Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Future Of Historic Oshtemo Schoolhouse In Doubt

A front view of a two story red-brick building with arched windows and a wooden belfry
Sehvilla Mann

In Oshtemo Township a drama has been brewing over the future of the stately but run-down Number 10 school on Stadium Drive near Ninth Street. The owner of a local construction and tree-cutting business has bought it and wants to fix it up. But he’d have to park heavy trucks there, and Oshtemo says that’s a no-go. Planners may give a final thumbs-down at a meetingThursday, March 11. If the schoolhouse changes hands it may get torn down.

UPDATE: Oshtemo Township Planning Commission members unanimously approved most of the renovation plan on Thursday, March 11. But it nixed parking of a large tree-trimming truck and outdoor storage of wood. The owner of the property says he's moving his business to another location. And he says that means he no longer has the money for the renovation work after buying the new property.

The Number 10 school turned 150 last year. A two-story brick building with tall windows and a belfry, it once served students who walked to school and hung tin drinking cups by their coats. Preservationist Richard Spigelmyer owned the building for many years. When I dida story about ita few years ago, Spigelmyer told me he wanted to sell the school to someone who would save it.

“It’s an integral part of Oshtemo,” he said.

A couple years ago Spigelmyer found his buyer: Jack Livingstone, owner of a local construction and tree removal business.

“I’d renovated some other difficult projects and brought them back from the dead and he said you’re just the guy who can do this and I’ve been looking for someone like you for 20 years,” Livingstone told WMUK.

Livingstone wants to restore the school – turn it into apartments and the HQ for his business. But the plan’s at an impasse. The township says it can’t allow Livingstone to park heavy trucks on the property, the ones he uses for tree cutting. That’s according to the packet for tonight’s meeting. Livingstone says the township is chasing off the one person who wants to renovate the school.

“It’s kind of strange that they would want to do that to their own community and sabotage their own downtown,” he said.

Planning staff at the Township declined to be interviewed for this story. In a statement, Supervisor Libby Heiny-Cogswell said Oshtemo does value the schoolhouse. But Township planners acknowledge they won’t force a developer to keep it.

The Township accuses Livingstone of illegally running his business from the property. Livingstone says it’s the township that’s acting in bad faith, throwing up bureaucratic hurdles as he tries to salvage the building.

“It’s been one thing after next, it’s been one warning after the next, whatever we’re doing is wrong and it just keeps changing,” he said.

Livingstone says the ban on heavy trucks is just the latest reason officials have given him for why his business won’t work at the site. He also says officials have acted strangely and inappropriately while visiting it. He says on one occasion, his workers saw a man with binoculars watching them from across the property.

“And then when questioned about who they were, was refusing to identify themselves and then it turns out they were from the Township,” Livingstone said.

The township denies this. But Livingstone added that another time he arrived to find a township inspector urinating behind the schoolhouse.

“The contempt is palpable when they use it as a toilet,” he said.

In an email the Township acknowledged that was improper, adding, “now that we know about the inappropriate behavior, it will be addressed.”

Livingstone says he’s ready to throw up his hands.

“I’m not a person who gives up easily, but I’m also not a person who’s going to chase windmills forever, you know?” he said.

But an architect who’s been working on the schoolhouse plans urged him to seek a meeting with the planning commission. Richard Schramm’s office is near the school. He’s worried it won’t survive if Livingstone’s proposal gets rejected.

“If they turn him down at this meeting you’re going to be looking at a Dollar General on that site,” Schramm said.

Livingstone says he had an offer from the discount chain, for more than he paid for the property. Schramm is looking to the planning board.

“We can save the building, and I’m trying to be as persuasive as I can with them to flex a bit, the way trees do when the wind blows,” he said.

But it’s not clear that will be enough. In an email, Oshtemo staff said the planning board doesn’t have the power to allow heavy trucks at the site. And they said local historic status, which Schramm is seeking, wouldn’t change that. The board will meet virtually at 6 o’clock this evening.

Disclosure: A member of the Oshtemo Township planning board is related to an employee of WMUK.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. She covered those topics and more in eight years of reporting for the Station, before becoming news director in 2022.