PARK TWP. — The Park Township Board of Trustees has raised concerns after the former managers of the Park Township Airport, which is in the process of being closed, removed artwork and other items from the airport’s hangars during a changeover of airport management.
The Park Township Airport Historical Association’s airport management contract with the township expired April 30, and the township hired Kenn Potts to manage the airport as the township delists the airport and removes the runway so it can no longer be used by airplanes.
Park Township residents voted to close the airport in the March election, when the township board made clear that voting down a proposed millage for the airport would result in the airport’s closure.
When PTAHA left the airport, the group took with it displays about the airport’s history and artwork that was installed inside and outside of the community hangar.
“We were really surprised to see those pried off the outside of the building,” said Township Supervisor Jerry Hunsburger.
Township officials are now concerned, given a strained relationship with PTAHA, they won’t be able to preserve those pieces of the airport’s history for the township, something the board has repeatedly promised the public it will do.
PTAHA fought for the millage to be approved and has criticized the board’s handling of the issue with a millage vote.
Some have said, for example, that the millage vote created an impossible choice for residents who didn’t approve of an additional tax on residents but either didn’t want to close the airport or didn’t realize their vote against the millage would close the airport.
Hunsburger told The Sentinel he and the board are simply trying to make sure the township will have access to the artwork and other items of historic value when they put into motion future plans for maintaining the history of the airport.
“Where the board's coming from is there's a concern that anything that might have some historic value be preserved and be made available for the public,” Hunsburger said.
“I'd like to believe that what we have is a communication problem. I certainly think that we historically have had a mutual goal.”
While the murals, artwork and other items, like an airport registry, may not fit the definition of “historic” today, Hunsburger said they include depictions of history and also may have some historic value in the future.
Hunsburger told The Sentinel he’s not interested in contesting the ownership of the artwork or anything else — although township attorney Dan Martin told the board during a May 21 meeting an argument could be made the township owns at least some of the property in question.
After The Sentinel requested an interview with PTAHA, PTAHA’s attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to the township board and manager threatening any statements alleging PTAHA property is the property of the township would be considered defamatory.
“Please know that artifacts, images, information and history collected and maintained by PTAHA were and are publicly available at the Holland Archives and other sources, and are being preserved in a secure location,” the letter also states.
“These items are well cared for and will be displayed again at a time and place to be determined by PTAHA.”
PTAHA’s letter says one mural by artist Jean Flower, which had been displayed inside the community hangar, is being relocated to West Michigan Regional Airport.
“At this time the township is not really taking a position as to the ownership of the items. That's not what is important to us,” said township manager Howard Fink.
“It's a question of how do we make sure that the township has access to those display items, so that if and when we try to create an opportunity to display the history and the past of the airport that we can do so.”
At the May 21 board meeting, Fink said the township was “at an impasse” with PTAHA after multiple conversations.
“There's nothing further we can do from a conversational perspective unless we authorize (township attorney) Dan (Martin) to take legal action."
Board member Steve Spoelhof suggested the township ask the Holland Historical Trust to step in as a third-party mediator that could help curate the items. Fink said those conversations are just beginning.
“I want to focus on not what's happened in the past but trying to figure out how do we move forward, how do we create an opportunity where we can do the right thing for the community,” Fink said Tuesday.
“I'm choosing not to focus on the past. I think we just need to move forward.”
Meanwhile, the airport is set to close permanently to fixed-wing aircraft this summer. Pilots leasing hangars on-site must be out by Aug. 1, the airport will be de-listed by Aug. 15, and the runway removal begins in September.
The township is already re-using asphalt from the airport’s taxiway and will be using asphalt from the runway in its Cooper Van Wieren Park project adjacent to the airport.
A final fly-in event at the airport is scheduled for Saturday, June 13.
“Those that love the airport are not happy with the decision, and I respect that,” Fink said.
“Right now we are trying our best to move forward with as much compassion and understanding as possible and look to the future.”
— Contact reporter Carolyn Muyskens at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @cjmuyskens.