Dwyer Elementary

Pictured here is Dwyer Elementary School at 1601 Tammany St. in Anaconda. School trustees voted to close the school in 2016. Now a bitcoin mining company wants to buy it.

Annie Pentilla, The Montana Standard

The bitcoin business striving to build a facility in Anaconda is one step closer to mining for bitcoin gold.

In a unanimous decision, Anaconda’s school board voted 7-0 during a special session Tuesday night to enter into buy-sell agreement with the company. The $205,000 agreement will allow the company to purchase W.K. Dwyer School, which BitPower wants to turn into a training facility. That facility would support a proposed bitcoin mine that BitPower wants to build along Mill Creek Highway, south of Anaconda. That mine is expected to be a large building with computers — because a bitcoin mine is entirely online.

A bitcoin is a digital currency that exists only on the internet. Bitcoins are "mined" using computers the do work on the bitcoin network and are awarded the digital currency for the work they perform. One computer can "mine" for bitcoins, but large facilities housing many computers can also mine the currency and are often called bitcoin "mines."  

The Dwyer facility, once it’s fully up and running, along with the bitcoin mine is expected to bring around 300 jobs, according to company statements in previous stories.

School Trustee Chair Bryan Lorengo said one of the board's biggest needs for the money is renovation of Mitchell Stadium, Anaconda High’s football and track facility. Money from the sale of Dwyer School could go toward that project. The stadium has been deteriorating over the years, Lorengo said.

“It’s long overdue,” Lorengo said.

However, before any decisions can be made about how to best use the money, a board committee will discuss the matter, with the final decision up to the board.

Dwyer has sat empty since 2016 when trustees voted 5-2 to close the school as part of a district consolidation plan. In August, the board approved an agreement to sell Dwyer for $100,000 to Butte-based financial adviser Scott Haeffner, but that deal fell through in late fall. Haeffner wanted to turn the building into a retirement facility. 

Tuesday night’s decision to sell Dwyer to BitPower comes less than a week after trustees declined to vote on an earlier version of the buy-sell agreement, which outlined a proposal to purchase the school for $100,000, according to the Anaconda Leader.

During that meeting trustees put that matter up for discussion without a vote, resulting in a heated exchange about the merits and pitfalls of the plan. Also discussed was a deed covenant on the school, which says that the property must be used for educational purposes. The covenant could put the project in jeopardy, Trustee Dan Villa said last week.

But the fireworks of last week’s meeting were missing from Tuesday’s session, which lasted only 10 minutes after a motion was put forward to approve the agreement with the addition of a contingency that the deed covenant be lifted.

About 70 people gathered in the Anaconda Little Theater to watch the proceedings; many applauded when the board gave the agreement the thumbs up. Three people spoke against the facility and no one spoke in favor of it.

Anaconda resident Jane Dierenfeldt told trustees she was worried that Dwyer would be used for more than just training. She asked if Dwyer would have network servers, which is how computers mine for bitcoin. Dierenfeldt also raised questions about the potential impacts of noise and light pollution from the mine building BitPower wants to build along Mill Creek Highway. She asked whether a decibel limit could be imposed on the company for the Dwyer facility.

But Lorengo told Dierenfeldt that those are issues for the county’s planning and zoning departments to consider.

Anaconda-Deer Lodge Chief Executive Bill Everett told The Montana Standard after the meeting that before the Dwyer School can be turned into a training facility for bitcoin, it has to go through the county’s planning department, where potential issues such as noise and lights will be addressed. It will then go before the county commissioners and the public will have an opportunity to comment on such issues, along with the company’s proposed plan, before anything becomes final.

John Fitzpatrick, a critic of Premier Industries’ slag processing facility, also to be built along Mill Creek Highway, and of Rick Tabish, a contractor for Premier who has been serving as a spokesperson for BitPower, voiced opposition to BitPower’s plans.

Fitzpatrick said he believed language in the buy-sell agreement that states that the facility must be used only for a training is overly ambiguous and could provide loopholes should the company want to do something else with the property.

The language in question states that if BitPower changes the purpose of the facility within 10 years’ time, the ownership of the property will revert back to the school district.

“This is a manipulative ploy,” he said. “We are told that Dwyer will be a training facility, but there is absolutely nothing in the contract which prevents them from installing bitcoin mining machines by the bushel basket … And pretty soon Tammany Street will sound like the tarmac of a Salt Lake City airport.”

Scott Mosebach, vice president of Burrell Group, the company that owns BitPower, declined to comment on how soon the former elementary school will become a training center for bitcoin mining.

Bitcoin is a new form of currency, available only on the bitcoin online network. The cryptocurrency got its start in 2008 when an anonymous source known only as Satoshi Nakamoto created bitcoin and the bitcoin network as a response to privacy and a distrust in big banks and the federal government.

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

Business Reporter

Business Reporter for The Montana Standard.

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