SLIC-e tenants get eviction notice

Jason Ferguson
Tenants at the former Sustainable Light Industrial Complex and energy (SLIC-e) and State Treatment and Rehabilitation (STAR) Academy campus now have until March 1 to vacant the premises instead of the end of the month, it was revealed by the state last Friday.
Kristin Wileman, press secretary for Gov. Kristi Noem, said Department of Corrections (DOC) staff met with residents living at the campus Friday morning and after hearing from impacted families, Noem agreed to extend residential leases for familes at the campus until March 1.
“She understands it can be difficult to find housing in the Custer area on short notice and is willing to take on some of the liability risks in order to help those families,” Wileman said.
Wileman said businesses and artists at the facility must still adhere to the Oct. 31 deadline.
Susan West, one of those who lives on the campus, said she and other residents were summoned to the main building Sept. 26 and told, after deliberations between DOC and Noem’s office, it was decided by the governor’s legal counsel the campus was to be closed and residents needed to be off the property by Halloween.
West called it a “sucker punch right in the gut.”
“We’re desperate out here,” she said at the time. “We have no idea where we are going to go.”
The eviction notices are the latest in the saga of ill-fated SLIC-e, which went belly up last month after SLIC-e Holdings bounced a $116,588 check to the state for an annual payment that was more than four months overdue. When the check bounced, the state repossessed the facility, which SLIC-e holdings, apparently operated by Kevin Teasley of Custer, bought at auction and was purchasing on a contract for deed.
West said she was told some officials in the DOC fought to allow the 11 families living at the campus to remain on campus, but were overruled by other officials who felt the campus would be more attractive to put on the market with everyone gone.
West has lived on the campus since 2001 when she went to work for the former STAR Academy. She continued to work for the academy until its closure before landing a job with the State Veterans Home in Hot Springs. West is raising three grandchildren in her home on the campus and said the reduced rent the state provides to its employees has made raising the children possible.
“We all knew that since the deal fell through with the previous owner and the state had repossessed it, it was inevitable at some point,” she said.
West said she doesn’t know what she will do, but has a friend who has offered to take her and her grandchildren in for now. She said she’s “treading water,” saying she can’t afford a rental in Custer or Hot Springs where she works.
Steve Leonardi, who had moved his art studio to the campus, said he felt sorry for himself for about a day upon learning of the evictions, but his thoughts then shifted to those who weren’t just losing some office space, but were losing their homes.
“How can they do that?” he asked. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Leonardi said he threw up a Hail Mary to try to convince the governor’s legal team why everyone should be allowed to stay by sending a letter explaining how they were let down by Teasley, but offered hope for the campus economically, socially, politically and artistically. Leonardi said the letter asked the state to allow tenants to stay until the end of the year to show how much of an asset those at the campus are to the community, that a business plan was in the works and they would work with the state in any capacity it wanted.
He added that the rent being paid could generate half the operating expenses right now and that viable options to pay for the rest of the operating expenses were in the works.
Nobody evero responded to the letter, he said.
“They just dropped the ball,” he said.
Leonardi said he wasn’t shocked to hear the tenants were being evicted. He said it was something he was prepared for, even going so far as renting storage space so if this happened, he would have a place to put some of the items from his art studio.
“I don’t go though life without a plan B and C,” he said. “I am a homeless artist, but I could be gone (out of the SLIC-e building) tomorrow.”
Even if the state responds to the letter, Leonardi said at this point he wouldn’t “touch them with a 10-foot pole.”
“I am done with them,” he said. “I’m going to set something up in the private sector.”
Looking back at the totality of the SLIC-e venture and how things fell apart, Leonardi can only show a wry grin and figure nothing ventured, nothing gained.
“Artists are always on the bottom of the totem pole. We are never the money drivers,” he said.
Leonardi understands the campus will be “semi-winterized” and shut down entirely and then the state will let go of the staff that shuts down the campus.
As for West, she said she will have to sell things, move things into storage and figure out a plan to get out of her home by the deadline. Despite what she said has been “constant turmoil” since the threat of the STAR Academy closing first was whispered about, she still cares about what happens to the facility.
“I’d like to see them do what they said they were going to do, sell it to someone who is going to help the community,” she said. “We saw how that turned out [this time]. I’d like to see something that actually helps the community.”
From turning it back into a juvenile detention facility or a drug treatment facility, West said there are myriad possibilities for the campus. She feels, however, the state wants to get rid of the property and “be done with it.”
Upon receiving the news about the deadline extension Friday via a hand-delivered letter, West said the five-month extension allows her time to figure things out and “breath a little bit.”
“I don’t feel like I’m being thrown out on the street,” she said. “At least I can breathe. It’s been a rough couple of days. I was finding nothing [for places to live].”
The reprieve allows her more time to look, she said, adding that now, if she has to move out of state, she has time to work that out.
“That’s not what I want to do,­ though,” she said. “This is my home.”

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