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Surplus properties going, going, gone

November 04, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. ? Berkeley County sold four surplus properties in Martinsburg ? including the former John Street School ? at auction on Saturday, taking in close to $700,000.

A snag forced the cancellation of a fifth sale, drawing criticism from the top bidder.

The former school building at 120 W. John St., which the county used for many years for magistrate court, brought $336,000 in an unusual two-tiered auction. The property included a lot with 62 parking spaces.

The buyer's identity, however, wasn't made public. Chip Hensell of Hensell Realty Co. in Martinsburg, who made the winning bid, said he was "representing a buyer" he couldn't name.

Apparently, it wasn't Berkeley County's board of education, which, at an emergency meeting on Friday, authorized Superintendent Manny Arvon to bid on the building.

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Arvon didn't return a message left at his home Saturday.

Reached at home Saturday, board member Todd Beckwith said he didn't think Hensell represented the school system.

The county hasn't needed the five properties since it consolidated its operations and moved into the former Blue Ridge Outlets complex.

Besides the former John Street School, the county also sold:

· 117-119-121 W. King St., which used to hold the county's planning commission, tax and sheriff's offices, for $180,000

· A vacant lot that fronts West King Street, for $109,000

· 218 S. College St., which used to hold courtrooms, for $67,000

Communication problems thwarted the sale of 205 E. King St., which used to house the Eastern Panhandle Operations Center for High Technology.

Mike Austin was leading the bidding as the price was about $230,000.

Auctioneer Darwin Plumlee stopped to check with the Berkeley County Commission, which had set reserve, or minimum, prices for all five properties.

Austin thought he had a deal for 205 E. King St. for about $275,000. Then, Plumlee said the county wanted $300,000. Discussion continued in the hallway.

Plumlee later told the roomful of bidders that the deal soured because an appraiser had valued the property at $1.2 million.

"Appraisers never buy," he said.

After the auction, Berkeley County Commissioner Ron Collins said that talk about the property selling for less than $300,000 was a mistake. He said the county couldn't sell it for less than it paid, which was $600,000.

"I think it wasn't handled properly," Austin said before he left.

Collins said the county probably will sell 205 E. King St. privately.

The auction, which was run by Plumlee in conjunction with Hockman Auctions of Inwood, W.Va., started with a first phase, in which bidders competed as usual on each of the five properties.

When each individual auction was done, the winning bidders gathered in a room at 120 W. John St. for a "combination" phase, looking at all five properties at once.

The winning bidders could raise other individual winning bids. Also, those who didn't win any of the five properties earlier could get back in by raising a minimum of two winning bids.

Plumlee said the second phase brought the county about $50,000 more.

Each winning bidder also had to pay a 10 percent buyer's fee on top of the purchase price.

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