New Executive Director Steps Up at First Best Place

By Beacon Staff

This week will be a busy one for Steve Paugh, 57, who starts as the new executive director of First Best Place in Columbia Falls.

First Best Place is a nonprofit organization formed in 2008 with the goal of enhancing the communities in and around Columbia Falls. The group’s largest project is the Glacier Discovery Square on Nucleus Avenue, the completion of which will be a primary focus for Paugh. He said the community center, when fully developed, will become a meeting place for the entire community.

“If it’s something they can do in a big city, I think we can do it here,” Paugh said.

Originally built as a bank, the building is owned and operated by First Best Place. It is now used for community events and displays, but the group is trying to raise $1.5 million to remodel the building, which has been closed for the past few weeks while the boiler is repaired.

To raise the money, Paugh said he hopes to help the public realize the same vision First Best Place has for the space. He added that his experience as a commercial real estate agent would help him guide the group moving forward.

“I like to use creativity to solve problems,” he said.

Paugh is originally from Pennsylvania but moved west to Martin City three years ago, following his son who settled in the valley a few years before that. It didn’t take long for him to fall in love with the area and his family has spent the last few years renovating their new house. He’s also spent time getting to know the area, another asset in his new position. Paugh is replacing Barry Conger, one of the group’s co-founders and executive director for the last three years. Conger will stay on as the steering committee’s fundraising chairman. He said hiring Paugh would help the group focus on its day-to-day operations, as well as fundraising.

“I think Steve has just what we’re looking for: a strong business background and a strong leadership background,” Conger said. “He has a ‘we can do it’ attitude.”

Paugh said he hopes the group will be well on its way to starting the remodeling project at Glacier Discovery Square within the next six months to a year. When completed, Paugh said it would feature a library and community meeting area, as well as a historical archives area that will help preserve the history of Columbia Falls. Paugh said the center would give the community an invaluable place to “enlighten their minds.” It’s also a project that won’t come easy.

“I used to say, ‘Most things that are worthwhile aren’t easy to come by.’ I said that for 20 years in the real estate business and now I’m living it,” he said.