Elementary building may be ‘mothballed’

MEEKER I With the clock ticking until the elementary school building becomes the fiscal and physical responsibility of the town of Meeker, the board of trustees continue to discuss possibilities for the building’s future.
Because the 70-year-old building, and the property on which it rests, belong to the town, when the new elementary school on Sulphur Creek Road is complete the school district will no longer lease the property. That leaves the town with a full city block of prime downtown business district to oversee and possibly develop.
While no one wants to see the historic building sit empty for any length of time, until someone steps forward with both vision and provision, “mothballing” the building might be in the best interest of the town and the building.
Mayor Mandi Etheridge reiterated agreed-upon goals for the site:
• “Keep the building, if at all possible.”
• “Define our ‘downtown character’ and how the use of the property would maintain that.”
• “What are the economics of the situation? Town-supported (a park, the chamber, etc.) or a retail property that would generate its own income?”
Trustees chimed in on the discussion with suggestions and ideas gathered from around the community.
Trustee Regas Halandras, participating via conference call, said, “I don’t think we need more open space, by any means. We need to preserve the ability to create more retail space, something we can grow into. And the county needs parking. What they do with the expansion of the courthouse hinges on what we (the town) decide to do.”
He suggested approaching the energy companies to whom the county lost a use tax payment lawsuit last year to see if those companies would be willing to use those use tax dollars, which the county is expected to return, to support the projects downtown.
Trustee Chuck Mills said his discussions with constituents affirmed the county’s needs for parking and the changes at the courthouse. “Some wishes,” Mills shared with the board, “Were for dances, a theater, classrooms for crafts and activities native to this area.”
“I continually hear ‘we need more parking downtown,’” said Trustee Rod Gerloff. “(But) I honestly don’t think we need to take selling the property off the table, with stipulations. I would hate to see us take on a project that could potentially be an (economic) stretcher.”
Gerloff also said he doesn’t believe the town should expect the county to put any funds toward the elementary school site, no matter what the town decides to do with it.
Workgroup member Brian Conrado, who strongly opposed the county’s proposal to build a two-story justice center on the elementary school block, said, “You all sound overwhelmed by taking on a building. When we start talking about tearing part of the building off before we’ve even considered the possibilities, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. There are funds available, even on an emergency basis, to ‘mothball’ a building.”
“I think we’re in a panic mode. Maybe it will take a couple years before we get out of the recession and other possibilities come along. I think we’re just too scared. If it was me, and it was something I owned, I think I would mothball it until I decided what was best or until things (economically) were better.”
Conrado went so far as to volunteer to keep the grass mowed on the property, if that is a concern or burden on the town.
Etheridge acknowledged the sense of urgency about the building’s future. “As trustees it weighs heavy on all of our minds. It’s a very big decision, but I don’t feel like we should push a decision we’re not ready to make.”
In other business, the board heard a request to consider the transfer of the Walbridge Wing property and fund to the hospital district, now that the hospital is no longer a county hospital.
The bid for the replacement street signs came in significantly lower than expected.