Group seeks time to save LibbeyWritten by Kristen Criswell | | email@example.com
A group of concerned citizens and alumni are fighting the demolition of Libbey High School.
The grassroots effort, which calls itself the Libbey Community Preservation Association, has been working for several months to save the building. It also wants the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education to give the group more time. Many members feel the school district is trying to hurry and demolish the school. Members of the group said they would like to have at least six months to explore alternative options for Libbey.
“It would give us more time to find prospective uses and give interested parties more time to evaluate whether they can take on preserving and maintaining the building,” said Larrie Baccus, president of the Libbey Alumni Association and 1973 graduate.
According to the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), the district must begin the demolition process by Dec. 31 to receive funding from the Ohio Board of Education. OSFC will assist TPS with 77 percent of the demolition costs if that deadline is met.
If the district waits, TPS will incur costs to run and maintain the building, and then, if it is later demolished, pay the full price, $2 million to $4 million, said Lisa Sobecki, chairwoman of the OSFC committee.
“There are a few select people that think we’re not being proactive with the building. It’s not about being for or against Libbey,” Sobecki said. “My obligation is to do what’s in the best interest of the taxpayer dollars.”
“We’re not going to stop our demolition process on a hope and a dream, because if no one comes forward, we don’t want to be responsible for the full price of demolition,” she said.
No charter interest
Before proceeding with demolition, the OSFC requires the district to offer the facility to charter schools for 60 days. Twenty-six charter schools have been contacted; none have shown any interest as of Jan. 31, Sobecki said.
The charter schools have until March 3 to respond. If no charter school is interested in the facility, the district will proceed with requesting proposals for abatement and demolition of the school, Sobecki said.
Both the abatement and demolition bids could be sent at the same time and those bids would be awarded six to eight weeks later, she said. The plan is to have the school completely demolished by Dec. 12, she said.
Sobecki said that during the bidding process, the district can still sell the property to an interested party without being subject to soft costs from contractors.
“We can send out the bids, but we don’t have to award anything,” she said. “The critical time is when we go to vote and approve those contractors.”
Sobecki said anyone or any business interested in purchasing all or part of Libbey’s facility should contact the TPS business office right away.
Sobecki said she has spoken with Bob Vasquez, TPS board president, and the TPS board would host a special meeting if an offer comes in to purchase the building.
Warren Woodberry, who helped fight to save Scott High School, said TPS shouldn’t move so quickly and just tear everything down. The South Toledo neighborhood needs the facility to be intact, rather than just an empty space, Woodberry said.
“It could be the Libbey Cowboy Community Center. You could host football, baseball and play league soccer, almost like giving them the YMCA,” he said. “Right now they have nothing in that area. When they look out their doors, there’s nothing to the left or right and they can go back inside and watch TV or join a gang.”
Advocates for the facility said they would like to see all or portions of the school, such as the skills center and field house, utilized. In addition to a community center, some suggested uses for the building include a Toledo/Northwest Ohio Museum, a health care facility, an after-school activities center or a place to feed the hungry. Some in the neighborhood would also like to see manufacturing jobs at the facility.
“I’d like to see sewing and having things made in our community, because [Libbey is] on a bus line and in walking distance for many. The 43609 ZIP code is one of the lowest income ZIP codes in Toledo and surrounding suburbs. Our people want to work, but don’t have jobs,” said Dawn Hall, a neighborhood resident, at a recent preservation meeting. “Instead of people getting welfare, they’ll earn their money and earn their health care.”
Libbey Community Preservation Association is gathering petitions and has hosted a rally to show support for saving the school. The group has also been working to place Libbey High School on the National Register of Historic Places.
Baccus, who had been working to make Libbey a historic site prior to the school closing, said the group is in revision stages with the Ohio Historic Preservation Office and hopes to submit final materials needed for the application soon.
“Our role is to stop the wrecking ball and put Libbey on the national register and make the public aware of the historical significance and why we should preserve it,” he said.
If Libbey is placed on the national register it could qualify for substantial grants and funding that could be used to repair the building, Baccus said.
Sue Terrill, a Libbey alumna who is leading the preservation effort, said, “We need to slow this process down. There’s no reason to wreck this beautiful school when there’s an option to save it. We’re trying to buy more time to come up with a plan. You’re asking people in the poorest part of town, who are suffering the most, for solutions. We need time for leaders to step up; those with connections who can create opportunities for this building.”
Toledo City Councilman D. Michael Collins, who is participating in the group as a private citizen and alumnus, said Libbey deserves to be made a historical site.
“I truly believe that to destroy our past is to challenge our future. Libbey should remain in legacy for alumni who became prominent in their profession and in the memory of Edward Drummond Libbey and his wife Florence Scott this building must be saved,” he said. “I’m not saying every older building in Toledo is worthy of being saved, but there are specific landmarks in the city that are and one is Edward Drummond Libbey High School.”
Collins said if Libbey is made into a historical site it makes it more difficult for the district to demolish. The Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board meets next in April.
Another way the group is working to save Libbey is by bringing people together. Since December, Woodberry has also been working to get business leaders, politicians and community organizations together to discuss possible uses for Libbey.
On March 4, this group of planners, politicians, businessmen and local community organizations will meet to discuss options for Libbey.
“We plan to hold a dialogue to see what can be done to save Libbey. If any plans make sense to do,” Woodberry said. “They’re trying to look at all the options, all the things that can go in, and how they can help find funding. All ideas are on the table.”
Libbey Community Preservation Association will be collecting one-page proposals from community members and businesses interested in the facility to bring along to that meeting, Baccus said.
An auction date has not been set for Libbey. A meeting to discuss possible dates was canceled due to snow.
Sobecki said the district will try and hold off on the auction because some of the things someone who might want to purchase Libbey would want could be sold at auction.
“I’ve been at an auction where they removed hand railings and ceiling tiles. If someone is interested in buying the school building for activities or something to do with education, they might want lockers,” she said. “We want to try and keep it intact for as long as possible to sell it.”
Following a recent tour, some alumni were concerned about trophies and plaques still in the building that were labeled as trash, but at a Jan. 31 OSFC meeting, Sobecki asked Jim Gant, business manager for TPS, to visit every room of the school and remove those items. At the suggestion of Brenda Hill, vice chairwoman of the OSFC, those trophies will be archived and a list of names from the trophies will be available on the TPS website for alumni to claim with proper ID, Sobecki said.
For information, visit www.toledolibbeyhsalumni.com.