Opportunity sprouts in former schoolA company aimed at providing modular homes is breathing new life into Maple Corner School. It could also boost to the town of Maple’s economy with up to 30 jobs.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A company aimed at providing modular homes is breathing new life into Maple Corner School. It could also boost to the town of Maple’s economy with up to 30 jobs.
Mobil Tech Inc. will provide customized, turn-key housing units that can be transported to sites.
“I like to think of it as a mobile hotel room,” said Ron Johnson of Lake Nebagamon, one of three Mobil Tech co-owners.
The units could fit the needs of construction or logging camps, provide emergency housing following a disaster or serve as personal cabins. Demand for this type of lodging is being fueled also by the North Dakota oil boom.
To date, work is underway to turn the former elementary school into a business. Johnson said the company has four employees and hopes to begin construction by the end of March or April.
Pieces will be cut and welded in a classroom on the main floor. The former gymnasium is where they will be assembled like a jigsaw puzzle.
A garage door will be cut into the back wall of the gym so the housing units can be brought out once completed.
The work has generated a lot of curiosity about town. Residents stop often to ask if they can help, Johnson said.
“You’ve got to love people who are excited about what you’re doing,” he said, sitting in the Mobil Tech main office, once the school cafeteria.
Before he closed off the upper floor, the business owner would send visitors to the library to look through items that had been left at the school. Often, they would leave with a memento.
“The little chairs were the first to go,” Johnson said, followed by film projectors and even playground equipment. Many visitors, in return, have left their phone number, eager for a job interview.
Maple Corner School was built in 1923. The 7,460 square foot structure was an integral part of the community until it closed in the late 1990s. The school district of Maple sold it in 1998.
“My father went to school there, I went to school there, all my kids went to school there,” said Gary Saari, chairman of the Maple Town Board. “It’s the same for pretty much everybody else.”
People from Brule or Superior might not think much of the brick structure, said Kent Makela, chairman of the town of Maple planning commission, but it’s filled with local memories.
When Johnson bought the building in 2000, he didn’t know what it would become. Now, he’s “all in” for the launch of Mobil Tech, having sunk both his savings and pension into the business.
Johnson spent years as an equipment operator for road construction projects throughout Minnesota. He’s seen his share of “dive” hotel rooms and stayed in places with rustic names like “Uncle Bob’s Hunting Shack.”
Mobil Tech units can offer more of a sense of home — a full bath with a shower, a stove and refrigerator.
Wading through government “red tape” to start up the business has been a big challenge, Johnson said, but town board members and residents have been supportive from the very beginning.
“Most of the people, their opinion is they’re glad it will be used for something rather than deteriorating to the point of being demolished,” Saari said.
Johnson lived in Maple during his high school years, graduating from Northwestern High School in 1982.
“Ron is kind of a local boy,” Makela said. “All us rural folks are trying to stick together.”
Mobil Tech brings an economic opportunity to Maple, population 749. The school district is the biggest employer in town. Other than that, Saari said, there are only home-based businesses since Sundown Restaurant and gas/convenience store was shuttered a year ago.
Johnson said his goal is to hire local workers. With winter weather issues and the price of gas, he said, it just makes sense. And any future expansion at the site will reflect the brick schoolhouse, he said. When the parking lot gets repaved, for example, Johnson plans to paint back in the two foursquare courts.
As the community waits for Superior job opportunities to spring up, Makela said, they are also keeping an eye on work at Maple Corner School.
“We’re all waiting for something to happen,” he said.
For more information on Mobil Tech Inc., go to http://mobiltechhomes.com or call 218-206-5466.