• Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Report

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SAPPORO — A vacant elementary school in Niikappu, Hokkaido, that was put up for sale online has been purchased by an Osaka-based operator of spas and hot springs.

With a successful bid of ¥30 million, Mitaka Club hopes to turn the school into an art museum, according to town officials.

With a playground and a pool, the now-defunct Taiyo Elementary School was one of four elementary school buildings Niikappu put up for sale in April on the Yahoo Japan auction site, hoping to attract buyers nationwide.

It was the first time school facilities have been put on sale in an online auction.

No buyers have stepped forward for the three other buildings, but the town, a two-hour drive from Sapporo, is currently negotiating their possible sale with a Hokkaido educational foundation, municipal officials said.

“I am happy that we put the facilities for sale online to reinvigorate the local community,” said Mayor Kuniaki Kotake. “It sets a precedent for the future.”

Niikappu’s population, which stood at 5,901 at the end of March, has been declining for the past decade, especially in the number of children, prompting the town to close seven of its nine elementary schools in April 2008.

When it couldn’t find buyers for four of the buildings, the town decided to try the online auction site, which has a section for government assets.

Niikappu received 17 inquiries from educational, agricultural and welfare organizations from around the country. Officials from other municipalities considering how best to close their schools even visited Niikappu to see how the town is handling the sale, the officials said.

Niikappu asked bidders to submit a utilization plan for the buildings, and it plans to provide financial assistance to the winning bidders, including subsidies to make repairs, they said.

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