CUSTER | The highly anticipated auction of the STAR Academy, a former juvenile detention center 5 miles from this Southern Hills community, attracted a standing-room-only crowd at the Custer County Courthouse on Wednesday morning. But no one gave a nod or even raised a hand.
There were just three registered bidders among the throng of state legislators, elected county officials, representatives of the governor’s office and interested local residents. After 20 minutes of remarks from state School and Public Lands Commissioner Ryan Brunner and a legal description from the state’s land agent, no one opted to meet the minimum reserve bid of $2.34 million, and calls for bids ceased after a minute of silence.
“Otherwise we’ll just call this off as a no-bid,” said Mike Cornelison, who has been handling state land sales since 1979. “There is no sale today. This will be taken up (at) another venue, and we’ll keep you all posted.”
In 2017, the state Legislature approved a measure to sell the 173-acre parcel, which had closed in April 2016. The scenic, sprawling property, which includes water and sewer systems and 11 residences, gymnasium, barn, and administrative, housing and maintenance buildings totaling 168,000 square feet, costs the state more than $500,000 annually to maintain, according to the governor’s office.
In recent months, numerous people had contacted the state to inquire about buying the property, and more than a half-dozen potential purchasers had toured the facility in recent weeks, Brunner said.
“It’s just one of those things where it’s a large facility, it’s going to require extensive renovations, and so while we certainly had a lot of interested people, it’s a big project for somebody to undertake,” Brunner said shortly after the no-bid sale concluded. “We’ll visit with the governor’s office and see how they would like us to proceed. Perhaps we’ll hold another auction in December.”
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Hunter Roberts, a policy adviser to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, said he was still hopeful the state would find a buyer interested in resurrecting the property.
“It’s possible someone who was shy or didn’t show up today shows up and wants to bid,” he said. “We’re hopeful that will happen. A public-private partnership is still an option as well.”
But for Candy Snyder, a Custer resident who spent the past 20 years working as operations manager at the STAR Academy, Wednesday was a bittersweet day, even if the property wasn’t sold.
“It was an exceptional program that did really great things for juveniles over the years it was there,” Synder said. “It was sad to see it close, but I understand it. When it closed, it was a lot of jobs lost and a lot of people who had to look for other employment.”
The remote property off U.S. Highway 385 was quiet Wednesday morning as the no-sale auction commenced. Smoke from a small sawmill across the road filtered through pine boughs on the property, and concertina wire still stretched along the tops of chain-link fences formerly used to confine juvenile offenders.
And tall gates that previously prevented unauthorized entry stood wide open, as if to welcome a new owner who never showed up.