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Agreement struck to sell Asa Wood

The Western News | September 17, 2021 7:00 AM

Administrators with Libby Public Schools have entered into an agreement to sell the defunct Asa Wood Elementary School to a California-based health care company.

Superintendent Ron Goodman said executives with Compass Health Inc. have agreed to buy the property for $730,000 and have put down $50,000 in earnest money.

Executives from the company were not immediately available for comment on the agreement.

Earlier this year, Darren Smith, CEO and owner of Compass Health, outlined plans to build a 35-to 45-unit assisted living complex on the property. The facility would feature independent living units, a medical office and commercial opportunities, according to a letter he wrote to Goodman.

If the plan fell through, the company could develop the lot into homes. Smith said Compass Health could set aside a section of the property for senior and low-income housing. The alternative plan mentions the construction of commercial and mixed-use buildings along the stretch of property abutting U.S. Highway 2.

Smith said both plans were aimed at meeting “the needs and interests of the community.”

“Our motivation is not financial but rather to have an opportunity to enjoy a project outside of our home state of California,” Smith wrote in the letter.

Before Compass Health moves in, Libby Public Schools will be responsible for cleaning the property. In May, the district received a $388,000 grant from the EPA to mitigate asbestos, lead-based paint and mercury-based thermostats. The school district has to provide $70,000 in matching funds and in-kind work. Goodman said the district should receive the funds in October and break ground on the project in May or June.

During a Sept. 7 school board meeting, Goodman said NewFields, the environmental consulting company that helped the district secure the EPA grant, had landed another grant to inspect an underground storage tank on the Asa Wood property.

Goodman said inspectors would begin testing the heating oil tank for leaks this fall.

School board members unanimously accepted the abatement proposal for Asa Wood outlined by consultants with NewFields during the Sept. 7 meeting.

Goodman told board members during a Sept. 13 meeting that NewFields consultants would reinspect the Asa Wood building before beginning abatement work. While inspectors with the EPA had already sweeped the school, NewFields contractors said it was not unusual for first wave inspections to miss hazardous materials that could require abatement. If this were the case, Goodman said the federal agency would likely increase the district’s grant award to cover the extra work.

The plans for the final abatement project will depend on how much of the building Compass Health decides it wants to refurbish. Goodman said that company officials might have the choice to leave some potentially hazardous building materials in place, like asbestos tiling, if the material is intact and properly sealed. NewFields contractors anticipate beginning their project design work in December.

In selling the property, the school district will lose the use of the kitchen it houses in the Asa Wood building. While Goodman said Libby Public Schools will retain access to the facility until next summer, the district hopes to transition into a kitchen at the Libby Central School.

Goodman told school board members during the Sept. 7 meeting that he had received a quote of $1.1 million to redo the central school kitchen. Of that, the installation of an elevator would cost around $200,000 and renovations would run $800,000. The superintendent felt the cost was too high and planned to schedule a meeting with another company to discuss the district’s plans.

“I think we need to start thinking in other directions,” he said.

Other organizations that use the Asa Wood building, including the Libby Pantry are still ironing out their relocation plans, according to Goodman. The superintendent said the organizations will likely have to move out sometime between December and February.