Residents give input on use of old school

MEEKER I The Meeker Community Center Task Force requested a public meeting with the Rio Blanco County Commissioners on Monday afternoon, and approximately 29 people participated.
The task force opened the meeting with a few statements in support of keeping the old elementary school intact and in pursuing heritage or history tourism for the area.
They then presented a film showing how the town of Carbondale converted an old school there into the 3rd Street Center, which now serves as a community center that hosts classes, community arts and crafts, non-profit groups’ offices and social service agencies.
According to task force member Bob Amick, the center was funded by contributions and grants and is now self-sustaining.
“I would like to see the county join us in following a similar track and help us turn this into a community center with multiple uses,” Amick said. “I can see the school here becoming very similar to the 3rd Street Center, and I would like to see us follow their path to establish a similar center here.”
Also speaking as part of the task force presentation were Patrick Eigman of History Colorado and Rachel Paris of Colorado Preservation Inc. Both stated that the elementary school would be a great location for such a center and that history tourism is soaring in popularity in Colorado. They both said Meeker is in a great position to promote history tourism and that making a commitment to building on that form of income could well pay off for Meeker.
When the task force presentation was over, several other residents joined in the discussion.
Brian Conrado also stressed the importance of heritage tourism. He has spoken many times at meetings stating that he is staunchly opposed to razing the old elementary school.
Gerald Miller, stressing that he was speaking on his own, said that he is worried that common sense doesn’t seem a part of the equation.
“Sure a cultural arts center is an attractive idea, but the bottom line is that new economic growth is needed here,” he said. “We need to build something that will help the city with growth — but moving the justice center out of town won’t help if we don’t get money into town.
“We need to work together to come up with some solution that will satisfy everyone while keeping people in town,” he said.
Janette Shepherd said she has mixed feelings regarding the old school and how it should be used.
“Appearance is what I am concerned about,” she said. “Whatever is done with the old elementary school, even if they put in the jail, it can’t look like it is a jail and it must be attractive to keep up the appearance of downtown.
“As far as what will be don’t with the old school, I don’t really feel strongly either way,” she said.
Harry Watt added, “Moving the jail out of town is a bad thing; then we’d have more empty space downtown, and that isn’t what we need. We’ve got two facilities here now. Let’s remodel them, combine the justice center with the community center and work together to satisfy both sides.”
When the meeting was over, Commission Chairman Shawn Bolton thanked those in attendance for their input and reiterated that nothing has been decided as yet regarding the use of the old elementary school.
Last week, the commissioners released four preliminary plans on what the county was considering to do with the old school, stressing that it doesn’t have to be one of the plans that the county follows but that at least the plans are there to be discussed.
He also reiterated that a series of meetings would be held around Rio Blanco County to receive input from residents of all parts of the county on what they believe is the course the commission should follow.
After the public meetings, which will be held in October, the commissioners will evaluate the designs and consider the public input, making a decision on how to proceed by Nov. 1.
Bolton said final design of the chosen alternative will then proceed with a target of going to bid on Feb. 1, 2014, and starting construction when weather permits in the spring of 2014.

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