HOLT — City leaders say they are working to contact the owner of the former Holt Elementary school building, located at 455 School Way, as it has been a nuisance for years and is becoming a safety liability.
“It needs to be torn down because it’s so far gone. That building has just become worse and worse in shape,” said Alderman Alec Assel, who mows the property grass for a representative of the owner, Guoshon Guo.
Assel, Mayor Stewart Wells and City Clerk Casey Franke said Guo is often difficult to reach with concerns about the property as he is from China and likely lives out of the country in addition to having addresses in several U.S. cities including Las Vegas.
“I usually get a hold of him through the WeChat app, but he hasn’t been responding to me as much. There’s a language barrier there so it’s hard for us to understand,” said Assel, who added in their last contact Guo informed him that he planned to return to Holt Feb. 16 to address safety and security concerns at the now derelict property, which the city hopes to condemn.
Assel and recent reports from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, which provides law enforcement services to the city, note the property has been vandalized with windows broken out and items inside smashed.
Wells said there have been vagrants found living in the abandoned former school.
“The sheriff’s deputies are called up there all the time,” the mayor said. “It’s been an ongoing problem.”
The brick building ceased to be a school prior to 2010, after the school merged with Kearney schools. Since then, the property has had multiple owners and the city has seen multiple issues related to the property.
In 2015, aldermen denied a conditional-use permit to then-owner Jessica Wilson Goodwin, who sought to allow her father, Kirby Wilson, to operate a classic and antique car restoration business from the property zoned for residential use. Before applying for the permit, residents complained to city leaders about the owners illegally operating a vehicle body repair shop in the location. Work was being done at the property, city leaders and residents said, without a use permit or business license. Residents also said the painting work was polluting the air and nearby creek because a painting booth and proper procedures were not being used.
In 2016, the structure suffered fire damage as the result of possible arson.
In 2017, under Guo’s ownership, Guo applied for a conditional-use permit that would have allowed his Chinese-based company to operate a protein powder repackaging and distribution facility in the city’s former school, which is zoned for residential use. The company buys protein powder for drinks such as Bubble Tea and then repackages them for retail sale. His request was denied after about an hour of aldermanic debate that cited citizen unrest about the project as grounds for denial. Residents again cited air pollution from power particles and odor from fumes as reasons they opposed the project.
Since the 2017 permit denial, regular safety updates have not been performed, city leaders said.
“Something bad could happen if somebody gets in there that isn’t supposed to be,” said Wells.
Guo could not be reached for comment.