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School board ironing out plans for new kitchen

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | November 26, 2021 7:00 AM

A plan to construct a new kitchen for Libby Public Schools is solidifying as district officials move forward with the sale of Asa Wood Elementary School.

After agreeing to sell the defunct school building and grounds to a California-based health care company earlier this year, school officials began zeroing in on a replacement for the Asa Wood kitchen. During a Nov. 8 meeting, Superintendent Ron Goodman presented school board members with updated proposals to build the kitchen within Libby Central School.

The architectural plans, prepared by Jackola Engineering and Architecture, recommend repurposing a section of the building’s ground floor to accommodate a cook line, food prep, dry storage, holding and dishwashing areas. Contractors might append a loading dock, dumbwaiter and walk-in freezer to the outside of the building.

“Bottom line is, it’s looking like it’s going to work,” said Goodman. “I keep waiting for them to say something like ‘Oh we realized the floor isn’t strong enough and we can’t put a stove on it…’ That didn’t happen.”

School board members are considering two floor plan options that differ slightly in the placement of the cook line and food prep areas. Under the district’s preferred option, a wall would divide the two sections of the kitchen. The second option provides a more open floor plan.

To fund the construction, the district will rely on $400,000 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) allocations. The district received these dollars as part of an appropriation from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. In total, Libby Public Schools received more than $4.25 million through two rounds of ESSER funding.

Goodman has justified spending the coronavirus relief funds on the new kitchen by saying that it would help the district continue feeding students in the midst of another pandemic.

Transitioning to a kitchen in the central school also represents significant savings for the district. Heating Asa Wood alone eats up around $20,000 a year. Were the district to stay in Asa Wood, school officials likely would have to cover the installation of a new heating system given the building’s aging boiler, which is due for replacement.

Goodman announced in September that district officials had agreed to sell to Asa Wood for $730,000 to Compass Health Inc.

Earlier this year, executives with the company presented plans to build a 35- to 45-unit assisted living facility on the property. Alternatively, Compass Health has proposed developing the lot into commercial and mix-use buildings and homes with sections for senior and low-income housing.

Before Compass Health begins redeveloping the area, the school district will use a $388,000 grant from the EPA to mitigate asbestos, lead-based paint and mercury-based thermometers. District officials expect to break ground on the project in May or June.