Community Center Task Force responds to column from Herald Times editor

MEEKER I The Meeker Community Center Task Force (MCCTF) thanks editor Sean McMahon for publishing the specific MCCTF petition for initiative ballot questions that were submitted to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) initially on July 26 and in final format on Sept. 4, requesting inclusion on the Nov. 4 mail-in ballot election.
The BOCC declined to include those items on the ballot and also failed to respond to the request by the MCCTF authorizing the task force to circulate an initiative position that would have allowed the voters to decide the future of the historic old Meeker Elementary School and other proposed economic development incentives.
Editor McMahon asks (and answers) in his column “…who will pay for all the work needed at the old elementary school for the task force members to have their community center? It will be you and I and all county residents because the task force thinks the county ought to fund the entire project — including the addition of at least two personnel and a community center staff. In addition, it seems like most if not all of the grants available for ‘repurposing’ the center are matching grants with the county having to come up with the matches.”
Editor McMahon is certainly entitled to his opinion; however, he was present at the BOCC Aug. 26 workshop with the MCCTF (and wrote an article published in the Herald Times) in which the Carbondale Third Street Center was discussed and a video shown clearly illustrating how that center was funded and is now self-sustaining through grants and internally generated revenues.
Moreover, available grants from History Colorado, Colorado Preservation and many other philanthropic foundations were presented as viable funding options. The editor seems to imply that possibly having to match some grants for a community center with county funds, or to fund salaried professionals to operate the center initially is inappropriate despite the fact that the county applies for and receives many other grants for various projects with some matching funds required (such as the OHV project), in which it is perfectly acceptable for county funds to be expended. The MCCTF is pleased that the BOCC implemented one of the MCCTF proposed ballot questions to hire a director of economic development funded with tax dollars, so there is a precedent already in place.
Are some grant projects “more equal than others?” Moreover, the editor seems to imply “…to have ‘their’ community center” that the MCCTF members would be the sole beneficiaries of such funding, when, in fact, the center would benefit the youth, adults and seniors of the entire community and county through economic development and cultural opportunities far beyond current efforts being made.
Old adages suggest that “it takes money to make money” and “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Moreover, many of the available grants for repurposing are outright grants requiring no match, and those that do require matches often can use other outright grants and “in-kind” contributions as match funding, so there are many viable low-cost options.
The survey of county residents conducted by the BOCC indicated that “more than 72 percent of county residents surveyed favor investing tax funds for promoting economic development” is a clear sign of the strong support by county taxpayers to justify such expenditures for the citizens of RBC for a community center and many other economic development revenue-generating endeavors.
It is a virtual certainty that building a jail/courts complex and remodeling the courthouse will contribute virtually nothing to economic development and will cost $15 million in county funds. Some of those funds, if applied to a community center, would be a much better investment in the economic development for businesses and citizens of the county.
Certainly a new jail is required, but the entire complex and remodeling of the courthouse could all be accomplished north of the courthouse or at Meeker Terrace far more economically and adequately without demolishing an historic landmark icon in downtown Meeker. To construct an equivalent building in today’s dollars would cost between $3 million and $8 million, which is untenable, especially when a perfectly useful historic structure already exists.
As noted above, misinformation about funding the community center is being spread widely and is refuted by the above statements. It is unfortunate that such “scare tactics” are used to misrepresent facts and create unwarranted opposition to worthwhile projects for the good of the economy and community. Moreover, the resultant increase in revenue from heritage and agritourism associated with the community center would add to tax revenues and enhance income for local businesses. (See www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZb2THMQ5e8&feature=youtu.be).
The Carbondale Third Street Center received many grants and conducted fundraising to repurpose the 45,000 square feet 1960s school into a highly successful and self-sustaining community center that serves as an economic and cultural development engine for Carbondale. The center offers performing arts events, fine arts, small startup business incubator, senior citizen groups, youth activities, volunteer groups, conferences, et al, all under one roof.
Other rumors suggest that the school is “filled with dangerous asbestos and will require thousands of dollars to abate and remodel before it could be repurposed as a community center.” This is also false. The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 Brownsfields Phase 2 asbestos hazardous materials analysis and the Patillo Civil Engineering analysis of the school, commissioned by the Meeker Town Trustees, indicated the school is completely safe to occupy and be repurposed for use as is.
The EPA report also states that demolishing the building would require full asbestos abatement, costing more than $2 million before the building could even be demolished. Demolition is a significant added cost before new construction can begin.
The interior of the school requires little need for remodeling and can be occupied almost immediately with only minor modifications. The school has been safely occupied by school children for decades as it presently exists.
Community groups have repeatedly used the school for many purposes such as dinner theaters, quilting and craft shows, non-profit organization offices and events, agribusiness conferences and much more.
See reports on RBC website: www.co.rio-blanco.co.us/information/justicecenter.html
MCCTF urges you to oppose the demolition of the school and support repurposing as a community center.

By Bob Amick
The Meeker Community Task Force