ADVENTURE ACADEMY owners Melanie and Steven Pratt speak before Monday’s Durand Board of Education meeting during a community forum to discuss the sale of Wilbur Bills and Doyle Knight elementary schools. They submitted a bid of $15,000 to buy Doyle Knight to turn the building into a “family entertainment center.” (Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
By Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
The Durand Board of Education held a community forum Monday, Feb. 8 to discuss bids to purchase Doyle Knight and Wilbur Bills elementary schools. Approximately 40 area residents attended the discussion and were given the opportunity to address the three most serious bidders for the two properties.
Of the four bids received for Wilbur Bills, only Welcome Home Veterans President Kim Bowen was present at the meeting. She explained to concerned Bancroft residents that her veteran inpatient housing/education/employability center would follow a nonprofit business model at first, with a for-profit dimension in the future.
Bancroft Planning Commission member Rick Wright spoke on behalf of the village when he voiced his disapproval of losing more of the village’s shrinking tax base, and he also informed Bowen that the planning commission would be hesitant to allow the property in question to be re-zoned from low-density residential.
“We are the smallest, poorest village, and we can’t afford to carry anybody right now,” Wright said Monday. “The entire village is in an uproar about what is happening. We would be 100 percent behind a for-profit business, but we can’t afford to give up 15 acres to a tax-free business. We are saddled with a $1 million water tower that we can’t afford. We’ve got to fight for every inch of our territory.”
Bowen explained that the building would need a $1.8 to $2 million renovation to be suitable for her operation, which she plans to finance through the USDA. In order to obtain that funding though, the business would need to be nonprofit. Welcome Home Veterans does plan to incorporate an assisted living and possibly a pet therapy facility once the USDA loan is paid back, which Bowen estimates would be “at least 10 years down the road.”
Durand Board of Education Trustee Al Perry pointed out that the school district has explored other options for the building, and the decision to sell has not been made hastily. The board has discussed repurposing the space in the past, and Perry reported Monday that the board has “actively recruited for-profit businesses to take over the building for four years” with no success.
Doyle Knight was also discussed during the meeting, with two bidders given time to speak. Victory Biker Church Pastor Brian McKay and Adventure Academy owners Melanie and Steven Pratt explained their visions for the building and answered questions about how much each business would impact the quiet village of Lennon, as residents expressed concern over the noise of each group. The biker church promises to bring upwards of 200 bikers into the village every Sunday, with early evening classes throughout the week. The Adventure Academy could also disturb the peace, as the Pratt’s expect to attract 1,500 to 2,000 customers per week.
Welcome Home Veterans placed a bid of $50,000 for Wilbur Bills, which was the highest of three bids for the property. The Victory Biker Church is the high bidder for Doyle Knight, with a bid of $125,000. The Adventure Academy bid of $15,000 was the second-highest of the four bids for Doyle Knight. The Adventure Acadamy is the only for-profit bidder that has expressed serious interest in either property, although Bryan Marks of Great Lakes Fusion did place bids for each property, along with a Missouri-based company called the Golden Nugget.
The higher-than-expected turnout for Monday’s community forum led the board to vote to table the decision of selecting a bidder until at least March. In the meantime, the board will hold another community forum to discuss Doyle Knight at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 29, and another for Wilbur Bills at 6:30 p.m. on March 2. Both discussions will take place at the Durand Middle School.