It appears that not everybody is pleased with the results of Steve Austin’s purchase of the old Moline Elementary building and converting it into a recreational vehicle repair business.
Several neighbors of the school, mothballed in 2003 and which sat idle for more than a dozen years, brought complaints with them to the Leighton Township Board meeting Thursday night. One, ironically was Perry Slagter, who years ago was a member of the Wayland Board of Education.
“It hasn’t been a pleasant experience,” Slagter said the old school building’s remodeling and renovations. “We’re not happy.”
He said the key issues are that no fence has been installed as a buffer between residences and Austin’s campers parked behind the school near the softball fields, several fires in which flooring, furniture and other related items have been burned, and the hauling of dirt in and out of the site.
he and several comrades insisted none of them were contacted about hearings and meetings discussing Austin’s proposal to buy the building from the school and use the Leighton Township property.
Some also complained that hooligans were using the site for noisy dirt bikes on Saturday nights.
Supervisor Steve Deer explained, “For a lot of years that property (because it sat idle) has been looked at as a kind of playground. Mr. Austin doesn’t like this any more than any of you… Your best bet would be to call 911.”
Slagter added, “We’ haven’t seen anything but dirt fly in and out of there” and one woman complained of “ashes on my deck, ashes on my car (from outdoor fires) after we were told there was asbestos inside that building.”
Deer also said he’s been monitoring Austin’s progress and is convinced he’s been moving dirt in and out to make way for the desired fence.
One resident charged, “Not one property owner of land that abuts the school was notified (of hearings and meetings a year ago).”
Clerk Mary Lou Nieuewenhuis replied, “This is most unusual. I have no proof letters were or weren’t sent out… There is a process in place and where the breakdown came in I don’t know.”
She noted the township and Professional Code Inspections were responsible for notifying residents of the hearings.
But one of the neighbors, Nick Negen, acknowledged, “Shame on us for letting this fester for so long and not bringing this to your attention until now.”
Austin has been working on putting up a new roof and begun renovations in the ares of the kitchen, gymnasium and stage.
The entire project was referred to as a “win-win-win” situation for the schools, the community of Moline, the township and Austin. The schools were able to unload a building they no longer want or had use for, the community has seen the building spared demolition, the township will have more space for its famous softball program that attracts a lot of people and Austin will be able to establish a business.
The Moline Fast-Pitch Association, which will contribute about $4,000 to the township and has promised to take care of maintenance, mowing and upkeep of the softball field.
Austin, co-owner of Happy Camper Mobile RV Service and Retro Rentals of Caledonia with his wife, Shelly, do all phases of repair and restoration to campers, motor homes and vintage campers. They also restore vintage campers for Retro Rentals.
PHOTO: Campers parked in back of the old Moline Elementary building awaiting repairs.