By Ron VandenBoom
The Academy of Realistic Taxidermy, (ART) located about 40 miles north of Havre at Simpson, receives at least one request for an application and catalog, every day, says the school's owner, Steve Faechner, but the likelihood that students will ever be able to attend is in grave doubt.
Financial backing for the beleaguered project appears to have dried up, leaving Faechner and his school void of students.
Faechner still sends out catalogs to prospective students and answers e-mail requests on his computer. He tries to remain optimistic about the school's future, but is extremely bitter over what he sees as betrayal by the Havre based Bear Paw Development Corporation.
"I just wanted to do something special for the community and make a living for my family," he said.
The seeds of what was to become ART were planted in March, 1998, when Faechner, Dick King, then executive director of Bear Paw Development, and Melisa Jo Drugge, a loan officer at Bear Paw, drove to the former Tech-ops site near Simpson to examine the feasibility of starting a tannery at the site. Faechner had been offered a $5 million contract tanning ostrich hides if he could get the facility running by September, 1998.
Faechner said ways of financing the project and acquiring air base housing for the project were discussed during the trip. Possible funding sources suggested were grants, low interest loans, and at least a portion of a $150,000 defense appropriation to be used on the two former Air Force sites.
Documents provided the Daily News from Drugge confirm that Faechner was indeed told these funding sources would be available.
Faechner decided that with the assurances of backing from Bear Paw Development he would close his tanning/taxidermy business in Havre and move his operation to Simpson.
A letter Faechner received from Bear Paw in May, 1998, stated, "Please be assured that we will do all in our power to assist your project. We are very encouraged that you are willing to undertake such a venture, which could provide considerable economic development benefit to the area."
Faechner was ultimately able to acquire three air base houses for the property, but did not receive title to the property in time to get the ostrich contract.
The loss of the contract was only another door opening as far as Faechner was concerned. He had already recognized the site had excellent potential as a taxidermy school and with the encouragement of many professionals in the taxidermy industry, Faechner submitted a new proposal for the school to Bear Paw.
Bear Paw approved the plan in October, 1998, and also approved $65,210 for construction of foundations and the movement of Air Force housing onto the site.
Faechner would later receive additional loans from Bear Paw to get water and sewer systems up and running, but never enough funding to completely accomplish everything that needed to be done. He said he still hoped that a share of the $150,000 provided by the Air Force for development of the two old air bases, that Bear Paw Development received in January, 1999, was forthcoming to him. It was not.
Bear Paw Development declined comment concerning Faechner's school and the difficulties he has had and instead had BPD attorney Jim Kaze respond to the Daily News' inquires with a letter.
"Bear Paw Development does not wish to establish a practice of commenting on borrower information to the media, with or without the advance written consent of the borrower," Kaze's letter to the Daily News stated.
The letter goes on to say Bear Paw Development believes such disclosures may compromise trust and that such comment would be inappropriate in situations that may become the subject of litigation.
Two letters from Faechner granting permission for Bear Paw to discuss his project without any threat of liability have also been rejected.