Tuesday, August 04, 2020
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Assisted-living center planned at defunct Libby school

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | August 1, 2020 1:00 AM

The Lincoln County commissioners provided a letter of support for the Asa Wood Elementary School redevelopment proposal during their July 22 meeting.

Gerald Fritts, chief executive officer of American Covenant Senior Housing Foundation, told commissioners that under current plans, the defunct school would give way to 45 assisted-living units. The proposed plans also include a new building of 5,000 square feet for the Libby Food Pantry.

The assisted-living facility, according to Fritts, will be modeled after the Immanuel Lutheran Communities in Kalispell.

“They’re highly rated, it’s a beautiful facility and we hope to have the same accommodations in this facility,” Fritts said.

To purchase the property and finance construction, Fritts told the commissioners his foundation has a budget of $10.5 million. The facility, according to Fritts, will employ about 22 people.

Built in the 1950s, Asa Wood closed its doors to students in 2011. Although tax dollars still fund maintenance of the structure, the building mainly is used by the school district as storage space. Several community groups, including the Libby Food Pantry and the Libby Area Community Garden, also use the property.

Under the American Covenant plan, these organizations can continue their onsite services.

Fritts sketched out the timeline of the project for the commissioners. In August or September, American Covenant should have its costing and final application for funding complete. Assuming no delays, the deal could close as soon as this fall. At the latest, it will be finalized in February.

Fritts said American Covenant will host a community meeting near the closing date to give contractors the opportunity to get involved in the project.

Already, though, the deal has seen setbacks.

“The new word is flexiture, a mix of flexible and structure,” Libby Schools Superintendent Ron Goodman said when explaining the situation.

Fritts told commissioners project managers are seriously considering an additional kitchen for the Libby Public School District.

Mention of the possibility of an additional kitchen came after a July 13 Libby School Board meeting. According to Goodman, American Covenant offered to construct a new kitchen for the school district but asked for tax break purposes that it be built on the Asa Wood site.

“What we’re looking at is a brand new kitchen slash food pantry,” Goodman said during the school board meeting. “This would be a good thing for us and a good thing for them.”

According to Goodman, a team of EPA contractors, who were supposed to conduct a cost assessment of the removal of asbestos and other hazardous material on the property in recent days, had to postpone their visit due to the pandemic. The inspection is part of the county’s bid for a federal Brownfields Program grant to cover the cost of cleaning up the Asa Wood site in advance of redevelopment.

The school district also is partnering with the Montana School Board Association to renegotiate its buy-sell agreement with American Covenant. Goodman said the new agreement ensures the property would return to the district’s ownership rather than being put up for auction if American Covenant were unable to complete its facility.

In their letter of support, the county commissioners recognized the boon an assisted-living facility would be for the area.

“We believe the proposed facility would provide needed services to the aging population within our community,” the letter reads. “We agree that the reduction of financial burden currently incurred by the Libby School District as well as the creation of employment, will benefit the citizens of Libby.”