Two groups want to control Backus

Two local community groups are vying to keep the AB-Backus complex open—and the International Falls School Board has until the end of the month to decide which will get control.
Last week, the school board accepted proposals for the possible purchase of the AB-Backus complex.
The grassroots group, “Citizens for Backus-AB,” wants to purchase the buildings and keep them open as a cultural, arts, and community centre.
Pastor Ernest Witmer, on behalf of another community group, also presented a proposal for control over the complex. Witmer could not be reached for comment by press time.
“‘Citizens for Backus-AB’ wants to purchase the buildings to preserve it for the community,” spokeswoman Kay Arnold said Monday.
The Falls school board is reviewing both proposals and has until Aug. 1st to either accept, enter into negotiations, or reject them. The board will meet this Monday at 7 p.m. at Falls High School to hear presentations from both groups.
Because it is being reviewed, Arnold couldn’t divulge many details about the bid from “Citizens for Backus-AB.”
She did say it was a detailed plan that included everything from a list of the money raised to letters of intent from various organizations willing to rent space or use the facility if the group was given control over the complex.
“If the school board really wants to get rid of the buildings, I don’t know what’s wrong with our proposal,” she added.
One of the groups interested in moving into the complex if “Citizens for Backus-AB” gains control is the Koochiching Museum.
“We’re looking at the AB portion of the schools because of its size,” executive director Edgar Oerichbauer said Monday. “We have 10,000 square feet now and it’s packed to the ceilings we’re so out of space, that’s why we are looking at the building.”
If “Citizens for Backus-AB” was able to purchase the space, the museum is looking at renting the complete AB portion of the buildings, roughly 36,000 square feet, and moving their collections there.
“We can’t function as a museum now. There is no place to put on programs or special exhibits,” Oerichbauer said. “We just don’t have that kind of room to allow us to operate as a museum should operate.
“We’ve been looking at the school for a number of years so this is not just out of the blue,” he added.
“Now we’ll just have to wait and see. It all depends on how the board reacts to this.”
The school board decided to close the school June 30 in order to save an estimated $100,000 annually. For the past three months, “Citizens for Backus-AB” has been raising money, which now stands at more than $60,000 (U.S.), to run the complex and keep the largest auditorium in the area open.
Arnold said she is pretty confident her group will be awarded the buildings since there is so much community support behind it.
“So much work has been done. It’s been the last three months that everyone has come together as a community,” she said.
“[Support from Fort Frances] has been just tremendous. It’s so overwhelming and so nice that border neighbours are so willing to help us with this.
“It’s good for the whole area.”