From My Window: Saving elementary school will demand ‘warp’ speed

The Meeker Town Board meeting on May 7 was an interesting study in community involvement as roughly 70 residents of the town attended, ready to voice their opinions and ask questions regarding the use of the old elementary school in downtown Meeker.
Certainly the majority of residents were there to voice opposition to the town turning the old underused school building over to Rio Blanco County for use as the county’s new justice center.
Few residents knew that the building contains asbestos and other serious structural problems and that it will cost boatloads of dollars to get that building up to approved safety code, not to mention the millions it will cost to remodel it into whatever the residents agree they want in the building — if they can ever agree.
Some folks want elderly housing. Others want an arts and cultural center. Others don’t care as long as the building doesn’t contain jail prisoners (who have been housed in the courthouse jail across the street for nearly 85 years).
Some folks think that closing Fifth Street is a great idea, making for a two-block garden-like design. Others are opposed to closing Fifth Street for any reason.
It is likely that if you asked the 70-some people in attendance to write down what their dreams for the location would be that you would get 80 different ideas.
Therein lies the problem. Who can blame the town board members for being frustrated?
Since 2009, when residents raised high heaven because they didn’t want to raze the school, not a single entity or individual has approached Meeker’s elected officials with an idea, a plan or a proposal on what to do with the building.
The building is in horrible shape. Its part-time use is continuing because the city is being allowed to continue using it for some short-term events. To see a permanent use, millions will be needed to bring the building up to code – once again not taking into consideration the multiple millions of dollars needed to “repurpose” the building.
Bob Amick, who is leading the charge to not see the school torn down because he wants an arts and cultural center there, came up with the most sensible comment at the meeting.
Feeling frustrated himself, Amick rose at the end of the meeting and began to speak in his usually low-pitched voice that things have got to change. As he continued to speak, his voice got louder and louder without becoming a yell, but he told the audience in a tone they all heard that it is time for more than just a few people to become involved.
“Community members need to become active,” Amick said. “The MACC (Meeker Arts and Cultural Council) has done much to utilize the building, but a lot of people in town who have convictions about keeping the old school need to become involved.”
Truer words were never said.
The town board members are frustrated. They are tired of paying $17,000 in utilities for the underused building each year and they want to “not become landlords,” as Mayor Mandi Etheridge said.
Folks, it is time to become involved before it is too late. It may already be too late.
Talk is cheap, and relatively few town residents actually spoke – although those who did speak spoke loudly and often – at the meeting. There was certainly no consensus on what the residents at the meeting wanted and obviously no input from the town residents who weren’t there — or if they even care.
The reality is that something needs to be done quickly so the town doesn’t continue to carry the old school ad nauseam at a high annual cost.
The ball is officially in the county commissioners’ hands as to whether or not the building will even meet their needs.
But unofficially, folks, if you really want to see the old school remain in any form, now is the time to hop up off the couch, get involved with seeking grants and assistance from people who know about preservation and funding, and put your energy and time (and possibly money) where it needs to go to further the cause.
And quickly. Very, very quickly.

When I grew up in Colorado and later when living in Wyoming, I found it was easy to take for granted the beauty that surrounded me. Deer were visible daily by the hundreds, I usually knew where to find elk in the fall, winter and early spring. I even knew where a few moose hung out.
As an adult, I have been a wildlife fanatic because it was just something you didn’t see while growing up on the Front Range. Seeing wildlife meant you had to get up into the mountains.
That is one of the chief reasons I moved back to Colorado — the abundance of wildlife — although I figured I would never see the number and variety of animals I saw in Colorado when I was a child and teen.
Boy, was I surprised. I hopped into the car on Friday to see if I could find some general photos that would be interesting to run in the Herald Times. I couldn’t imagine I would see half of what I saw.
Don’t believe me? I have the photographic proof.
It started with deer just as I was leaving town, wondering where to go. Then, I decided I would take County Road 8 since I hadn’t been on that road for probably 40 years. I figured I would drive at least as far as Lake Avery — only 21 miles from downtown Meeker.
Not to belabor the point, I saw much more wildlife than I expected. I saw eight deer, 40 cow elk in one herd, two turkeys I got to within about four feet of, the mother and four baby foxes playing outside their den, three trout, Canada and snow geese, mostly mallards but a few other varieties of duck I don’t know, two rabbits and a giant sandhill crane.
From the time I left Meeker, drove up to the dam at Lake Avery and returned to Meeker was about 75 minutes — and except at Lake Avery, I never left the pavement of County Road 8.
I was pretty impressed. Parts of Colorado may have too many residents or two many vehicles, but I can report after 75 minutes of driving around here, Rio Blanco County is doing just fine.

An impressive commencement exercise was presented by and at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely, where 179 students graduated on Saturday afternoon, although not all 179 took part in the festivities.
The Colorado Room at the Weiss Student Center on campus was packed to the rafters by family and friends of the graduates, and that is perhaps the most heart-stirring part of the event.
The family members were dressed in their best and obviously very proud of the graduates. That is the way it should be.
Many of the grads were the first college graduates in their family history — and it was pretty obvious that all were proud when it was easy to see four and five generations of the family in attendance.
Family support is also indicative that the graduates in many cases didn’t accomplish the task on their own. There were husbands who picked up family duties, wives who had to work to support the husband through college and there were obviously young married couples who did whatever they had to do together to get the husband or wife that degree or certificate.
Support is so important when it comes to attaining a college degree, and there were many heart-warming scenes after the event to cement the fact that it was a family affair.
As CNCC President Russell George and others pointed out at the ceremony, the graduates’ work is not done; now it is on to the real world of work or further education.
But as most of the graduates found out Saturday, and hurray for all — their support systems seem to be in good shape.

Over the next two weeks, Meeker and Rangely high schools will also be turning out Class of 2013 graduates, and this is another moment in a teen’s life that all should be proud of them and for them.
High school now is not a walk in the park — if it ever was. There are new teaching methods, new technologies and new challenges that we older students never had to face. Not to mention the social pressures.
Congratulations, grads. You deserve the accolades.
But, once again, your work is not done.
Now it is your turn — whether you continue on into higher education, join the military or join the working stiffs out there — to take charge of your life.
Do your best. Take every chance you have to get to bat. And knock it out of the park!