Terry Conyers tests out new ramp

Terry Conyers of Hamilton tests the new ramp that was built Thursday at his home at the corner of Kurtz and Mabel lanes. For the first time in a month, the 87-year-old Conyers drove his restored 1957 Chevy pickup out of the garage. On Friday, the school district board chair hand delivered a letter telling the couple the district would not being granting access to them. 

For the first time in a month, Terry Conyers cranked up his 1957 GMC pickup and drove it right up onto Mabel Lane on Thursday.

And then he immediately reversed it right back into the garage.

With a smile and a nod, Conyers popped out of his dad’s old pickup and tapped his toe on the newly constructed ramp just outside of his garage.

“This will work just fine,” he said.

Terry and Claira Conyers both agreed the ramp that allowed them to get the vintage pickup out of the garage was progress, but both remained skeptical about it being the end of the story.

“We’re going to just have to wait and see,” Claira said.

For the past month, the couple has been left wondering about the Hamilton School District’s intentions about the access they’ve counted on for the 13 years that they have lived on the corner of Kurtz and Mabel lanes.

Kurtz is a county road. It provides the family with their main vehicle access.

Mabel Lane is on land owned by the school district. The couple has used it as a secondary access into the garage where Terry Conyers stores his father’s pickup that he has restored.

“For all of the time we’ve lived here, no one has ever bothered us about using that road as an access,” Claira Conyers said.

That changed recently when the school district had Mabel Lane rebuilt in preparation for making it a main thoroughfare for parents dropping their children off at Daly Elementary. When the road construction was completed, the Conyers found their pickup blocked in by a 3-foot-tall roadbed and curb.

After communication between the couple in their 80s and school district officials broke down, one of the couple’s grandchildren posted a note about their situation on Facebook. That created a stir in the community.

On Wednesday, the access issue aired for the first time before Hamilton School District board.

The school district’s attorney, Bea Kaleva, said the board is willing to consider granting the family permission to access the road, but it needs to make a formal request first.

That was news to the family and friends who came to the meeting.

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The Conyers’ granddaughter, Kelli Newman of Helena, told the board her grandparents weren’t notified by the school district that their property was going to be blocked.

“They have had access to Mabel Lane for 13 years,” Newman said. “There has never been an issue with them using it before. … They have been extremely good neighbors to the school.

“Had there been a notification, we might have taken the steps necessary to get permission,” she said. “There have been surveyors, contractors, construction crew members there. We brought it to (Superintendent) Tom’s (Korst) attention before they laid the curb. There were plenty of opportunities to step in, but nobody did and now my grandfather’s truck is blocked and it’s not right.”

In an interview Wednesday, Kaleva said that no one in the district was aware the Conyers were using the property without the district’s permission.

“They need to make that request to the board,” she said. “The board is willing to consider it.”

Kaleva said the district was willing to build a temporary ramp that would allow the Conyers to get the pickup out of the garage.

On Wednesday morning, Terry Conyers was debating the possibility of having his own ramp constructed to get the truck out.

The next day two men from the construction company showed up at the couple’s front door to let them know they planned to build a ramp into the garage while dressing out the edge of the roadway. They said the ramp would be temporary, but it would allow them to get the truck out of the garage.

So far, the Conyers haven’t heard anything official from the school district. They’re not sure if the ramp was built with the blessing of the school district or by the kindness of the construction company.

The Conyers don’t plan to ask for permission to use the access.

“We’ve been using it for 13 years,” Claira said. “It’s never been a problem before.”

Superintendent Tom Korst was unavailable at 3:30 p.m. Thursday when the Ravalli Republic called the district office.

Jennifer Goodwin of Hamilton spoke at Wednesday’s board meeting. She said her children are students in the district.

“As a community and neighbors, we’re better than this,” Goodwin said. “The driveway goes right out there (to Mabel Lane) and the construction company has talked about making it right. I think we should think about teaching our kids that just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. I think we should make it right.”

Apparently, someone was listening and did just that.