Once a month, bargain hunters from all over the state pack a warehouse just south of the MU campus, where the auctioneer makes his rounds as more than 100 people follow close by.
Old friends huddle around pallets of computer equipment just before the auction is set to begin, sifting through desktop computers, monitors, laptops and boxes of miscellaneous equipment.
Today, customers will return to the warehouse near Rock Quarry Road to try their luck with this month’s offerings.
MU Procurement Services Surplus Supervisor Bo Solomon, along with his staff of five, is responsible for processing the hundreds of computers and components that come through his warehouse each month.
When it comes time for MU departments to upgrade computer equipment, any components no longer needed are sent to surplus for other departments or the public to purchase at prices far below retail.
Though most of the equipment at the auction is sold in bulk, some fully functional computers are sold individually. System hard drives are reformatted before computers can be made available for purchase, protecting software copyrights and sensitive information.
Solomon said Procurement Services has begun installing a free operating system called Ubuntu Linux so patrons can purchase a Web-ready system — including a computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers — that doesn’t require any additional software to get online.
“We’ll sell working systems so people don’t have to piece together from a pallet,” Solomon said.
Any computers sold at auction but not claimed by noon the following Friday are available for free to anyone willing to remove items from MU Surplus. Items that remain unclaimed are removed by Mid-Missouri Recycling to avoid being sent to landfills.
Marty Walker, director of administrative services for the College of Engineering, attends every auction to help answer questions about the equipment supplied by his department.
“I’m coming down for the last rites for this equipment,” Walker said.
Walker said he wishes students had an opportunity to purchase computers at the auction, but that it’s difficult to attend on a Wednesday morning when class might be in session. He said that in the past he’s suggested a monthly Saturday auction specifically for students to purchase equipment, but his dream has yet to become reality.
David Hutchinson attended last month’s auction to purchase computers to resell through his business, Columbia Computer Center.
Hutchinson installs Windows and system drivers on the computers he purchases, and said he typically resells computers for twice the price at which he purchases them. He warned that it can be easy to mistakenly purchase broken or outdated equipment.
“You’ve really got to know what you’re buying,” Hutchinson said. “If you don’t then you’ll end up with a pile of junk.”
Paula Chitwood is the director of public relations for the Four Seasons Living Center in Sedalia. Chitwood, who first visited MU Surplus in February but left empty-handed, came to the March auction in search of computers for patient use.
“This is my first auction,” Chitwood said. “I’m excited.”
Chitwood left the auction with a Dell notebook, a Gateway desktop computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers, all for $340.
Chitwood said she wants patients to learn modern office skills so they can stay up to date as technology progresses.
“I look for things that will help their community involvement activities; anything that will help their life,” Chitwood said. “I’m on a mission of mercy.”