Citizens’ group looking to buy Backus

Searching for a real estate complex complete with a 1,000-seat auditorium/gymnasium and tons of classroom and closet space?
The Alexander Baker-Backus Complex across the river in International Falls, Mn. has just come on the market. But you’d better act fast—the owners intend to offload the property by July 1.
“It’s too expensive to maintain and too expensive to fix up,” said Allen Rasmussen, interim superintendent for the Independent School District #361 board.
Rasmussen said it costs $100,000 a year to keep the building complex open and that with shrinking enrolment and budget cuts, the International Falls school board simply can’t keep it open.
That’s why the board has announced that after June 30, the site no longer will be used for school functions.
“The board is accepting proposals for purchase of AB-Backus,” Rasmussen explained, adding written proposals will be accepted until 4 p.m. on July 1.
A community group aimed at saving Backus Auditorium, which at 1,000 seats is the largest such venue in Borderland, is working on a plan to purchase the complex.
“The school board’s decision to close the whole school is a ray of hope that they are willing to look for people to buy it,” said Carole Mackintosh of Fort Frances, a member of the “Citizens for Backus-AB.”
“The committee has been founded and is pushing full tilt to get as many pledges as it can,” she noted. “Even small amounts contributed on a regular basis, anything will help.”
So far, the group is putting together its proposal. Everything from having an arts centre in the buildings to renting out space for boutiques and shops is being considered.
“Our offer is to take over the buildings as a community project,” International Falls resident Margarett Patnode explained.
“We don’t want to assume we will get control, we would just like to be heard,” she added.
The possible closing sparked a huge response from the local arts community. Almost 100 people turned out to a recent public hearing on the fate of the buildings.
“There is no way we should let that auditorium go,” Mackintosh stressed.
Backus is home to the popular Border Concert Association series each year.
While getting enough support together to save the facility is a difficult challenge, Mackintosh still felt there was a chance to keep the auditorium open.
“Because I’m optimistic, I think it is very, very possible,” she said. “But then, I hope that is realistic as well as optimistic thinking.”