2021 7:00 AM

With a federal grant in hand to clean up the Asa Wood property, administrators with Libby Public Schools are courting another buyer for the defunct elementary school building and grounds.

Superintendent Ron Goodman said a California-based senior healthcare provider was interested in buying the property for $730,000.

Executives with Compass Health Inc. have outlined plans to build 35- to 45-unit assisted living complex on the lot. The envisioned facility would include independent living units, a medical office and commercial opportunities, according to a letter from Darren Smith, CEO and owner of the company.

Were this plan to fall through, Smith said his company could develop the lot into homes. He envisioned setting aside part of the property for senior and low-income senior housing. This secondary plan could include commercial and mixed-use buildings along the section of the property facing U.S. Highway 2.

“Either of these plans would be tailored to meet the needs and interests of the community,” Smith wrote in the letter to Goodman. “Our motivation is not financial but rather to have an opportunity to enjoy a project outside of our home state of California.”

Along with ensuring the district receives a good deal on the sale, Goodman has said he wants to see the new owner build something of value for the community on the lot.

“One of my great desires is not to have this problem where 10 years from now Asa Wood is still sitting there, except there’s no windows, it’s just broken glass,” he said during a July 12 school board meeting.

Board members said they would like to include a revert clause in the buy-sell agreement. This clause would require the buyer to return the property to the district if they did not begin developing the lot within two years. Under the clause, the district would have to reimburse the buyer for the cost of the sale.

In a follow up interview, Goodman said that Compass executives were on board with the revert clause. The company has also said they would allow the district to retain their kitchen on the property for as long as needed.

The buy-sell agreement is contingent upon the district cleaning up the building. Libby administrators secured a $388,000 grant from the EPA to mitigate asbestos, lead-based paint and mercury-based thermostats on the property. Clean up is scheduled to begin in October and will last for a year.

The district is waiting to hear back from the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation on a grant to inspect an underground storage tank on the property. While school officials have no reason to believe the heating oil tank is punctured, Goodman said the buy-sell agreement could be put in jeopardy if inspectors discover it is leaking.

Goodman said he and Lori Benson, school board chair, would continue working on the buy-sell agreement. School board members will have a chance to review the contract before it is signed.