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Middle School renters love their apartments; feel safe

Shawna Christie stands in her lost apartment. She has apple decor throughout her kitchen. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

BY Sarah smith

The family of tenants at the Middle School Apartments is banding together to counter what they consider to be negative publicity about the number of police calls to their complex.

A story last month quoted Park Rapids Police Chief Terry Eilers saying his department spends an inordinate amount of time responding to calls at the renovated school.

Not so, maintain the tenants. Some claim they have never seen an officer at the complex. Others said if an officer responds with an ambulance to a medical assist call, that’s not a crime.

But what the tenants recently interviewed bristled at was the notion that most of them are regarded as welfare-collecting riff raff.

Complex manager Lou Ann Rech presented the Enterprise with occupations for most of the 39 tenants. It is a mixture of seniors, families and some disabled residents. Most are employed, some with two jobs.

The apartments range from efficiencies to five-bedrooms.

Outside in the courtyard the remains of chalk hopscotch games can still be seen.

A “school’s out” party was held here, the second annual.

Rech is promoting a family atmosphere, trying to organize community activities within her little community of 113 residents.

She said the only community outreach she’s seen is from Calvary Lutheran Church down the street.

Cynthia Hensel

“I am appalled,” the microbiology student and former beautician said.

“I’m not a welfare recipient, not under assistance of any kind. I can’t believe the paper would print such crap.

“I love my apartment,” Hensel added. “I work two jobs and go to school.”

Hensel will be leaving for North Carolina in December after living at the Middle School two years.

She and her neighbor decorate the second floor hallway for every season. They go all-out for Halloween.

This month a patriotic theme flashes red, white and blue in lights and decor. Hensel said she’s never had anything stolen. But she removed the extension cord at nights so the lights don’t burn out.

She disputes the alleged neighborhood crime rate.

“I’ve never had an issue in the parking lot or people coming to my door,” she said.

If there’s a problem, “we are a community,” Hensel said. “We solve it ourselves.”

Hensel said the complex sponsors lasagna and spaghetti contests and other social gatherings.

Maintenance problems “are fixed immediately,” she said.

In her 18 months, she said she’s only had contact with the police once, and that was for an issue unrelated to the apartments.

“Everybody’s happy,” she said. “There’s a tenant working on his GED” that she will tutor in science. “A guy downstairs is tutoring me in calculus,” she said.

She complained that police take too much time when there are calls to the building.

“They don’t respond,” she complained. “They figure this is the garbage of Park Rapids.

“We had a fight in the parking lot,” she said. “They (the people involved) didn’t even live here.”

She claims police never showed up.

“I love all the little munchkins that live here,” she said. “They all call me Grandma Cindy.”

Her neat apartment has hanging plants, her two dogs and “is very apropos to my needs.”

She and other tenants said they called Police Chief Terry Eilers after the story ran last month to complain.

She introduced neighbor Zack Leitheiser, who was walking by with his springer spaniel puppy.

Leitheiser said he’s lived in various apartments in the complex for the past nine years and has never had problems.

Erin Wolter

Erin Wolter lives in the building with sons Ethan and Avery in a two-bedroom apartment.

The dining room has vintage wood cabinets and drawers.

Wolter speculates her section of the building may have been a science room in the school. It was renovated last fall. She was the first renter.

The dark wooden floor has a couple blemishes, perhaps a science experiment that wasn’t so successful decades ago.

“I love living here,” Wolter said. She just signed a new six-month lease.

“I looked at a bunch of different places” and selected the Middle School, Wolter said.

“There are so many places battling bedbugs. There are none here,” she said. “In some of these rental properties you can spend thousands of dollars to cure bedbugs.”

Wolter works two jobs to pay the rent.

She plans to take the boys downtown for various activities this summer, including the Thursday night concerts on Second Street.

The boys shyly admit they had a good time at the school’s out party.

“I have never heard any noise or riff raff,” said Wolter, who has been living there six months.

“I’ve never seen the cops,” she added. “Occasionally you get a car drive by with loud music. But we feel really safe here. This is a really great building. I went to school here.”

Shawna Christie

Christie and her two children will be moving out the end of this month after living at the Middle School six months.

She said her parents read the Enterprise story and insisted she vacate her apartment with a loft.

“It’s my palace,” Christie said. “It’s nicer than a lot of real estate.

“Everybody that comes here thinks it’s amazing.”

Christie also said maintenance issues are immediately repaired.

“People don’t even give it a chance,” she said of the building and its reputation.

“It’s my home, it’s my heart.”

She and her kids frequent the downtown area and parks.

“A lot of the kids play together here,” she said.

Rech said the building has passed all inspections and she has had a few calls to the police chief about the building.

Continued calls

Meanwhile, two more calls were logged to the complex last week.

This Tuesday, police responded to the complex twice. Once was for an assault that started downtown. Police tracked the culprit home to the apartments, then arrested him at a fast food joint.

“Everything goes through the hallways there someplace,” he said.

Wednesday, “we took out large quantities of drugs, we took out people who tested positive for using drugs…” said Police Chief Terry Eilers. Six people were charged with parole violations.

The first call Wednesday entailed a burglary.

“He used a hammer, beat the crap out of different stuff there, left marks on the walls and there was a younger child in the apartment,” Eilers said. “He’s being charged. He does live there.”

Eilers said he got an earful of emails and complaints after the Enterprise story ran.

Many accused Eilers’ department of hiding reports, or being lazy for failing to provide them. By law, he cannot furnish any reports that involve ongoing investigations, cases that involve babies or juveniles, drug arrests, domestic violence victims and many other incidents.

He said Rech has been pressing him for such reports. He also cannot turn those reports over to the Enterprise. Much of the information gathered for the last story came from scanner traffic or the Sheriff’s Department logs.

“It is what it is,” Eilers said.

Scott Rech, the building owner, said he and Lou Ann Rech have been working hard to clean up the property and evict problem tenants.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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