This letter is written after reading most of what has been published in this paper and from conversations with people working hard to save the old Meeker Elementary School.
It is easy to forget that being a member of a community comes with responsibilities, the major one being an obligation of stewardship of the environment, both natural and built.
This requires carefully preserving what gives “this place” (Meeker) meaning, a sustainable history and concurrently be open to renewal.
Meeker sits in a beautiful landscape to which it’s citizens are given the temporary privilege to guide changes to everyday life that contribute to its economic development, provide meaningful activities for youth, adults and seniors, and provide growth opportunities that sustain the local economy.
In most communities, however, there are folks who feel no pain with the statues quo, so why should they be concerned about what might actually help struggling merchants or provide worthwhile arts and cultural activities and enrichment for all citizens.
Doesn’t it seem curious that Meeker could have been the site of the Colorado Northwestern Community College, except for these individuals who rejected the idea? They sure wouldn’t want “those rowdy troublemaking college students” disrupting their town. After all, what’s more important? Having a grand jail, court, sheriff’s complex and remodeling the courthouse at a cost of $15 million of their tax dollars, which is known will attract thousands of visitors flooding the businesses and bring pots of money to the county or preserving a critical component of the historical environment of Meeker.
Does the community really need to demolish one of the top five historic icons in Colorado?
It doesn’t matter that the school is one of the flagship element of the downtown historic area along with the courthouse. After all, what good is an old stone building built in 1939 by the WPA? And isn’t that architect’s rendering of the “memorial” to the old school a knockout? Sure is nice that the gray concrete overlay adds such an artistic touch to replace the ugly old red sandstone classic art deco school design.
What about the Rio Blanco County Planning Commission commitment [adopted by the commissioners in 2011] to preserve historic buildings and artifacts [page 29-30]? Guess that only applies when the commissioners decide something is historically significant.
It is known that the community must look ahead to when the next “boom,” doubling population, brings hordes of terrible criminals. Is anyone really holding their breath waiting for another boom to happen?
Heaven forbid that new jobs might be created and that performing arts, concerts, conferences and many worthwhile entertainment events could be held throughout the year in a repurposed community center at the school. It would be just awful if there were fun and exciting activities for teenagers throughout the year.
The town certainly doesn’t want them to actually return to Meeker, find jobs or maybe even marry and raise children here. Think how terrible it would be if visitors came to town for conferences and meetings, stayed in hotels or had meals in restaurants or bought supplies, gasoline and groceries.
Remember the criticism the Sheep Dog Trials faced when they started 27 years ago? It must be just a coincidence that the trials now bring approximately $1 million to the local economy?
There is obviously no importance to the fact that many other Colorado rural communities such as Carbondale, Salida, Grand Lake, Steamboat Springs, Creede, Montrose,(some of which have populations and economic deficiencies similar to Meeker and Rio Blanco County) have benefitted greatly from tourism.
These towns were all suffering economically and saw the wisdom of saving their town’s heritage by bringing visitors who spend money in their businesses and create jobs. Why should Meeker participate in such activities just because Colorado’s leading economic engine is now heritage and agritourism and is being promoted by the secretary of Agriculture and the Colorado Tourism Office for rural economic development?
Meeker can do just fine without all those distractions. So let’s tear down our historic building, construct a $15 million “non-de-script, could be anywhere” jail and courthouse renovation, then go back to sleep and let the economy continue to fail and then awake not needing a jail, court, sheriff’s office, or anything else for that matter.
Think it can’t happen? There are plenty of ghost towns already, and Meeker is not exempt. The choice is up to you and those whom you elect and entrust to be the stewards of your environment. Act now, because once the school is gone, it can’t be restored. Nor can the economic development and cultural opportunities it could have provided.
Can you really live with ignoring the opportunities? Time is quickly running out. Are you willing to be a part of the solution or a part of the problem?
Mike Martin, PhD, FAIA, RA
Raised and educated in Meeker