by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor

The Durand Board of Education took another step towards concluding the drawn-out process of selling its two vacant elementary schools Monday, May 9, as the board voted unanimously to enter into negotiations with Kim Bowen of Welcome Home Veterans (WHV) to sell Wilbur Bills Elementary in Bancroft. Bowen had bid $50,000 for the building and property, which she plans on turning into a veteran housing/education/treatment facility.

The Bancroft community has been an active part of the process throughout, with many residents expressing apprehension about the building being sold to WHV for many reasons. Bancroft Village Council members hoped for a buyer that would establish a tax-paying business on the village property, while residents have questioned the financial sustainability of Bowen’s business plan, the choice of such a rural location for a treatment facility, and her plans to secure the building to prevent any mentally unstable patients from causing trouble within the village.

Monday’s meeting was preceded by the board’s fifth community forum, with questions that were submitted to McCrumb in advance read and discussed. Bowen, who attended the four previous forums, was not asked by the board to attend, which mystified interested district resident, Julie McKay, who had submitted seven pertinent questions and expected Bowen to be on hand to address them.

McKay’s biggest concerns center around licensing and funding, and she has expressed her desire to see at least an outlined plan from Bowen before pledging her support. She also wants to know what types of patients the facility will serve, since she feels she has received conflicting accounts; whether the facility will provide short or long-term care; and particulars about how the facility will be staffed. Bowen has said repeatedly that she will develop the plans following the purchase of the property, but McKay feels that is not a wise course of action. She wants to remind Bowen that USDA funding needs to be secured, licensing needs to be in place to ensure day-to-day operations funding, and that finding professional staffing is not as easy as one might think.

The board also received another bid for the property early Monday, from Black Jacket Films for $60,000. Business partners Dan Chipman, a Durand High School alum, and Joel Bredow spoke during the community forum about their informal plans for the property, which included establishing a community center that would potentially house a 24-hour daycare and an assisted living. The two also talked about hosting festivals and art shows, in addition to utilizing the property’s athletic facilities.

Ultimately, the board decided that Chipman and Bredow joined the discussion too late in the game. Board members were not satisfied that the two had a viable business plan and did not want the village to suffer if Chipman and Bredow could not follow through with their plans. They were also afraid that tabling the decision may cause Bowen to back out. Bredow felt disrespected by the board, which did not believe the two realized the cost associated with rehabbing the building. In order to house people in the building, Bowen is planning to make more than $1 million in renovations.

Board president Xak Zdunic pointed out following the meeting that Chipman and Bredow should continue to formulate their plan, as the board’s decision to enter into negotiations does not mean the deal is final.

Durand Votes to Sell Wilbur Bills was last modified: May 16th, 2016 by Karen Elford