Elementary school work group holds first meeting

MEEKER I Members of the elementary school site work group met last week, in what could be the first of many meetings.
“It was good,” Meeker Mayor Mandi Etheridge said of the Nov. 18 meeting. “But we have a long road ahead, just because of the project and the idea of coming up with a decision of what to do with the site.”
The group, appointed by the town board, has been charged with the task of studying the options for the future use of the 70-year-old Meeker Elementary School, which will be vacated at the end of the school year, and the site.
Rio Blanco County initially expressed an interest in the site for a new justice center, but the idea generated opposition from a neighborhood group concerned about preserving Meeker’s historic downtown district.
“It’s really challenging, because you can go in so many different directions and you have to factor in so many aspects … to figure out what’s best for the community,” Etheridge said of the work group’s mission.
One of the first orders of business is the town, which will assume ownership of the site once the school is vacated, will have a structural assessment done of the building.
“We are very close to executing a contract for a structural assessment for the elementary school,” said Sharon Day, town administrator. “The name of the firm is Pattillo Associates Engineers, Inc. Their office is located in Glenwood Springs.”
The town will pay $18,000 for the cost of the structural assessment.
“Fortunately, when the (school bond) vote passed last November, we knew were going to have an empty building and we should set aside some money for studies,” Etheridge said.
As far as the timeline for the structural assessment, Etheridge said, “It will take about six weeks, so with the holidays, we’re looking at early to mid January. Once we get that information back, we’ll be able to know what direction we can go with this building.”
Richard Sales, associate director of the Colorado Center for Community Development, attended last week’s meeting. He also attended an earlier meeting of the town board, where future use of the elementary school was discussed.
“Hopefully this set the foundation for some really positive discussions,” Sales said of the task force’s first meeting. “My overarching goal is to provide information that allows good decision-making and good governance, and in that, we want to look at the potential of all of the options.
“We spent time talking and recognizing the number of needs in the community, one of which is the new justice center,” Sales added. “This committee is by no means opposing that thought, but supporting that as one of the community needs.”
Besides Etheridge, other members of the committee are Brian Conrado, representing residential property owners who live in the area of the elementary school; Sparky Pappas, representing the Rio Blanco County Historical Society; Shondah Otwell, executive director of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce; and Pat Hooker, Rio Blanco County administrator.
“There are a lot of possibilities for the building,” said Conrado, whose group is opposed to the idea of the county using the site for a new justice center and favors preserving the building, if proven structurally sound, and the site for historical reasons. “We’re beginning to see other possibilities that can maybe help downtown businesses and help preserve the historic nature of the downtown, so it would be a win-win.”
The structural assessment could go a long way in determining the future use of the school building, even from the county’s standpoint.
“I think Pat (Hooker), from the county, was very articulate in saying that assumptions had been made about the site and the structural integrity of the building,” Sales said. “But if they find out the building is able to be renovated, the commissioners, in his opinion, would take a clear look at that and understand the value of the building, culturally and historically, in the community.”
Sales said he has two architectural interns who are interested in being involved with the elementary school project.
Etheridge said the committee welcomed Sales’ input about the possible uses of the building, from a historical preservation perspective.
“His big thing is adaptive reuse of a historical building,” Etheridge said of Sales. “We like to hear what he has to say. He had a couple of architecture students, including one in landscape architecture, who are interested in and willing to work on the project, to give us some design ideas, under Rich’s direction.”
Etheridge added the town has been approved for full funding for an asbestos assessment of the school building through a grant from the Brownfields Foundation, which “promotes the cleanup and reuse of environmentally impaired sites.”
The elementary school committee will meet next after the first of the year.
“We’ll meet again in January, at which time we’ll have more information,” Etheridge said. “We encourage the community, if there are some unspoken ideas or suggestions for the reuse of the building or the site, talk to the town, talk to the county, talk to the chamber or the historical society, or talk to your neighbors. But talk to somebody.”