BROKEN BOW – The 84-year-old Custer Elementary School building may be entering its final autumn by most estimates. The Custer Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) placed a $20,000 asbestos abatement bid on the school on Monday, which was unanimously accepted.
The tentative plan, according to the CEDC, is to demolish the school and in its place raise at least 6 single-family homes.
According to CEDC Executive Director Keith Ellis, the driving idea behind the project is to reflect Broken Bow in the best light on its journey into the future.
“We wanted to look longer-term than five to ten years down the road. We don’t know what’s going to happen to that building; if it would continue to remain empty or be used for something that doesn’t restore its historic value. It could be used, short-term, for something that might not be a good image for that neighborhood or our community.”
He says that the purchase of the school, in addition to fostering the population growth in Broken Bow, will help nurture the growth of a workforce that may otherwise not have considered staying in town an option.
In partnership with the school district, the CEDC is strongly considering offering an on-site construction training program for Broken Bow students, a prospect met by the school board with high praise.
“It’s a really creative package of how we can utilize economic development for housing and workforce training for young people so they can advance in their careers. That’s part of our workforce mission: to get highly-trainable students graduating from high school those skills right out of high school and advance them into the workforce with construction knowledge and thus the ability to land employment.”
Ellis understands, however, that while the change is happening quickly, it isn’t inherently easy; the CEDC is, at its core, comprised of community members, and feels just as sharply the pain of the school’s loss.
“We really talked about how we could save that building, and do a project, but it’s just not cost-feasible. There is an emotional value, a sensitive value to that building, and we understand that for our community.”
Nothing about the building, except the building itself, is set in stone; the CEDC is holding ongoing weekly meetings about how best to proceed, though they anticipate breaking ground on the construction early next year.