EAU CLAIRE — The aging Maples Mobile Home Park on the north side of Eau Claire has been sold to an adjacent business, which plans to permanently close the park by spring.
John Saxe, president of Ferrell Equipment & Supply, said the company purchased the mobile home park two weeks ago.
The 3-acre park, located at 1611 Western Ave., had about 45 trailers last year. Many were dilapidated and have been torn down.
“It’s going to be at least next year before we can expand into it,” Saxe said. “It’s really in bad condition. We have some professional cleaners over there, cleaning it up and making it safe.”
Saxe said the trailer park has some dangerous debris, from piles of asbestos to several broken toilets, just sitting on the ground.
“It’s everything from insulation to sheet metal to glass,” Saxe said. “It’s basically taking a house and blowing it up.”
Saxe said they’ve been going to each of the units, making sure they know which ones are occupied, and are removing the vacant and dilapidated ones.
“There are a lot of abandoned trailers we’re getting out of the way,” Saxe said. “We’ll be closing the trailer park by April 1 next year.”
Emily Shields, who used to manage the trailer park, said just 11 trailers, with perhaps 30 residents, remain in the park. While she moved out of her unit in February, she is still close with the remaining residents in their little community.
“There is a lot of high emotions around (the sale),” Shields said. “In the past (few days), they’ve taken out multiple trailers, multiple trees. There are still major concerns about what happens to the families who are still there.”
Shields said there are multiple problems with water and gas lines and other issues below the ground.
“It wasn’t going to get better without moving everyone out and repairing all the underground infrastructure,” Shields said.
Saxe also is offering a financial incentive to the remaining residents to help them find new homes.
“We’re doing things to help them get better living conditions,” Saxe said.
Shields is appreciative of the offers, but she still fears the future for the remaining residents. Six of the 45 trailers in the park are privately owned; the rest pay roughly $340 per month in rent, she said. Not only is that far less expensive than other housing options in Eau Claire, many of the residents simply don’t have better options, often because they have criminal records that make it difficult to rent elsewhere, she added.
“Unfortunately, the outcome for 95% of the people are (living on) the streets or a hotel,” she said.
Shields praised Saxe for all the work he has done to improve the site in just the two weeks he’s owned it.
“He’s being very reasonable,” she said. “He really seems sympathetic. He’s making contact with families and finding out what they need; he answered every question.”
Ferrell Equipment & Supply was founded in 1968, and Saxe described the business as a construction supply house. The trailer park is immediately north of his business.
“We’re basically landlocked,” Saxe explained. “It’s the only property touching mine that is for sale. It may just become a yard for us.”
Saxe said he’s worked with city officials, but added he isn’t getting any public financial assistance.
“We probably paid too much for the property, and we’re paying the cleanup as well,” Saxe said.
Eau Claire Council President Terry Weld said city staff has been working with the families who are still living in the park.
“We all want healthy and safe housing,” Weld said. “Everyone has been working with the residents there and guiding them through the next step.”
Weld said it is “amazing” how the trailer court fell into disrepair, with so many dilapidated units.
“Those homes just aren’t built to last 50, 60, 70 years,” Weld said.
EAU CLAIRE — Eau Claire’s public library is looking for a temporary home for when its building undergoes extensive renovations and an addition starting next year.
L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library anticipates it will be in a different location, starting in April until the construction project is expected to finish in fall 2022.
The library has already begun seeking out spaces to lease, but does not yet have a spot picked out.
“We are currently in the information gathering stage, exploring all options,” library Director Pamela Westby said in an email to the Leader-Telegram. “There are many, many details that have to be ironed out before we will know the where.”
A few places have already been ruled out, she said, because they weren’t available on a short-term lease basis.
In its search, the library does have several features it’s looking for in the building where it will be for over a year.
Topping the list is access to high-speed fiber optic lines, Westby said. In addition to that, the location will need parking, a public bus stop and accessible restrooms. The library also is looking for a building with low utility costs and that won’t require repairs.
After selecting a location to lease, the library will then seek out a company that can move its collections to the temporary home.
“We want to make a decision soon so we can begin the RFP process to find a moving company,” Westby stated.
The library currently has $400,000 in its 2021 budget to cover moving expenses and rent costs, but Westby said the figure is a placeholder until firm numbers come in.
Those one-time costs are expected to be covered by savings the library has had this year due to its operations being scaled back during the coronavirus pandemic, she said, as well as using money in its fund balance.
The $18.5 million project to renovate and expand the library building is being funded by a mix of money from the city government and donations.
The city’s $11.5 million contribution to the project will revamp mechanical systems in the 44-year-old building.
An update last week from the library’s Story Builder fundraising campaign showed that it was around the halfway point of its $7 million goal. The campaign is seeking to have all donation pledges secured by Jan.1 to have the desired expansion happen while the building’s systems are being replaced, according to the campaign’s website.
The planned expansion includes the addition of a third floor to the building, which will have a large community gathering room, green roof and innovation lab. Benefits of expanded library space include more shelf space for materials, reaching full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, larger youth services programming space, more group meeting rooms and additional areas to read that feature scenic views and natural light, according to a campaign brochure.