Letter to the Editor: Don’t destroy our old school

Dear Editor:
First off, I’m not sentimental about having attended school in the old elementary school. I am, however, passionate about saving a true historic building in its entirety to the benefit of all residents of Rio Blanco County.
The research that has been done, first by the Town of Meeker with its EPA Brownsfield Study and the structural study completed by Patillo Associates Engineers of Glenwood Springs, followed by the information based on site visitations and reviews by both History Colorado and Colorado Preservation Inc. have confirmed that my passion for this endeavor is valid.
Not only does this building qualify for historic site designation, it is also architecturally a most attractive asset to our community and county. The red sandstone masonry construction could not be duplicated today at a cost that our community/county could afford if one could find rock masons who would or could do it.
The opportunity to utilize this community asset to bring heritage tourism to Rio Blanco County is here and now. Heritage tourism is being promoted all over Colorado, and Meeker and the rest of the county are a well kept secret. We don’t promote a thing.
In this, Meeker and Rangely can work together. We could promote something like Heritage Tours from Steamboat Springs to Meeker to Rangely. Think of what we have: historic buildings, the site of the Battle of Milk Creek, the Meeker Massacre, a real bank robbery, Canyon Pintado, The Tank, great small museums, real country schools, and the list goes on and on.
The fear that was planted regarding the horrors of the asbestos in the building are laid to rest in the Brownsfield Study. The Pattillo Engineers stated that the structure has not settled an inch, contrary to some newer buildings in Meeker. Look up and read these studies for yourself.
Much has been made of not needing a “community center” because we have so many other facilities available. True, there are other facilities scattered here and there, but there is nothing available, other than the old elementary school that could serve as a one-site location for small conventions or business retreats. The building has a large multi-purpose room for general sessions, banquets and dances; a kitchen area that can be refurnished and utilized; and classrooms that can be designated for breakout sessions.
Special liquor licenses can be obtained in this building, as opposed to the suggestion of using various school properties. Granted, liquor licenses are obtained for the Fairfield, but in that building the acoustics are and always have been bad as is the lighting, and the “other rooms” are too small. It is also one block too far away to help the downtown businesses. The old elementary school is already wired for broadband and each classroom is set up for multiple use of audio visual equipment, a mandatory requirement for any convention or business retreat today.
The building and the total site can be utilized to promote an array of activities – everything from classical string quartets to dog shows — all of which would bring in outside money. The inside of this historic building can be utilized in conjunction with our long-standing events, i.e. parades, 4th of July etc., not just use the green space, to augment these events with added attractions to bring in additional outside dollars.
It is stated that the Meeker Classic brings a million dollars to the local economy. Remember when the idea of a sheep dog trial was first hatched? There was opposition and ridicule, but those founders persevered and now the Classic is “owned by the community.”
It is imperative that our economy is boosted on a permanent basis. We have gone through the boom and bust way too many times. We need a “place” that can be utilized through all four annual seasons, and, without a doubt, that “place” is the old elementary school.
Regarding the “Justice Center,” I agree that the jail needs to be brought up to standards, which includes the ability to separate by site and sound, juveniles from adults, the ability to separate genders and the ability for the employees to walk between the cells without worry they might be assaulted. I also agree that the courts requirements for added security are legitimate, but these things can and should be accomplished at location(s) other than the old elementary school site.
I understand that a plan to build north of the current courthouse has already been paid for, as has a preliminary plan for Meeker Terrace. Have the amounts spent on these been made public? Also, have the estimates done in 2009 by EPA for the abatement and destruction of the old school been made public?
I don’t know if the county has even explored that aspect as part of their four-part plan, and, if they do, will they tell us?
Something else to think about. Paul Van Zant told me that to save any of the sandstone block for reuse would be cost prohibitive because it would have to be taken down block by block, otherwise it will crack and crumble. This was also stated by experts from History Colorado at a commissioner’s meeting.
There is nothing anywhere that says a jail and a court must occupy the same building. In fact that is now a rarity. Check the county seats around us. Most modern justice systems utilize video for arraignments, bail hearings and pre-trial conferences. Some of the $15 million could be spent on upgrading the justice systems capabilities in that area, and also upgrade the antiquated computer system used by the sheriff’s office.
I don’t know how many times people have asked me why the county has not looked into moving the jail and the sheriffs office to the old BLM building west of town and keep the court in the courthouse. This is a good question.
All over the United States, old historic buildings are being repurposed and saved. We Americans travel to Europe to look at old buildings.
I ask the citizens of this county to look within themselves and evaluate what makes this “old” building important. To me it is about our history, our heritage and our legacy to the future. Without these, we become an empty shell and a community that turned on itself.
Connie Theos
Meeker