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'Eyesore' Muskegon schools go unsold at public auction

David Bailey/WZZM-TV • Aug 23, 2018 at 12:00 PM

MUSKEGON — The fate of two old school buildings in the Muskegon area is still in limbo after nobody showed up to buy the two properties at a tax foreclosure auction.

The two schools have become lingering eyesores begging for attention and development.

The former Froebel School in the Jackson Hill neighborhood and the former Phillips Elementary in Norton Shores on East Broadway Avenue were purchased in 2014 by the Life Training Campus, owned by investor Ervin Lamie. Over the past few years, little to no development happened at the schools and property taxes were not paid in time, leading to a tax foreclosure.

The schools had to be purchased together, according to the auction's website, and there had to be a promise that Froebel will be torn down in order for a buyer to purchase the property.

But no buyer was willing to make those promises, so the lot went unsold.

"You don't want somebody that's just going to take it down without taking the appropriate action (regarding asbestos)," Muskegon County Treasurer's Office tax foreclosure specialist Jeniffer Matthews said. "We didn't get any qualified bids on it."

Matthews said the cities of Norton Shores (Phillips) and Muskegon (Froebel) will have the option to obtain the properties. If the cities choose not to pursue ownership, the property goes to the Muskegon County Land Bank to be sold.

In 2016, WZZM-TV reported that the Muskegon school district was unaware Lamie had a long court history and had previously filed for bankruptcy. Muskegon Public Schools sold Froebel for $1,000 and Phillips for $500 just to get rid of them with the hopes somebody would bring them back to life.

Lamie quarreled with leaders in Muskegon County regarding the value of the property and the fact Lamie would have to pay property taxes on the schools because he had not fully developed his non-profit company. The buildings were, in the opinion of Muskegon County Equalization Director Donna VanderVries, not technically occupied.

Court records show Lamie had filed for bankruptcy multiple times leading up to the purchase of the schools.

Then-Muskegon Superintendent Jon Felske said the school district was unaware of the previous bankruptcy and was disappointed to see the properties not cleaned up.

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