Havre Daily News
INVERNESS - Wheat farmer Art Hanson bought a whole lot of memories when he successfully bid $6,000 this weekend for a community institution that had fallen into disuse.
He wants to see the former Joplin-Inverness Elementary School once again benefit the tiny farm community.
“I wanted it to stay in the community and I wanted the community to use it,” Hanson said after Saturday afternoon's auction of the school and three other J-I buildings.
“One of my thoughts was, and maybe I'm plum crazy, I thought you could take that new wing and make it into assisted living for older people,” he said.
The auction was an emotional time for many who crowded the old school gymnasium to watch the sale.
“It is a part of that community that is difficult for them to lose,” Chester/J-I school board member member Brett Earl said.
Declining enrollment prompted voters to agree to consolidate J-I and Chester this fall to form Chester/J-I Public Schools. Elementary students are now bused to Chester.
Economics forced Saturday's auction. Earl said the school building had to be heated to 55 degrees to keep the drywall intact.
The elementary school, two duplexes and a teacher's house were sold at the auction. Two weeks ago, the school's contents were auctioned off. The school has nine classrooms, a library, kitchen, walk-in cooler and football field. The duplexes, formerly teacher housing, have a total of five bedrooms, and the house has two bathrooms and three bedrooms.
The minimum bid for the school, built in 1930, was $5,000. According to auctioneer Tyler Streit of Bootlegger Realty in Chester, an investor from Whitefish was willing to buy the school building for $5,000.
Saturday's auction raised $9,500, money that will be used to help the students in some way, Superintendent Dollyann Willcutt said.
Larry Fossen of Inverness bought the house for $1,400. Mark Wicks of Inverness and Gary Kady of Joplin jointly bought the two duplexes that were used as teacher housing and three lots for a total of $2,100.
Wicks and Kady said the duplexes are going to stay put until they can resell them on eBay.
“It was too cheap to pass up,” Kady said. “There's lots of people out there that need housing.”
The sale prices were a disappointment to many.
The North Star school district sold the Kremlin Elementary School, three duplexes and some land for about $60,000.
Fossen said the lack of interest in the buildings was “terrible.”
“I don't know how you would make it better, but it just seems like it should have went for more than $6,000,” he said. “That was kind of ridiculous.”
Wicks, who served on a committee that tried to find buyers for the school, said he too was disappointed with the amount the school was sold for.
“They could've sold the school for probably $30,000 or $40,000 or more on eBay,” he said. “(The auction) was held at the wrong time of the year with it being winter because everyone's worried about the heat bill.”
Chester/J-I school board member Dena Fritz said the school was put on the market by Bootlegger Realty on Sept. 8. The school didn't have a listing price, she said. The house was listed to sell for $22,000 and the duplexes were $29,000 for both.
The board didn't get any offers, she said. “People didn't have any interest at all and that's why we decided to have an auction,” Fritz said.
She said the board decided not to sell it through eBay because Bootlegger was willing to do all of the paperwork.
Fritz had hoped the school would sell for more money, but is relieved that the board no longer has the burden of liability and paying the heating bills for the vacant building.
People at the auction asked how much the heating bill was, but board members said they didn't have that information with them.
“I was hoping that we'd have had a lot more interest than what we had, and the prices went pretty cheap,” Fritz said after the auction. “But it's also nice to have that responsibility off of the school district's shoulders.”
She said she didn't know how the building would be used by a declining number of people in the community but is supportive of Hanson's plan.
“If it works, then I think it's fantastic. I think the community would be happy to have that kind of gesture towards them,” Fritz said. “The only bad part is that their community is getting pretty small and to get that to work would probably be rather difficult.”
“I'm just thrilled that Mr. Hanson wants to use it within the community and the people of Inverness and Joplin can enjoy their school still,” Willcutt said. “There's a lot of potential here.”
J-I High School in Joplin will be sold in August, Wicks said.
“About Christmastime, we'll start sending out brochures to target large businesses and send them letters to try and get some interest generated in it,” he said. “It's too nice of a facility down there to let it go to waste.”