Written by John Plestina
Eight years after a fire destroyed the former VFW Club on the 100 Block of Main Street, the burned out shell remains with a temporary wall in front of it that was erected several years ago. (Photo by John Plestina)
Eight years after fire destroyed the former VFW Club on the 100 Block of Main Street, Roosevelt County may seize the burned out structure for unpaid taxes with the goal of demolition and redevelopment.
The property remains privately owned and appears that it might be abandoned. Taxes have not been paid since May 2007, four months after the fire. The owner of record left Wolf Point several years ago and attempts to locate her have been unsuccessful.
County Commissioner Gary Macdonald said the property qualifies as an Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields site for environmental cleanup funding and redevelopment.
That federal program funded the cleanup of the burned out now Wolf Point city-owned former Gysler Furniture and Appliance store on Anaconda Street that began in October with help from Great Northern Development Corporation and Newfields, a Missoula environmental consultant. Completion of that project is on hold until spring due to weather.
The VFW building is believed to contain asbestos and mold.
Roosevelt County Treasurer Betty Romo said the earliest the county could take ownership of the property would be September because tax sales are held in March and September.
The VFW Club, which included a bar, restaurant and dance floor, and a bowling alley in the basement, closed over a year prior to the fire.
Romo said her records show that a Malta man purchased the property before the fire and sold it about four months after it burnt to a Louisiana woman who had relocated to Wolf Point. That woman is believed to have left Wolf Point within a few months of purchasing the property.
The Montana Cadastral lists the sole current owner as Miranda Coleman. Her address is shown as the address of the VFW Club.
Romo said she has tried to locate Coleman but has had no luck finding her.
The Herald-News reported April 19, 2007, that Louisiana transplants Don and Miranda Hancock purchased the former VFW building and planned to reopen the bowling alley and the upstairs into a youth-orientated game room with pool tables and arcade games, and that they had planned to rename the building the Phoenix Lanes and Game Room. There was no mention of a Miranda Coleman.
According to the news story, the couple identified as Hancock, had moved to Wolf Point with a small child after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Three months later, the Wolf Point Police Department issued a nuisance violation notice for the property.
Police chief Jeff Harada said a police report is on file for a Miranda Coleman, then 23, who was involved in a minor motor vehicle accident in the Albertson’s parking lot in late 2007.
The Herald-News searched online records for Miranda Coleman and Miranda Hancock, and Don Hancock. Several records exist for all three names with locations in Louisiana, Texas and Wolf Point. No telephone numbers or email addresses were located. There are records for a Miranda Walker in Louisiana and Texas with some of the same relatives shown for Miranda Hancock.
The fire during the early morning hours of Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007, destroyed the restaurant and bar and left about a quarter-million gallons of water in the basement bowling alley.
The Wolf Point Volunteer Fire Department saved neighboring buildings, including the adjoining Montana Health and Human Services building that suffered minor water and smoke damage.
The burned out structure has attracted vagrants and people looking for a party place for years, according to several sources, including the Wolf Point Police Department.
The WPPD responded to a 911 call, Friday, Dec. 26, 2014, that led to the discovery of two deceased people behind the building. They were later reported to have died from hypothermia late Dec. 25 or early morning Dec. 26.
Written by John Plestina
Whether or not the Wolf Point School District might cut more jobs or programs is not known at this time, but money must be found if the school board implements remedies for slumping math testing results, above average truancy rates and security concerns that could cost more than $230,000.
The district’s finance committee discussed options during a meeting Monday, Jan. 12, that included one additional teacher in each of the district’s three school buildings and a school resource officer from the Wolf Point Police Department. They also considered potential cuts to adjust the budget that could include a loss of personnel and programs.
Superintendent Joe Paine said the average salary and benefits of teachers in the district is $62,965.
“If we were to look at bringing in three additional people to our district — in each building — would be roughly $189,000,” Paine said.
The addition of a school resource officer would add about $49,000, for a total of about $238,000.
Paine said he recently discussed the possibility of adding a school resource officer with Wolf Point Police Chief Jeff Harada. The WPPD has had SROs from the WPPD in the past and discontinued the program when the school district pulled their share of the funding.
The dollar amounts could very because of the number of years experience individual teachers have and the possibility that one school administrator might ask for a part-time teacher while another might request full-time.
A question from several administrators was: would placing additional math teachers and cutting other teachers and programs result in other subject areas suffering.
School board chairman Martin DeWitt, who expressed concern about slumping math test scores during past school board meetings, said the issue must be addressed.
“Our students are not college- ready. They are not life-ready,” he said.
“It’s not all about cuts,” DeWitt said and added that it is not about jobs going away. “It’s about making ourselves efficient.”
Northside Elementary School principal Hannah Nieskens cautioned that the district should not rob Peter to pay Paul.
“It would be a real shame if we cut something [that we need],” Nieskens said.
She said the administrator of each school should present a proposal for the individual school because of different needs.
“I don’t know how we can do any more [cuts] and still do our jobs,” WPHS principal Kim Hanks said.
The district cut jobs and programs that included the preschool program in May.
The monthly school board meeting, usually held the second Monday, was scheduled to immediately follow the finance committee meeting. It was postponed from Jan. 12 because there would not have been enough members present for a quorum to conduct business. That meeting is rescheduled for Monday, Jan. 19, at 6 p.m. in the Wolf Point High School library.
It was not known at press time if a proposal to address slumping math testing results and security would be presented to the board Jan. 19.
The issue is expected to be brought to teachers district-wide for individual recommendations.
Written by John Plestina
A fire on the 200 block of Second Avenue West in Poplar severely damaged Nemont’s offices shortly after midnight Sunday, Jan. 11.
Nemont’s marketing manager Kate Chudoba said Poplar office staff would work in the Wolf Point office until an interim location in Poplar could be found.
It is unknown if the damaged building is repairable or would need to be replaced.
Poplar residents wanting to pay bills or for other services may come to the cooperative’s Wolf Point office or any of Nemont’s seven other retail locations.
Poplar fire chief Greg Gourneau said the fire that was reported at 12:30 a.m. damaged the front and back of the building. Nemont has occupied the front portion and Montana-Dakota Utilities utilizes the rear for storage.
Gourneau said the cause of the fire remained under investigation Monday, Jan. 12.
MDU owns the building.
No one was injured as a result of the blaze.
Written by John Plestina
The 2015 edition of negotiations between representatives of the Wolf Point School board negotiations committee and the Wolf Point Education Association were held Thursday, Jan. 8.
Procedural calisthenics dominated the first meeting. The numbers of some subsections in the contract were changed.
Some issues that will be negotiated during the coming weeks include salaries, benefits, longevity of employees and sick leave.
Superintendent Joe Paine said leave [vacation days] should not be allowed on certain dates.
“Don’t plan on a family vacation on professional development days,” he said.
School board chairman Martin DeWitt said he wants to clarify some issues with full-time and part-time staff.
Some questions remain about how some provisions of the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] could change language in the labor contract concerning employee insurance.
“There is no use talking about insurance until we know what we are talking about,” union representative Patricia Toavs said.
DeWitt suggested using a composite insurance rate among employees. He said he wants it to be fair for 100 percent of the employees.
Employees are not required to take health insurance, but the WPSD must offer it.
Toavs said two plans should be offered because some employees are eligible for Indian Health Services and some are not.
A separate round of negotiations with the Wolf Point Educational Support Staff will follow the current negotiations with the WPEA, which represents teachers.
The next round of negotiations is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 22, at 5:15 p.m. in the Wolf Point High School library.
Written by John Plestina
Frontier Elementary School will host counselors, principals and teachers from throughout eastern Montana for a workshop Monday, Jan. 19, on Rachel’s Challenge, a national non-profit organization dedicated to creating safe, connected school environments and helping children make better choices.
The Frontier School board voted to participate in the Rachel’s Challenge program Monday, Dec. 8.
The program is named in memory of Rachel Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School [Colorado] shooting in 1999, and is in part based on her writings. She was shot outside the school before other Columbine victims were shot.
Superintendent Christine Eggar said staff from several schools — from as far east as
Bainville to as far west as Glasgow and Ashland, more than 280 miles south of Wolf Point — will attend the program at Frontier School.
Kansas educator Joe Coles will be the presenter of the anti-bullying workshop that targets students in fifth-grade through high school.
The workshop will present basic information to identify and recognize bullying behaviors and strategies needed to redirect it.
The philosophy is that children who bully others could turn into antisocial adults and are more likely than others to commit crimes, batter spouses, abuse their children and produce another generation of children who bully.
The workshop will teach educators and counselors intervention methods and strategies to empower children to avoid becoming targets of bullying and redirect and change bullying behaviors.
Expected outcomes include learning effective ways to respond to bullying behaviors, strategies to defeat a bullying culture, understanding why it is important to make school physically and emotionally safe for all children, exploring motivations behind bullying behavior and learning to identify a variety of ways to respond to bullying behavior.
“It’s a pay it forward deal. Hopefully, it will be a reaction that will lead to an action,” Eggar said. “It’s a philosophy to do the right thing.”
Frontier and several other area schools will host student presentations for the Rachel’s Challenge program Tuesday, Jan. 20.