AI, Ohio - Most of the 50 people who gathered for the auction of Fulton School yesterday morning sat on their hands as the price kept going up.
One man, Donald Cox, 38, of Ai, had visions of turning the 78-year-old school building into a youth center, garage, and maybe even a carry-out restaurant. Another man, Tom Beroske, 44, of Berkey, wanted to transform the school into a home - his very own "castle."
After a twenty-minute bidding war, Mr. Cox, a forklift driver who lives across the street from the school, placed the winning bid - offering $17,000 for the building and five acres of property where it sits. Dozens of onlookers, mostly former students with fond memories of the small-town school, watched with curiosity as the men topped each other's bids.
Evergreen Local School District put Fulton School and Lyons Elementary School up for auction because students are moving to the new Evergreen Elementary School in Amboy Township near Metamora, where classes will start Jan. 3. Even though more than 30 people attended the afternoon auction in Lyons, no bids were placed.
Many of the alumni in attendance yesterday morning at Fulton School hoped the new owner would put the longtime community landmark to good use. Mr. Cox, who has lived in Ai for 14 years, said he has ideas that could benefit the community.
"It opens a big opportunity and a lot of doors for me," said Mr. Cox, whose children attended Fulton School.
Potential buyers were warned ahead of time that deed restrictions forbid them from turning the properties into adult clubs, schools, or for storing hazardous material. The Lyons School is in a residential-zoned area; so a buyer would need to get approval from the village before installing a business.
New owners will be responsible for paying the costs of utilities on the buildings, which won't be cheap. Jerry Robinson of Delta, the auctioneer for the sales of both schools, joked "you could break a bank just to pay utilities on these schools."
Still, Bart Manley, 80, said Mr. Cox found a great deal in purchasing Fulton School.
"This was a steal," said Mr. Manley, who graduated from the school in 1943. "This building is great. It isn't that old, and it is in terrific shape."
Superintendent Ken Jones said he was glad a buyer surfaced for at least one of the schools, but the district now will return to the drawing board to decide what to do with Lyons Elementary School. Evergreen's school board will vote on whether to approve the sale of the Fulton School at its Jan. 10 meeting.
"We were hoping we could sell both buildings," Mr. Jones said. "The Fulton building had a bigger appeal."
The future of Evergreen's former middle school building in Metamora also has not been decided. The Metamora school has been vacant since April, when classes were shifted to the district's former high school building. The district has been in discussions with Northwest State Community College about the property.
If the district does not find a buyer for Lyons School, the building could be demolished. But the district is open to other ideas - maybe even putting it for sale on eBay, the online auction site. The cyber marketplace has become an increasingly common venue for districts looking to unload aging school buildings.
"Now there's an idea," Mr. Jones chuckled.
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