Letter to the Editor: Opposed to county use of old school

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Dear Editor:
Destruction of the old elementary school for a jail? An article in the Rio Blanco Herald Times [April 25 edition] indicated that the Board of County Commissioners and the Meeker Town Council had met on April 22 and discussed turning the old elementary school over to the county to build justice center, which includes a jail.
This discussion was not well publicized so many citizens were not able to express input. It is reported that the issue will be considered at the May 7 Meeker Town Council meeting at 7 p.m.
It is likely there will be substantial support by both organizations. This issue was discussed in July 2010, after the new elementary school opened. Discussions were held about repurposing the old elementary school. The county wanted to make it into a jail, but local citizens adamantly opposed destruction of the historic landmark building, wanting to repurpose it as an assisted living center, a performing arts, conference, theater. concerts, movies, a hospice venue etc., attractive to all ages of Meeker and RBC.
An article about negotiations with the county and town in the Herald Times on July 23, 2010, quoted Mayor Mandi Etheridge: “Etheridge said, because the property is owned by the town, a change in ownership would have to be approved by voters.
But that won’t be necessary now?
“There won’t be anything on the ballot,” Etheridge said. “For one, we don’t have a specific plan formulated to put it to a vote. The town owns the land, so it’s public land, and if (the ownership) changes hands, it has to go to the voters.”
“At some point, if we ever choose to relinquish ownership of that land, the voters will vote on whether they want us to do that,” she said.
Does the town have the legal authority dispose of the property without a vote of the public at the next regular election?
The school should be repurposed for improving the quality of life and promote economic growth. The building is being increasingly used by the community (meetings, Chamber of Commerce, dinner Theaters, quilting club, non-profit organizations, etc.). Surveys conducted by Recreation and Parks district and by the Meeker Arts and Cultural Council showed a strong preference for a performing arts conference and community center. Citizens do not want a jail; they do want a community center at the old elementary school. A community center would create less need for a jail with such offerings.
The county already has architectural final drafts and funding for a code-compliant jail and courts to be built just north of the existing courthouse that will meet their needs. Underground parking can be added to save surface space. Parking is rarely an issue except when there is an entertainment event (concert, dinner theater, Range Call, Sheepdog Trials, fun and appealing events).
Economic development will not occur with a a jail where the old elementary school was. Tourism and business will be enhanced by a a community center that provides opportunities expressed above. This is not a decision that should be left to elected officials but rather to the voters at the next election.
The decision will determine the appearance and thus the viability of downtown Meeker for decades into the future. Efforts are already well under way to designate the downtown area as a Creative District, to repurpose the school and open doors for grant funding. A more detailed Creative District proposal is available via E-mail at rdagto@msn.com.
Contact the commissioners and town to express your opposition. A jail will forever destroy any such possibility of having an ideal community center in the downtown area. The historic old elementary school is your property, your school and your tax dollars, so let your elected officials know how you feel and oppose this move at the Meeker Town Board meeting on May 7. Let your friends know to be there as well.
Contact the commissioners at: bocc@co.rio-blanco.co.us or by phone at 878-9430; fax 878-5442; contact the Meeker Town Administrator at: admin@town.meeker.co.us; or by phone at 878-5344; fax 878-4513.
Mary Ann Wilber
Task Force Member
Meeker and Rio Blanco County Citizens for repurposing the old elementary school