Letter to the Editor: Value of Meeker Elementary School

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Dear Editor:
The story is told of a collector of antique rifles who liked to haggle for the best price when purchasing such treasures. On one occasion he located a rare Sharps rifle and haggled for more than an hour to get the owner to lower his price. The owner steadfastly refused. Finally the collector gave up and paid the price.
The owner remarked “It is clear that you understand price, but you have no concept of value.” So too is the case of the old Meeker elementary school and those who have control of its value to the community, its legacy to the history of the community, and thus, the future or the lack thereof.
It has been suggested by various individuals that demolishing the old elementary school and building a jail would “give the downtown area a new look and help the local economy.” Sadly, nothing could be more inaccurate or misleading.
There is absolutely no evidence or precedent in other communities that support this statement.
The current jail brings nothing to improve the local economy. Why would demolishing the historic elementary school and building a jail 300 yards to the east change anything? Demolishing the building would require up to $2 million in asbestos abatement costs before it could even be torn down. Is that a wise use of your tax dollars?
Most communities that build new jails move them to the outskirts of the town or even several miles away (e.g., Craig, Steamboat, Boulder, et al). Most of all, they never demolish historic and culturally significant buildings for such a purpose.
Historic preservationists from History Colorado have already offered to assist in grant funding opportunities for repurposing the old school and restoring it for use as a community center that could be of benefit to youth and adults of Meeker, and stimulate economic growth as well.
Face it! Meeker is in deep trouble economically! Continuing on the same path will only worsen the dilemma. New thinking and new ideas are urgently needed.
Carbondale’s Third Street Center took a 52-year-old high school and, with grants and donations, repurposed the building into a financially successful arts and cultural center that brings big name bands and entertainment to Carbondale on a weekly basis. (www.thirdstreetcenter.net/)
Salida received designation as a Creative District from Colorado Creative Industries and was featured in the Denver Post for the dramatic improvement in their local economy by bringing in arts and cultural entrepreneurs and performing arts entertainment. (m.denverpost.com/denverpost/db_307608/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=mCwIN18z)
Many other small rural communities throughout Colorado have implemented similar venues to greatly enrich their economies through heritage tourism. Tourism and especially Heritage Tourism is the leading economic engine of Colorado, bringing in 28 million visitors each year who spend an average of $380 per person in pursuit of heritage tourism each year.
Paris, France, boasts the largest influx of heritage tourists in the world enriching their economy by billions of dollars.
Breckenridge is designated as a “National Historic District” and boasts a thriving economy. Conversely, Meeker which has an unprecedented historic legacy and buildings dating back to the start of the town in 1885 that are of great interest to tourists is probably the best kept secret in Northwest Colorado.
That needs to change, and promotion of Meeker as a renowned center for heritage tourism needs to be a top priority. The attractions are already here, they just need to be advertised, promoted and made known to those who will enjoy seeing them and returning in the future.
If you allow the Meeker Town Board of Trustees and the Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners to demolish your historic school for their own purposes and build a jail, you permit them to forever change the historic legacy and look of this community for narrow-minded, poorly conceived purposes that cannot be justified under any circumstances.
There are many better alternatives for a jail at reasonable costs. Value is far more important than price!
This is the time for action. Tell the town and the commissioners that demolishing the historic building and building a jail is not what you want done with your school. But don’t wait.
Take action now before it is too late. Call, write, email, go to the board meetings and state your position. What you do now impacts the entire community in many ways and for many decades into the future.
Mary Ann Wilber,
Meeker Community
Center Task Force