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Why is Utah HVAC company set to buy an entire Oklahoma college?

Posted at 4:15 PM, Dec 11, 2023

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — A Utah heating, ventilation and air conditioning company is on the verge of acquiring a private college in Oklahoma that owes money and is scheduled to be auctioned Thursday to pay the debt.

The question now is what could happen to the students enrolled at the school, most of whom are Native American.

In 2021, Midgley-Huber Energy Concepts was hired to make HVAC upgrades at Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma, but the school never paid for the work, leaving the local sheriff set to auction the college’s real estate and property to pay off the debt.

“We are the oldest institution of higher education in the State of Oklahoma,” said Bacone College Interim President Nicky Michael

The school s the country’s oldest American Indian institution of higher learning.

“Our demographics are usually between 50-75% Native [American],” Michael added.

Bacone has about 100 students, including Jordan Kerby who said he wasn't sure where students were going to go.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do," he said. "I just got here to play baseball, and if school ends and shuts down, I don’t know where I’m going to go.”

Midgley-Huber won a court judgment against Barcone and is owed $1.6 million.

“The last two-and-a-half years, they've kind of, I'd say, made a mockery of the whole situation and tried to get out of paying us,” explained Chris Oberle, President and CEO of Midgley-Huber,

The money owed is the impetus for Thursday’s sheriff’s auction.

“This is a lot of money," said Oberle. "It's not certainly, not going to jeopardize our business, but at the other hand, I employ over 200 people in the Salt Lake Valley.”

Even after the court judgment, Oberle and Michael said there were settlement talks to start paying the debt and keep Bacone’s doors open. Oberle said the last offer from the college was $100,000 down and then $40,000 a month.

“...and so to me, it was too little too late. It was just another stall tactic,” Oberle resonded.

Michael says the school barely has enough to pay its instructors, let alone a million-dollar judgment.

Thursday’s minimum auction bid is $3.1 million. Oberle say’s Midgley-Buber will bid that amount if no one else does.

“I’m not a cold-hearted person by any means,” said Oberle. “My intent would be to let them continue to stay through the spring and into April or May and finish out this school year.”

Michael says she doubts Bacone could even finish the school year under those circumstances. She now places the debt and the auction in historical context.

“This is the story of Native peoples where we have a piece of land, and a corporation or an entity like the United States can come in and take it out from underneath us," she said.

Bacone is seeking donors or other money that could pay the debt by Thursday. Oberle says he’s open to a deal but the terms would have to guarantee payment in a short amount of time.

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