ARNEGARD, N.D. — Milt Hanson is old school by any way that phrase is defined.
The Arnegard native bought the town’s old empty schoolhouse back in 1998, filled it with charming antiques and old school memorabilia and ran it for a time as the Old School Bed and Breakfast.
Then the Bakken oil boom came along to replace the leisurely tourism and wedding bookings.
For more than three years, up until this month, all four guest rooms and the whole facility were rented out to North Star Energy for its pipeline and mechanic crew. Hanson changed the answering machine message to a permanent, “Sorry, we’re full.”
Now, he’s hoping the boom’s financial dynamics will continue to work in his favor and he’s put the place up for sale with Bianco Realty.
He’s asking a cool $2.5 million, or slightly more than $100 per square foot, for the entire place. That’s for not only the brick schoolhouse with its wide, creaky stairways and hallways, en suite bath and bedrooms in former classrooms, tall windows and science lab-turned-kitchen, but also the two gymnasiums, the newest and largest alone adding 7,000 square feet. That “newest” by the way, is relative; it is nearly 60 years old.
The Arnegard Spuds played in both of those historic gyms, a long-gone mascot dear to aging alumni.
Hanson said he worried he’s asking too much, but said if a company buys the place and uses it to house 50 workers, the per diem alone will pay the purchase price in a year.
It has been on the market for a month.
“We’ve had plenty of people sniffing. It’ll sell,” he said. He’ll leave his beloved Arnegard and move to Park Rapids, Minn., where his wife of three years remains in her teaching job.
The sale of the school will finance his retirement.
He’s also planning to auction the contents, an unusual mix of authentic old school items that were in the school when he bought it and the antiques that he’s collected over many years.
Some of the old school items were gifts, given by local families with the idea that they’d be preserved in the Old School Bed and Breakfast along with the many school artifacts used in the decor.
Hanson said he’ll return personal gifts and some items may go to the McKenzie County Historical Society if it has room or interest.
Otherwise, he said, the contents are his property — most came with the school building — and they’ll be sold at a public auction when the building is sold. He knows it won’t be a comfortable transition for people who love the old school. He has loved it, too, and gave it years of work and sweat besides.
“The decision to sell was hard, but once we made the decision, we’re going to live with that decision,” he said. “I have no regrets. I gave 15 years of my life building that.”
Another reason to let it go is that while he designed the place to operate a bed and breakfast, it was used much more for oil field housing.
“You still have to pay the bills and because of all the oil activity, tourism here is not what it used to be. We just don’t have the people coming to stay,” he said.
He said it doesn’t do any good to complain or fret about how the oil boom is changing Arnegard, with its 2010 population of 110 and now maybe a couple hundred more mixed in in campers and other temporary quarters.
“We can’t stop it. The only thing we can do is deal with it and try to manage it. Now it looks ugly, but it’s all growing pains,” he said.
He said some worry that whoever buys the school will tear it down for the spacious property it occupies.
“That could happen, but I have no control over that.
I would love it if someone bought it and kept the historical nature of it,” he said.