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First Best Place hires new executive director

by Richard Hanners Hungry Horse News
| January 11, 2012 7:32 AM

About 5 1/2 years after it kicked off, First Best Place has hired a new executive director.

Steve Paugh, 57, of Martin City, will take over for Barry Conger, who's been with the nonprofit community organization since it formed in mid-2006 and served as its executive director for the past 3 1/2 years. Conger will continue working with the group as fundraising chairman.

"We absolutely made the right choice by bringing Steve into this leadership position," Conger said. "This is a major step forward for us in our ongoing growth. Steve will chart a strong and steady course for First Best Place, and we'll be able to charge forward on our fundraising effort for Discovery Square."

Ron Nash, the group's vice president, said Paugh was chosen "from a field of incredibly talented people from all over the valley."

Paugh, who will formally take over as executive director on Jan. 22, moved to the Flathead about three years ago from Pennsylvania, where he owns some commercial rental property. His son Adam has been in the Flathead since 2000 and is a co-founder of Quadrocopter, an aerial photography business. Paugh's wife Betsy works at The Shops at Station 8, in Columbia Falls.

Paugh says that after living 50 years on the East Coast, he felt it was a time to move west.

"It was getting kind of crowded," he said. "My son's friends really made us feel welcome here. I thought we should try the West before it was too late."

Paugh's past experience in volunteerism includes serving five years on the Stroudsburg, Pa., school board, three as treasurer, and serving from 1989 through 2007 on the board of Pocono Area Transitional Housing, a nonprofit that helps homeless people become homeowners or find rentals. More recently, Paugh has been a summertime volunteer at Glacier National Park's transit center.

First Best Place's online ad for a new executive director drew a lot of applicants. Paugh said he learned about the job from a friend who knew of his background approached him about the position. Paugh said his salary has not yet been approved.

"It will be a part-time job with a full-time passion," he said.

The job calls for day-to-day management of Glacier Discovery Square, which is rented by clubs and schools and for special events, but the main task will be fundraising to pay for remodeling the building so the city library can move in and become the anchor tenant.

The idea of moving the library from City Hall to Discovery Square is generally backed by the county library system but has drawn questions from members of the community who question whether there is adequate room, if combining a library with a space for community events is a good idea, and whether it makes sense to move the library from a place where it operates rent-free to a place where it will pay rent. Paugh says he's prepared to deal with the issues.

"In my past job, I've dealt with both tenants and public opinion," he said.

Moving the library to Discovery Square has been a firm goal for First Best Place ever since it assumed a mortgage and acquired the former bank building in June 2008 for $465,000. The site is also home to the city's farmers markets and a rotating museum exhibit in the former bank vault. At the time of the acquisition, Conger envisioned the building becoming "the community's living room."

The First Best Place also manages North Valley Hospital's Teakettle Community Room on Nucleus Avenue and the community garden in River's Edge Park. The group also hopes to restore the historic Red Bridge into a pedestrian path, erect an entryway arch over Nucleus at U.S. 2 and help revitalize downtown.

"This is a defining moment in my life," Paugh said. "It's a challenge that I think I'm up to. We need to keep moving forward and remain optimistic. We need to buy into the cause, and I've done that."