Finding a fitting use: What do you do with a vacated elementary school building?

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MEEKER — Back in November, voters settled the issue of whether to pass a bond election to build a new elementary school.
Now, the question is what to do with the old one.
“That’s a real good question,” said Meeker Mayor Mandi Etheridge.
Etheridge is asking the public to let her and members of the town board know what their ideas are for future use of the 70-year-old building.
“The first step is to find out from the town, from the people, what their preferences are,” Etheridge said. “We’re being handed this old building. We’re open to suggestions (on what to do with it).”
The town owns the land the school sits on.
“The town currently has a 99-year lease with the school district for $1 per year,” said Sharon Day, town administrator. “The lease was entered into between the town and the school on Sept. 15, 1958.”
Once the current elementary school is vacated — the new one is expected to open sometime during the 2010 school year — it will be up to the town to decide what to do with the building and the lot.
“It’s an awesome location,” Etheridge said of the property, which is located on Main Street, near the downtown district. “I think anybody could come up with several different uses for that building. We just have to find the right fit.”
Some interest has already been expressed in the property.
“A couple of entities have already approached the town with ideas,” Etheridge said. “CNCC (Colorado Northwest-ern Community College) has approached the town with the possibility of expanding the Meeker branch, and the county is interested in expanding its offices and (using the location) for a new justice center.”
The decision of what to do with the property will come down to what the community wants and, of course, cost.
“It will come down to what will be most cost effective,” Etheridge said. “I don’t know of any private investors that have the financing to take care of that building.”
No timeline has been established by the town for determining the future use of the property.
“Our timeline is dependent on the school’s timeline,” Etheridge said. “We won’t do anything with (the property) until the school moves into its new building. So we’re looking at less than two years, which in the scheme of things, that’s not a long time. We don’t want to see the building stand vacant for too long. We don’t want an empty building sitting downtown. That would be unattractive. That’s why we’re starting discussions now.”
What to do with the old elementary school property is an important decision, which is why Etheridge said she is asking for the community’s input.
“There’s a lot going on with the town and the county and the decisions that will be made in the near future, it seems there’s a piece missing in all of this, and that’s public participation,” Etheridge said. “We’re going to really try our best to keep the town updated and informed on what we’re doing.”
In order to facilitate more discussion, the town board will have open-to-the-public work sessions.
“We’ll have our regular business meetings the first Tuesday of every month,” Etheridge said. “Then, at the meeting on the third Tuesday of the month, we’ll get whatever business we need to out of the way, and then we’ll have a work session to talk about some of these big projects. It is open to the public, but not open for public comment. It will be more of a work session for the board, and the public is welcome to attend.
“The more comments we have prior to that (work session) meeting, the more ammunition we have for a good discussion,” Etheridge said. “Hopefully, we will have a lot of public input.”