When the Hartford Public Schools consolidated with Hackett Public Schools in 2014, it would have been hard to foresee that the Hartford High School would be sold to the highest bidder within seven years.
But at 11 a.m. Feb. 9 that’s exactly what will happen when Shawn Looper with Looper Auction & Realty II starts the bidding on tracts of land at 508 W. Main St. in Hartford. The property will be sold regardless of the price during the auction, Looper said.
The 20 acres up for sale include eight tracts that offer the high school building with a gymnasium, metal buildings, and old rock gym and rock building, a brick building, a football field, a baseball field and a lot with a barn. Tracts eight and 10, shown on an aerial drawing of the property on the Looper Auction website, will not be offered at the auction.
Hartford school opened around 1891. In 2014, it consolidated with Hackett schools, about 15 miles away. It closed in May 2018 with an enrollment of 228 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Hackett School District Superintendent Eddie Ray said the decision to close the school was a financial one.
“At the time, we realized we would lose about ($500,000) the next year to keep it open,” Ray said. “It simply was not feasible.”
Since its closure, the property has sat vacant and is deteriorating, Ray said.
“A couple of groups of looked at it and made offers on the property,” he said. “But none of those have worked.”
In August 2018, Sugarloaf Valley Academy, a charter school that would have replaced the closed Hartford Public Schools, was denied its application by the Arkansas Charter Authorizing Panel. Ray did not say whether those hoping to start the academy had ever approached the district about the school buildings. But earlier this school year, the school board and Ray knew they needed to make another financial decision.
“We realized something needed be done. It is still costing us money. We have the upkeep. We have to mow the lawn. It is draining resources for us,” Ray said.
The school board turned to Looper, and the auction was planned. Ray said the school has two outstanding bonds totaling around $600,000. Ideally, the auction could bring in money to pay those off, but the chances of that are slim.
“I don’t think we can get that much (for the property). We are not looking to get that amount,” he said.
But whatever is raised will help and selling property and allowing it be used instead of sitting vacant will be better for the area, Ray said. He noted that the city of Hartford is getting some of the property.
Looper said he has some interest in the property already with interested parties contacting him about the sale. The parcels will be able to be used for various things other than a school and its grounds, he said, noting some have approached him about the possibility of turning the football field into a rodeo arena as just one example. He has also been approached by some thinking they could use buildings or at least some of the property for a charter school and others wanting property for personal use, he said.
Looper said some might think it odd for a former school to be up for auction, but he wasn’t surprised at all.
“We’ve sold a little bit of everything. It’s not that unusual,” he said with a laugh.
The buildings and 20 acres will all be sold Feb. 9, no matter the dollar amounts they bring, Looper said. The live auction will be held at the school site, but interested parties can also bid online at looperauction.com during the auction.