BOTKINS — With the Nov. 8 general election fast approaching, Botkins residents have discussed the different advantages and disadvantages of building a new school with state funds through the Ohio School Facilities Commission.
For one small group in Botkins, the disadvantages hit home.
As part of the project, the school is discussing the purchase of small area of land surrounding Belle Circle Drive for the use of an access point to the proposed school building site. That site is currently home to a small trailer court.
Many are on fixed incomes and they feel they have no other options if the trailer park is sold and tore down.
A few signs in front of the park display the groups worry about the vote.
One says “Save Our Homes. No Entrance Here! Vote No. or Ten Families Go.”
Another states, “Are you willing to give up your home? Why should we.”
Tom Hoying, a former police officer in the village, lives at Lot 3 of the trailer park.
“I don’t think they need to build a new school,” Hoying said. “I know a lot of people who say they can’t afford it.”
A walk through the park, speaking to many of the residents who happened to be home, revealed it was evident that the small trailer park has become a community within a community.
“We know each other and we are very tight,” said Mary Ann Hoying, Tom’s wife. “We celebrate birthdays and holidays together. We watch out for each other’s kids. If you need to borrow a cup of sugar, there is somewhere to borrow it.”
Tom Hoying said the group feels the biggest slap in the face was how they found out about the possible sale of the trailer park.
“We found out they offered to buy the trailer park through a mailer,” Hoying said.
He showed the mailer that had been circulated by the school district’s Levy Committee to support the levy.
“It would have been nice if someone would have told us or given us a chance to buy it ourselves,” Tom Hoying said. “We would have liked the chance for the residents to buy it up.”
With the exception of Hoying’s trailer, which is less than 10-years-old, the newest trailer in the park was manufactured in 1986. This causes a major problem for most of the residents as most trailer parks have age restrictions on moving in new residents, with 25-year-old trailers easily surpassing that criteria.
One resident, Bernadette Berning, made $13,000 in repairs to her trailer three years ago since repairs were less expensive than buying or relocating and the amount fit within her budget.
Another resident, 81-year-old Alma J. Welsh, said her biggest fear is the limited options if the park is sold.
“I lost my husband two years ago,” Welsh said. “I don’t want to lose my home, too.”
Welsh can no longer walk and has back problems. As a result she gets around by wheelchair.
She said whenever she needs help, it is just a telephone call away.
“We have our own little community back here,” Welsh said. “A lot of us are working for the same thing. This is home to me. A lot of us older people have a hard time giving up things. It’s nice back here, I can feed the squirrels and the birds. There is a black squirrel that comes around once in a while. I saw it again just the other day.”
Welsh likes living on her own and can because she has a network of help in the park. She said that will end and that she would likely end up in a nursing home or assisted living if the park is sold.
Another resident, Logan Wallace, lives in the park with a inquisitive 3-year-old named, Michael.
Wallace, now 21, has been a single father since the age of 17 and is struggling to make ends meet as the young father tries to provide for his young son.
He said he definitely knows what it is like to struggle, and the less expensive housing at the park has given them the chance to succeed.
“I know it is not great, but it is home,” Wallace said. “I don’t think it is right. With the park entrance right there, they don’t need to take families’ homes.”
Wallace said the only option they may be left with is to move back home with his mother and father.
“We struggle, but we are getting started,” Wallace said. “This would be a step back.”
Michael, without provocation, also got into the conversation, albeit shortly.
“I like it here,” Michael said. “It is our own. I like all the kids here.”
Wallace said that the people had met as a group with some school officials and members of the committee, but he believes their concerns fell on deaf ears.
“It was a waste of time,” Wallace said.” They don’t care. None of them really cared.”
Welsh said she felt there is a lack of concern because of stereotypical references that follow residents of trailer parks.
“People don’t think much of trailer park people,” Welsh said. “The only time we get noticed is when something bad happens. We don’t ever have any trouble back here.”
Rick Steinke, who is the owner of the property, is originally from the area but now lives in Wyoming. His sister, who still lives in the area, collects the lot rent for him.
Steinke said that he had not originally planned to sell the property and that it had not been for sale when the school district approached him.
Sadly, the economic state of several of the residents may have helped influence his decision to sell the property.
“Everything is for sale,” Steinke said. “I had not planned to sell the property. I have been confronted by four or five people over the years but I always decided not to sell it. I wanted to use it as retirement income and pass it on to family.”
However, collecting rent from a few of the residents has been a problem at times.
“A couple of them haven’t paid rent for a few years,” Steinke said. “When I start losing money on retirement income, it is time to do something.”
He said while the lot had not been for sale, he was approached by Botkins Board of Education President Jack Koenig about purchasing the land. He has decided to sell the property if the levy goes through.
“I told him I would be willing,” Steinke said. “It all depends on how the levy turns out. A price will be discussed and it will be sold if the levy passes.”