Citizens group wins bid to purchase Backus

A grassroots citizens group fighting to keep doors of AB-Backus complex open has won their bid to save the historic buildings.
The International Falls school board announced yesterday that it voted unanimously to allow “Citizens for Backus-AB” purchase the buildings.
“Wow,” enthused “Citizens” member Margarett Patnode.
“My first response was wow, it’s over–relief and yet excitement and trepidation,” she continued this morning.
“Citizens for Backus-AB” is a non-profit groups which plans to create a community and arts centre in the complex by renting out space to groups such as the Koochiching Museum.
Formed only a few months ago, its main effort was to preserve the historic buildings, which include the largest auditorium on both sides of the border.
In the past four months the group has raised over $60,000 (U.S.) in donations and a benefit concert to help save Backus.
Currently the group is in negotiations with the school board over the purchase price for the complex. Once a purchase agreement is formed and passed by both groups, the building will be transferred to the citizen’s group.
Patnode said that’s when the real work will begin.
“It’s going to be a terribly big job. The amount of work involved is just mind-boggling. We have to make this a self-sufficient operation.”
The school board closed the buildings to school use June 30 in order to save an estimated $100,000 (U.S.) annually.
They have spent the last month reviewing proposals from two groups with suggestions for use of the complex.
“Character for Backus-AB,” headed by pastor Ernest Witmer, had suggested the school board invite the Institute in Basic Life Principles to purchase the buildings.
“While I’m disappointed that the Falls School Board could not make a choice for character, I’m very grateful to them for being willing to at least negotiate with the citizens group,” Witmer said in a letter.
He added that they would continue with plans to launch a community character council to promote personal character training and development.
“The citizens group by and large represents a very good group of people who have worked very hard in this effort. I commend and congratulate them all,” he continued.
Witmer did express some concern over the longevity of the effort.
“But, should it fail, there is always still the option of giving an invitation to the Institute in Basic Life Principles and Character First,” he wrote.
Patnode is assured “Citizens for Backus-AB” will be able to raise enough money to keep the complex open since, in her view, it is the heart of the local arts community.
“It’s just a feeling of tremendous relief,” Patnode continued, “to know that things [like the Border Concert Association] will still have a home in our community since they probably wouldn’t survive without Backus.”