Letter to the Editor: Act now to protect old school

Dear Editor:
Since April, when the Meeker town trustees chose to give the historic old elementary school to the county for the purpose of demolishing the school and building a jail/courts venue, citizens of Rio Blanco County have expressed outrage and opposition to the commissioners’ intent to demolish this priceless and irreplaceable flagship icon of historic downtown Meeker.
Despite opposition from local citizens and voters, the commissioners have moved steadily and with no hesitation to continue this planned demolition to build their jail/courts venue on this historic site.
The Meeker Community Center Task Force has provided due diligence documentation through History Colorado and Colorado Preservation experts, architects, engineers, et al, to show that there are better, less-expensive and far more appropriate locations for a jail – north of the courthouse or on Meeker Terrace east of Meeker.
Nearly all other communities in Western Colorado have relocated jails to the perimeter or outside their communities as jails in the downtown historic areas have bad connotations and are incongruent with economic development and historic heritage tourism venues which are the chief economic engine for Colorado.
Numerous Colorado rural communities have demonstrated successful, substantial growth of their economies with heritage tourism and performing arts. Visitors from all over the world seek out true “old West” venues where they can experience first hand where the history actually occurred and to see the buildings, museums, sites of battlefields, re-enactments and artifacts related to those pivotal events.
The example of the Carbondale Third Street Center has repeatedly been demonstrated to the commissioners and local citizens, demonstrating how a self-sustaining community center serves as a facility for arts and cultural presentations, venues for conferences and meetings, opportunities for business incubators in a one-stop venue that houses non-profit organizations for youth, adults and seniors ,all under one roof at minimal cost.
Such centers bring visitors who patronize local merchants and fill lodging rooms. Moreover, such a remarkable facility would serve a much-needed resource for Meeker and Rio Blanco County youth, adults and seniors with a very low-cost array of opportunities not now possible. Over the past few years, events conducted by the Meeker Arts and Cultural Council, the PEO, the Meeker Chamber of Commerce and many others at the school have proven highly successful and appealing to local citizens and out-of-town visitors. If the building is demolished, there would be no other location from which to provide such a combination of facilities and unique resources.
Dr. Mike Martin, a renowned professor of architecture at the University of California-Berkeley who grew up in Meeker and attended the old elementary school, remarked that to construct an equivalent building of the type and stature of the old school would cost in today’s funds, approximately $3 million to $8 million depending on infrastructure, stone masonry and other construction considerations. The value and use of the land alone in the downtown area is priceless.
What possible justification is there for demolishing such a unique treasure and forever losing the useful resource afforded by saving and repurposing the historic school for the many opportunities listed above? Economic development through heritage tourism offers the single most viable opportunity to bring substantial tourism dollars to the community by affording a venue from which to provide a plethora of attractions and opportunities that cannot otherwise be offered.
The county can easily and more efficiently build a jail/courts building in other locations, where they would have far more room and no need to go through a $2 million dangerous asbestos abatement process before they can even demolish the building.
Is demolishing the building at such costs a wise use of your tax dollars? Any architect or contractor will tell you it is always far less expensive to build on a “green field” where no demolition is needed and there is plenty of room for future expansion.
The north side of the courthouse and Meeker Terrace offer such unobstructed locations. At the recent Rural Philanthropy Days in Winter Park, a number of major philanthropic foundations indicated they would be very interested in funding repurposing and development of such a community center for Meeker. They will not fund a jail.
The commissioners were asked to place the question of demolishing the school and building a jail on the Fall election ballot by the required deadline for ballot questions submission date of Sept 4.
They declined to permit that request to be placed on the ballot to let the citizens of Rio Blanco County make that choice. It is time to let your voice be heard and support saving the historic old elementary school through signing petitions and communicating your wishes in writing directly to the commissioners. Only such individual efforts may save the old school.
The commissioners have already initiated the process of selecting architects and construction firms to go ahead with demolishing the building and building the jail on the site of the old school. See the Rio Blanco County website for “Justice Center” for details www.co.rio-blanco.co.us/information/justicecenter.html. Act quickly and decisively or it may be too late to change this process
It is your school and your downtown area as voters, taxpayers and citizens. For the good of Meeker and Rio Blanco County, do not let this happen to the historic old Meeker Elementary School.
Bob Amick
Community Center Task Force