Workers have already started dismantling portions of the school. Photo by Stephen Igo.
BIG STONE GAP — One final time come Saturday, the folks of Big Stone Gap can prowl the halls of the old Powell Valley High School, and perhaps take a little — or not so little — piece of it home with them.
The Wise County school division is set to auction off furnishings, equipment and a horde of other assorted items on Saturday before the building falls to the wrecking ball.
Immediately behind the old PVHS sits the brand new Union High School that opened just last week. The old structure hides six decades of high school memories as well as memories of new generations of students now in the making.
But come Saturday, those old, soon to be gone halls will bustle with alumni activity one final time.
“I feel there’s a lot more to the auction than just getting rid of surplus stuff,” said Wayne Mefford, owner of Wise-based Wayne Mefford Auctions in charge of Saturday’s event. “This is not just a job for us. We look to preserve some of the history and people can get it. That’s kind of our mind-set.”
Saturday’s auction in the old PVHS gym will begin at 8:30 a.m. for potential bidders to review all items on the auction block. Bidding will begin at 10 a.m. “and we’ll not stop until we’re finished,” Mefford said. “Whoever wears out first. Me or the crowd.”
And Mefford & Co. are expecting a crowd. Local interest in the auction has been high, he said. The website (go to AuctionZip.com? , look for the Wayne Mefford Auctions link) had more than 4,400 hits as of Tuesday — and 800 on Monday alone.
Mefford estimates at least 600 items up for auction on Saturday, and upwards of 500 lots of items with maybe up to 10 items in a lot.
Mefford’s crew — that includes Robert Musick and Randy Bush — were still gathering things up from around the old building and carting it into the gym on Tuesday. The gym already looks well supplied with auction items, but Mefford said come Saturday the place will be even more packed to the rafters.
Successful bidders for some of the larger items such as teacher-size desks, pianos, stainless steel cafeteria-quality tables, cabinetry and the like will have until next Wednesday to cart off their prizes, Mefford said.
“After that, the power goes off and the building comes down,” he said. “So this is everybody’s last chance to come into the old school. And I think everybody who comes will be pleasantly surprised with what we have to auction off. For those looking for good items, and those looking for nostalgia, this will be the place to be come Saturd a y. ”
Mefford said there’s always an element of sadness draped over auctions, and particularly those involving old schools. It’s the sixth his outfit has done in the last six months across the region, he said, including three in Dickenson County (Clinchco Elementary and two at Ervinton High School).
“It’s kind of bittersweet for us,” he said of the auction business, “but something that’s got to be done. But it’s been fun for us as well. We’ve found little cubbyholes (in the old PVHS) and items that’s probably not been seen in 30 or 40 years, like an unopened tin of survival crackers from, I guess, the old atomic bomb fallout shelter days.”
Mefford has been involved in the auction business for 30 years and has been an auctioneer for the past 15. Not just anybody can up and be an auctioneer in Virginia, he said.
“There’s a lot of preparation work involved just setting up and getting ready to do an auction, especially one on this scale. I became my own auctioneer 15 years ago. In Virginia you’re required to attend an accredited school for 80 hours and pass a rigorous licensing procedure. You must be bonded and you need to keep up with continuing education every two years to keep that license,” he said.
“A lot of people think to be an auctioneer you’ve just got to talk fast. But there’s a lot of laws involved to protect sellers and buyers. Virginia is one of the toughest states in the nation to become a certified auctioneer, and stay certified. My wife says I ought to be a good auctioneer because my mouth never closes. But there’s actually an art to bidding, to knowing how (different individuals) bid and when they bid or not bid. Some will flick a hand and some will nod but they’d better not wink. I can’t just see a wink out there in the crowd. It’s a lot of fun but a lot of hard work, too, and sometimes very stressful.”
Mefford suggests everyone who comes to Saturday’s auction should dress warmly because there is no heat to the building. The coal furnace has been deactivated and there’s no water, either, so portable bathrooms will be available on site for the event.
There are at least three pianos that will be up for auction, Mefford said, “and I’ve got 10 sets of auditorium seats. Some real nice mirrored showcases. Some chemical cabinets. A real good collection of (Powell Valley Vikings) colored paint. Just all sorts of things.”
Like at least one Christmas tree, some scholastically oriented rock collections, a hearing/eyesight testing box from a whole other era of yesteryear, at least a couple of globes, a collection of blackboard mounted type maps and other roll-down instructional aids, and a mob of microscopes and other assorted scientific gear.
“And we’re selling off a doublewide, too,” Mefford said. The double-wide was used as a mobile classroom, he explained.
What can’t be auctioned off, though, is the building itself, or the generations of memories built within it. The classrooms, the now seatless auditorium, the locker rooms, the basement “dungeon” area, the gym that once vibrated with human voices raised to momentous victories and crushing defeats, fated for demolition.
You can’t auction off history or memories — merely the trappings, the odds and ends mementos of such. But things needn’t be entirely melancholy at an auction, and rarely are, Mefford said.
“We try to make it fun,” he said.
“Whether you buy anything or not, we try to make it enjoyable for all. We’ll have some food, too. So if you want to eat a hot dog and enjoy the show, come on down. We’ll be glad to have you and I think you’ll be glad you came.”