Okoboji Middle School hits block

Students head for the buses as the school day ends at Okoboji Middle School on Thursday in Arnolds Park. With a new middle school under construction in Milford, the soon-to-be former school building was sold in an online auction.

MILFORD—The bids are in.

Iowa Great Lakes businessman Neil Slater with CSP LLC had the top offer of $1.1 million for the Okoboji Middle School property in Arnolds Park.

The online auction was held Monday-Wednesday, Feb. 24-26, and facilitated by NAI United and Ten-X Commercial. The high bid was acknowledged and a preliminary purchase agreement signed in a special meeting of the Okoboji School District Board of Education on Thursday, Feb. 27,  in Milford.

“I’m satisfied with how this all played out,” said superintendent Todd Abrahamson. “As a school district we followed the ballot language and the key point was to the highest bidder, and so we got the highest bidder and as we announced today it was Neil Slater and the company he established. So we’re satisfied with the process. The school district has done their part now for a second time.”

The wheels for the sale were set in motion in spring 2018 when voters in the Okoboji School District passed a $25 million bond referendum to fund the construction of a new middle school in Milford and improvements to the high school athletic complex as well as roof repair and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning updates in the high school and elementary school buildings.

The school board originally was set to sell the old middle school property in 2018 to the nonprofit group Imagine Iowa Great Lakes for $1.1 million.

That sale process faced resistance and during a public hearing on July 9, 2018, Slater put forth a bid of $1.15 million.

“I’ve said that from the get-go, it’s not about me as the bidder,” Slater said in a 2018 interview. “I’ve been saying it needs to go to an open bid process, and who knows, maybe somebody would come forward with a $2 million to $3 million offer. Plus then they’ll put it back on the tax roll, which will revenue another couple hundred thousand dollars a year in taxes on top of what they would do with it.”

The school board eventually voted 3-2 in favor of the Imagine Iowa Great Lakes bid.

A petition then circulated calling for the middle school to be sold via a public bid process requiring the sale go to the highest bidder, made the ballot and was passed by voters in the November 2019 election.

“The difference between that $1.1 million and this $1.1 million is we marketed and actually had a commercial agent for us so they get a 5 percent commission,” Abrahamson said. “That was $55,000 so as a district we’re getting less than $1.1 million but as I said we followed the petition language, to the highest bidder, to market it, and we felt this was the best ability because it went nationwide through Ten-X and NAI United so we definitely hit a bigger pool of people that way but with that there is a cost for that.”

Citing a confidentially agreement signed in conjunction with the auction process, Abrahamson said he could not comment on the number of bidders or competitiveness of the bids Thursday.

More information could be made available at the school board meeting at 5:25 p.m. Monday, March 16, in Milford.

A public hearing will be held during that meeting and the sale will be finalized.

The profits gained from the sale will go toward paying down the principal of the bond for the new middle school as part of a resolution put in place with the original bond referendum.

Abrahamson said he had no idea what might be in store for the old middle school site and that would be up to the buyer and the city of Arnolds Park.

For the school district it is about moving forward with the task at hand of getting the new middle school completed.

“Now we move on,” Abrahamson said. “We appreciate all the communities involved and our school board for doing their due diligence. I feel very confident in what the board has accomplished. Again, those dollars will be applied to the principal of the bond, I can’t reiterate enough that we had that resolution already in place, so I just want to thank everybody involved and we appreciate everyone’s patience.”

Abrahamson noted the new middle school remains on schedule for its Aug. 1 completion date and thus per the purchase agreement, Slater and CSP LLC will be able to take possession of the old middle school property on or after Sept. 1.