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Published: Saturday, 7/16/2011

Panel to suggest Libbey for list of historic places

BY JIM PROVANCE BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU
Libbey High School, which closed in 2010, likely will be demolished if a buyer is not found by the end of the year. The school's supporters have sought inclusion of the building on the National Register of Historic Places. Libbey High School, which closed in 2010, likely will be demolished if a buyer is not found by the end of the year. The school's supporters have sought inclusion of the building on the National Register of Historic Places.
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COLUMBUS -- Racing against a wrecking ball, supporters of the closed Libbey High School Friday convinced a state panel to nominate the building for the National Register of Historic Places.

Several members of the governor-appointed Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board shook their heads when Toledo Board of Education member Brenda Hill used the word "demolition" when advising the panel of last-ditch efforts to sell the building at auction on Aug. 10.

Mary Olding, a Cincinnati historian and advisory board member, characterized Libbey as "stunning architecture" and praised "the obvious use of quality material in a city that was experiencing enough growth due to industries that both the Libbey and Owens families represented."

The nomination will be forwarded to the National Parks Service, which will make the final decision.

Supporters of the building, including former alumni, hope such a designation may buy the school enough time and attention that a buyer will step forward to take advantage of federal and state tax credits to rehabilitate the building and put it back to productive use.

"We can make a strong case for any revitalization efforts, which seem to be the norm and trend across the country," said Larrie Baccus, president of Libbey Alumni Inc. "We have an opportunity in Toledo to use this as a means to revitalize an entire community, the South End, by preserving a masterpiece."

Otherwise, Ms. Hill said the school district will have little choice but to move forward with its plans by the end of the year to demolish the massive structure in order to take advantage of greater state financial aid. The school board took no position Friday on the inclusion of the building on the National Register, but that process would not preclude the district from moving ahead with its own plans.

Brenda Hill, a member of the Toledo Board of Education, called the historic school a "dinosaur." Brenda Hill, a member of the Toledo Board of Education, called the historic school a "dinosaur."
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"It is a grand building … but our school system just can't afford it," Ms. Hill told the board.

The district has placed a minimum bid price of $395,000 on the building at next month's auction, a price that Ms. Hill said is designed to ensure that whoever bids on it has the financial wherewithal to follow through with development plans so that the structure doesn't become a public nuisance.

The original Collegiate Gothic portion of the building -- named for Libbey Glass founder and philanthropist Edward Drummond Libbey -- dates to 1923 and was designed by Edwin M. Gee, the supervising architect for city schools at the time. It was expanded in the 1950s with an athletic field house and in the 1970s with a career center.

The panel agreed to nominate the building, not only because of its significant architecture, but also as a historic example of how public education evolved in a city like Toledo that experienced significant industrial and population growth last century.

"This building so well exemplifies what the city of Toledo was trying to do back in that era with its public schools," said Paul Graham, a Columbus archaeologist and board member.

Albert Blackwood, owner of Blackwood Construction Services in Perrysburg and a board member representing the general public, made the motion to give Libbey the board's blessing. His son taught there for two years.

"I've walked the halls of Libbey a number of times and also the sports complex," he said. "It's very well maintained and very well intact the way it was built."

Nine people supporting the preservation of the building attended Friday's meeting. In addition to Ms. Hill, the district was represented by Treasurer Dan Romano.

Before the meeting began at the State Library of Ohio, Ms. Hill said she truly hopes someone responsible will step forward to save Libbey, which she described as a "grand" building.

She said the main building on Western Avenue has been offered to charter schools and the city, but there have been no takers.

The city explored the possibility of buying just the field house, career center, and football stadium but ultimately determined it would be too costly to make necessary improvements.

"I hate to see the building go, but it's a dinosaur," Ms. Hill said. "We can't afford to keep it."



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