May 21 2014 12:00 AM

Manufacturer starts exterior work on pole barn, residents applaud progress — mostly

Becky McKendry/City Pulse

WEDNESDAY, May 21 —High-tech manufacturer Niowave has begun exterior work on their industrial pole barn in Lansing’s Walnut neighborhood, and neighbors have used one word to describe their reaction: delighted.

The 14,000-square-foot pole barn, built without community involvement, sparked controversy in the northside neighborhood, whose residents threatened to sue the company that took over the old Walnut Street School as its headquarters.

The conflict gave way to a compromise last fall, when the Lansing Economic Area Partnership facilitated negotiations between Niowave and local residents. The company announced it would embark on a project to help the building blend into the neighborhood by covering two sides of the building with a brick façade, installing fake windows and painting the roof. A little less than half of the approximately $240,000 project is paid through Niowave. The other half is paid through a brownfield development fund.

Resident Dale Schrader said he can’t wait to see the finished product.

“I’m glad to see it getting done,” said resident Dale Schrader. “It’ll be so good for the neighborhood.”

Not that long ago, Schrader admits he was one of the biggest thorns in Niowave’s side. In March 2013, along with members of the Walnut Neighborhood Association, he constructed a mini-pole barn attached to a trailer and parked it in front of Niowave in protest.

“There were a lot of strong feelings at the time,” he said with a laugh. “We got into a lot of negativity last year.”

But Schrader said that now that work has begun, he can finally say that Niowave is a welcomed neighbor in his community. “Everyone’s on the same page and got the attitude to just get it done,” he said. “And (Niowave) did cooperate, especially at the end of last year.”

He added that he wants people to look at the positive side of the project — and of Niowave itself.

Resident Mary Elaine Kiener, who also fought against the pole barn, says the project will rebuild a sense of community in her neighborhood. She returned from out of town on Monday to find workers installing the brick façade.

“I’m delighted to see that they’re making good on their promises and they’re following through,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s going to look when it’s all done. The fact they’re coming through with their commitment is rebuilding trust that had been breached.”

“My long-term goal has been that we would all be good neighbors together. I think we’re healing that relationship.”

Although she also welcomes the pole barn’s makeover, resident Penny Gardner finds it a little more difficult to heal the long-strained relationship between Niowave and the Walnut community.

“I’m delighted that they’re doing it,” she said. “But it’s still just a pole barn with a pretty face.”

Gardner said that after the company’s initial resistance to the project and months of poor communication between Niowave and Walnut residents, she can’t say that Niowave is a good addition to the community.

“They’re not my enemy,” she said. “But I’m kind of ornery about it. They haven’t been a good neighbor.”

Schrader said that even though Niowave may not have been a good neighbor before, the community should work to put it all in the past.

“I wish Niowave the best of luck,” he added. “The idea is to look forward together.”

Niowave did not return calls and emails for comment.