Central Elementary School in Amidon has been vacant for several years as the community sent its students to neighboring school districts in New England and Bowman.
In 2020, the Slope County officials moved to dissolve the local school and the property became part of the Bowman County School District for tax purposes.
In its Nov. 9 meeting the district decided to move forward with plans to unravel an ownership quagmire created by a company that originally deeded the property for a school in the early 1900s, but has since gone out of business.
The dilemma is that it was originally gifted with the legal stipulation that it would return to the owner if it were no longer used for school purposes.
The district is working with Jordan Selinger; an attorney in Dickinson, on handling the property the school district recently took over.
He was introduced to the school board in Bowman by teleconference at the Nov. 9 meeting.
The Amidon school property had been undergoing a dissolution process handled by the school board in Slope County but ran into legal roadblocks.
Since then, the Bowman School District has taken over the property as well as the tax levy for handling students in the area.
According to Selinger, the district can move forward with handling the property in Amidon, but they will have to clear up legal ownership questions first.
“It was owned by the school and used for school purposes. The land and the building were gifted to the Amidon School District way back in 1915 from Farmland and Coal Company. When Farmland and Coal Company gifted this land to the school district they put in their deed what is called a right of reverter.
“These things don’t happen very often but they were a bit more popular many years ago. Basically, what it says is that in the event this property is no longer used for school purposes that it will automatically revert back to the Farmland and Coal Company,” he said.
There is a problem.
“Farmland and Coal Company doesn’t appear to exist any more. I don’t know when they stopped existing, but they are not in business in North Dakota. It looks like they originated out of Illinois. There is no record of them existing currently in Illinois,” the lawyer explained.
“We don’t know who this company is or where it is … or where they went. We don’t know really anything about them,” he said, noting that the school board in Amidon had contacted him six months earlier about the problem.
“We had started what is called a quiet title action to get the courts to say that the right of reverter has been abandoned and that the school district had the right to sell or do whatever they want with the building.
“At that time the Central Elementary School District had wanted to sell that building off and use the funds for school purposes. Ultimately, it would have been transferred to you guys (Bowman County School District).
“With Central Elementary School District dissolving and you guys (Bowman County School District) taking there properties and the responsibilities and liabilities that go along with them, Wayne (Heckaman) and I have been discussing … what the plans are for the property,” Selinger said.
“Part of the issues is this right of reverter was created back in 1915.... and this company is no longer in existence. We don’t know what happened... if they got bought out or whatnot. It is unlikely that something ever does come to fruition with this but in the event it does and we don’t take care of it correctly.... we could have a pretty big headache on our hands,” the lawyer explain.
He told the board that they needed to figure out what they want to do regarding the property, whether to sell it or gift it to some other entity.
“If you do end up selling it, most likely you’ll have this issue pops up,” he said.
A quiet title action would ask the court to do a quiet title that would establish or settle the title to a property. It would “quiet” or remove a claim to a title.
According to the lawyer, the Bowman School District would have to publish in the paper a notice for several consecutive weeks. “After that, you would have to wait 21 days to see if Farmland and Coal Company responds. Most likely, they won’t.
“After they don’t respond after the 21 days, we’d do a motion to the court, which doesn’t get before the job until 14 days later,” Selinger said.
He added that the district could run afoul of the law if they gifted something they didn’t actually own or have clear title to. “You’d have potential liability down the road,” Selinger said. “There are certain things that we can try to do to kind of mitigate that... but it still leaves that question hanging over you head.
“It is not a major issue but still needs to be considered,” he added.
According to the school board president, the district is hoping to gift it back to Amidon. “It is their heritage … their history that it should be given back to them,” said Stacy McGee.
The city of Amidon sent a letter to the school board announcing their support for the plan. “It is interested in the former Central Elementary property. It is understood that your board must pursue all legal avenues prior to making any decision,” the letter said.
“Once the title is clear, (Bowman County) are free to do whatever you want,” Selinger said, noting that there may be some restrictions on handling the property as a school district.