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Couple wants a fiber mill at old school


A conditional-use permit may be the best way Grand Coulee can move forward to allow a Grand Coulee couple to purchase Center School.

Mervin and MaryJo Monteith appeared before the planning commission last week to pursue interest in putting in a fiber processing center in the old Center School building.

The city’s planning commission was unable to move forward on the issue because only Chairman Tammara Byers was present for the meeting.

The city did have its planner, Jerry Litt, of SCJ Alliance, at the meeting, trying to walk the re-zone request through the zoning process.

The Center School and property on which sits is currently zoned R-1 (residential).

The Monteiths explained that they represent the North American Wool Cooperative (NAWC) out of Oroville, a non-profit group. Its president, Vicki Eberhart, attended the meeting.

They said that any equipment needed for processing animal fibers would fit in a medium-size room. Parking wouldn’t be a problem, even if the fiber mill had full employment (from 27-37 workers), because the school currently has enough off street parking.

A Grand Coulee businessman, Dale Baty, who had had an interest in purchasing the property earlier, cautioned the couple about the high water and energy costs at the site. An average monthly water, sewer and garbage bill for the Center School was about $2,005, school officials noted, and the power bill was $1,550 a month. Baty said the estimate for razing the building was $350,000 to $500,000.

The property had been assessed at more than $2.7 million by Grant County, putting a large tax burden on any purchaser, but that seemingly wouldn’t be a problem for a non-profit operation. “To get non-profit status, any buyer would have to apply to the state, and if that was granted they wouldn’t have to pay real-estate taxes,” according to Melissa McKnight at the Grant County Assessor’s office. McKnight said the school is up for a reassessment this year.

Assessments are based on square footage, a market multiplier, and various other factors, she said. The land is assessed at $40,370.

The school and its property sit on about an 8.3-acre parcel.

If the couple is able to purchase the school, the Monteiths could see a fiber processing operation, a library holding information on animal fibers and animal husbandry, a fiber art gallery, a retail store featuring articles made from animal fiber, an education complex for such groups as 4-H and community gatherings, and more.

The school district purchased the building last October for $155,000 and a current appraisal came in at $190,000.

The district advertised the building for sale earlier this year, but no one bid on it.

The Monteiths have an alpaca farm in Lincoln County with about 40 animals.

The couple got some support from the economic development committee of the Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce.

Writing for the committee was Debbie Starkey, who stated: “Mr. and Mrs. Monteith have shown interest in the property with an eye to the future; future jobs, future use of an old, empty building and the budding of a future new industry in the coulee. While concerns have been voiced in the past of granting conditional-use permits, appropriateness always needs to be one of the driving forces. A small, clean, non-invasive industry with minimal traffic is certainly an attribute to our community.

“The Economic Development/Schools Committee, a subcommittee of the Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce, has worked hand-in-hand with the school district with concerns that these buildings (including the middle school) can be of benefit to the community and do not sit and deteriorate and become an eyesore, if not a hazard. Here we have a very viable option and it is our concern that obstacles such as zoning do not present an insurmountable barrier that will prevent growth and progress and enhancements to our community.

“This committee requests that the zoning committee look for options or appropriate avenues so that the further progress on this purchase and new industry can move forward.”

School Superintendent Dennis Carlson said that the district will not need to re-advertise the property, but it would be up to the school board to approve any offer.

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