New jail is inevitable, but its location is still undetermined

Meeker resident Brian Conrado, who lives across from the elementary school, voiced his concerns about a proposed justice center being built on the site, at Tuesday’s public meeting.

Meeker resident Brian Conrado, who lives across from the elementary school, voiced his concerns about a proposed justice center being built on the site, at Tuesday’s public meeting.
Meeker resident Brian Conrado, who lives across from the elementary school, voiced his concerns about a proposed justice center being built on the site, at Tuesday’s public meeting.
RBC I It was standing room only at Meeker’s board of trustees meeting Tuesday. Residents packed Town Hall to discuss the future of the elementary school building.
“We’re all here tonight to discuss the fact that the current elementary school will be vacated in a few months,” Mayor Mandi Etheridge said. “It is literally an opportunity of a lifetime to make a decision to redesign what our downtown is. That being said, a decision can only be as good as its best options.”
The county presented a plan for a proposed justice center on the site, which would involve closing Fifth Street and building a new courthouse and 48-bed jail on the combined property.
Other sites the county has considered include Meeker Terrace, the former BLM building, or using the vacant space around the current courthouse, including the courthouse lawn, a popular site for community events. Of those options, the last would be the least expensive, and the Meeker Terrace site would be the most expensive.
The county may not have a choice when it comes to building a new justice center. Commissioner Ken Parsons said the state of Colorado has expressed concern about the current facilities, which do not comply with currents codes for a justice system.
“We may very well have the least secure courtroom in the state of Colorado,” Parsons said.
“All it would take,” Parsons said, “is a violent incident or an inmate lawsuit to get the state involved.”
In Routt County, when voters turned down a plan to build a new justice facility, the state mandated a mill levy on the county’s residents and built one anyway.
Former Meeker mayor Gus Halandras added, “We have a new element in this argument: Rangely is interested in taking the court system and the jail and putting them in Rangely.”
No matter what the county ends up doing, the question remains: What’s to become of the elementary school? Emotions run high on all sides of the discussion.
Homeowners along Park Street like Brian Conrado and Larry Beck are distressed about the possible loss of historic value and cultural character. Business owners like Donna Gutierrez worry about increased commercial property taxes and safety factors. Many residents mourn the idea of losing a building where several generations have attended school. Others fear moving the courthouse out of town will devastate downtown businesses.
Sparky Pappas, representing the Rio Blanco County Historical Society, said they want to see the elementary school restored and preserved.
“I realize there are structural issues; but the (school district) administration building was condemned. It was brought back from the dead and it’s beautiful,” Pappas said.
Rich Sales from the University of Colorado-Denver, completed a historic assessment on the elementary school at the town’s request. He agrees adaptive reuse is a viable possibility.
The Colorado Historical Society and the State Historical Fund have grant money for such projects.
That money comes from gambling. Those who have the projects that meet their criteria and ask for it (the funding), are the ones who get it, Sales said.
CNCC President John Boyd said while the college wants to increase activity in Meeker, it is stretched with five major projects, including a new $38 million campus in Craig and major upgrades to the Rangely campus.
“We have mill levies in Rangely and Craig, so the expectation is different,” Boyd stated.
Meeker resident Nettie Faye Modlin tossed another idea into the discussion: turn the elementary school into a senior citizens’ assisted living center with hospice care. Several people said they have heard that suggestion from other residents.
Mayor Etheridge thanked everyone for their participation.
“I can’t tell you how appreciative I am to look out and see faces in the audience,” Etheridge said. “You’ve provided your public servants your perspectives and that’s exactly what we were looking for. Continue to be vocal, speak to your public servants. We are here to do what is right by this community, and that is what our citizens feel is right for our community.”